A nurse anesthetist is a registered nurse who has specialized training in providing anesthesia to patients before and after medical procedures. When not administering anesthesia, he or she assumes the duties of a general nurse, such as providing patient comfort and care, monitoring vital signs, and helping to establish treatment plans. Anesthetists may work in a number of different clinical settings, including hospitals, private doctors’ offices, dentists’ offices, and military health clinics.
Depending on the location of a procedure and amount of pain a person may experience, anesthesia is administered in different forms. A nurse in a dental clinic, for example, may prepare a small amount of anesthetic to be injected into a patient’s gum with a needle. When preparing for a major surgery, a nurse may have the patient inhale a certain amount of gaseous anesthesia, such as nitrous oxide, to provide sedation and prevent pain during surgery.
Nurse anesthetists monitor patients before and after giving them anesthetics to ensure their safety and prevent under- or overdosing. Some procedures require continuous or additional anesthesia, compelling a nurse anesthetist to work alongside surgeons at the operating table. After surgeries, nurses typically make sure that patients are feeling well and give them additional anesthetics when necessary.
To become a nurse anesthetist, a person is usually required to obtain a master’s degree in either nursing or anesthesia, receive a registered nurse license, practice for at least a year in a hospital, and pass a nationally accredited certification test. A future nurse anesthetist must complete a four year bachelor’s program in nursing before enrolling in a two to three year master’s program. In nursing school, students receive classroom and practical training about general nursing practices as well as anesthetist-specific duties.
After graduation, a prospective nurse anesthetist must typically pass an exam to receive licensing as a registered nurse. After licensing, he or she is usually required to spend at least one year working in the nursing field before becoming eligible for nurse anesthetist certification. In the United States, nurses can take an exam administered by the National Board on Certification and Recertification of Nurse Anesthetists. Many other countries have similar governing boards which issue certification credentials to anesthetists.
As with most nursing careers, job prospects for qualified nurse anesthetists are generally strong. With enough experience, many nurses advance to supervisory or administrative roles within a hospital or private practice. Some choose to pursue continuing education and receive doctoral degrees, granting them the opportunity to become professional anesthesiologists or physicians.