John Nagelhout, Ph.D., CRNA FAAN, is a professor at California State University, Fullerton and teaches Pharmacology courses for Samuel Merritt College nurse anesthesia students.
1) Tell me about your job. Is what you do different in any way from what others in your occupation do?
I am a Certified Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA). I am a faculty member of the CRNA program at California State University, Fullerton. I also teach pharmacology classes for the CRNA program at Samuel Merritt College. Because I am an educator, I have an office. The average nurse anesthetist works in the hospital with patients, providing care to patients who require diagnostic and surgical procedures. Nurse anesthetists provide preoperative assessments, intra-operative management, and post-operative care.
2) Can you tell me about your background and how you got into this field?
I met someone who was a nurse back in the 1970s who told me what a good opportunity nursing was as a career. I would have the ability to go to any hospital in the country and find work. I thought it was interesting and then went to a community college to become a nurse. I then met someone who was a nurse anesthetist and found that it was interesting. At the time, the program took 18 months to complete. Today, it's a master's program that takes about 2-and-a-half years to complete.
3) What personal characteristics are required for someone to be successful in your job?
Attention to detail is important for a nurse anesthetist to have because the use of anesthesia is very exact. We have to adjust the anesthetic, see if they need blood or fluid, and make sure their urine output is appropriate. There are a lot of critical monitors you have to watch while you're with a patient. Cultural competence is important. One has to be aware of how patients perceive illness and what the family dynamics are.
4) How much job security is there for people in your field?
There is tremendous job security in the field of nurse anesthesia. They are in high demand. People tend to stay an average of 10 years in a job. Once a nurse anesthetist specializes in an area, he or she stays in that field. Studies show that when someone goes to a job and stays at least 2 years, that person is usually there for rest of his or her career.
5) What other jobs could you do with the skills you have gained in this field?
Nurse anesthetists are able to use their skills in nursing education and in the management of hospital departments. Education is always part of our job. Nurse anesthetists educate patients and their families on a daily basis. We inform patients and their families about what will happen during surgery. We advise patients on how to manage their health after they return home.
6) What do you think the future holds for people in your occupation?
New drugs, monitors, and surgical advances are continually being introduced, which require nurse anesthetists to update their knowledge and skills. As technology advances, it allows nurse anesthetists to work in an environment in which anesthesia care is safer. The biggest change in the last 10 years has been laparoscopy. We used to make an incision to perform certain surgeries. Now, laparoscopy uses cameras to look inside the human body, eliminating the need for many surgical incisions. The drugs we use are better and the ability to control the drugs has improved. We also have the ability to monitor a patient much more intensely, making surgery safer.
7) What are the biggest challenges in your job?
The most challenging aspect of my job is dealing with patients who have critical health issues. It's gratifying to help patients through a difficult period, but the experience can also take its toll on you. A lot of surgeries are not life threatening, but conditions like terminal cancer and heart disease are more serious. The hardest part is dealing with people who are terminally ill.
8) Are there many opportunities in your field? What should people do to get started?
There are many opportunities for nurse anesthetists. The job market is wide open and will remain that way for the foreseeable future. To become a nurse anesthetist, you need to be a registered nurse with a bachelor's degree. You need to also have at least 1 year of critical care experience. Then you can apply to a master's degree program in nurse anesthesia and become nationally certified.