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    The Employment Outlook for Nurse Anesthetists

    By Linda Beattie, contributor.    

    For more than a decade, the shortage of trained nurses and physicians in the United States has caused concern among health care leaders, as well as patients and their families. The health care industry has made considerable progress in addressing the issue, but many hospitals and health care systems are still struggling to maintain adequate staffing levels. During this same period, the surgical landscape has been changing, and nurse anesthetist programs have grown substantially to try to meet demand.

    What does this mean for prospective nurse anesthetists seeking employment?

    In short, certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) have many reasons to be pleased about their job prospects, both now and in the future.

    According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2006-07 Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities for registered nurses in all specialties are expected to be “excellent” in the next few years, with employment rates growing much faster than the average for all occupations through 2014. The Handbook also predicts that advanced practice nurses, including CRNAs, will be in high demand, particularly in medically underserved areas such as inner cities and rural areas.

    The job opportunities will vary by employment setting, however. For example, employment is expected to grow more slowly in hospitals, which comprise health care’s largest industry, but rapid growth is expected in hospital outpatient facilities, such as those providing same-day surgery, rehabilitation, and chemotherapy.

    The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA), which represents more than 92 percent of the 36,000 CRNAs nationwide, reports that nurse anesthetists currently administer approximately 27 million anesthetics in the United States each year. Practicing in every setting where anesthesia is available, CRNAs are the sole anesthesia providers in nearly 10 percent of all health care facilities across the country, and in two-thirds of all rural hospitals. 

    “The employment outlook for CRNAs is excellent,” according to Brent Sommer, CRNA, MPHA, a spokesperson for the AANA and vice chair and wellness advocate for the Council for Public Interest in Anesthesia. “We also see a real broadening of opportunities in both traditional and nontraditional settings due to the law of supply and demand.”

    Sommer explained that the number of surgeries in the U.S., and thus the need for more nurse anesthetists, is increasing, due in part to the country’s aging population.

    “People are living longer with co-morbidities and require more interventions, monitored anesthesia care or pain management,” Sommer said. “In addition to traditional surgery settings, many specialties have been able to maximize their services by moving out of the hospital, so many CRNAs are working in oral surgery, endoscopy, plastic surgery and other procedures in ambulatory or outpatient surgery centers.”

    While Sommer noted that the trend in many larger hospitals is toward team practice, where they are recruiting greater numbers of CRNAs to work alongside anesthesiologists and others in the surgical team, there are also more opportunities for nurse anesthetists to maintain an independent practice.  

    Based on recent profiles of the AANA membership, Sommer provided this snapshot of today’s CRNAs:

    The average age of today’s working CRNA is 48.5 years, and 40 percent have practiced for 20 years or more. The attrition rate is low, at just under 4 percent, and approximately 10 percent of CRNAs who are eligible to retire choose to continue working.  The gender breakdown for CRNAs is 55 percent female and 45 percent male, and the average CRNA salary is $140,000 per year. More than 80 percent of CRNAs practice in major metropolitan areas. Eighty-two percent work in hospital settings, while 10 percent work in ambulatory service centers (including 7 percent in university hospitals).

    Established as the first clinical nursing specialty in the late 1800s, nurse anesthesia developed in response to the growing need that surgeons had for anesthetists. The practice has grown into a highly-regarded profession where CRNAs can enjoy more autonomy than ever before and a number of employment opportunities.

    In 1990, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published findings indicating a national shortage of almost 5,400 nurse anesthetists. The study recommended that nurse anesthesia educational programs would need to produce between 1,500 and 1,800 graduates annually to meet societal nurse anesthesia demands by the year 2010. The AANA has worked diligently over the last several years to meet this goal.

    Their efforts to date have proven very successful. The number of CRNA programs has grown from the low 80s to a current count of 108, and the number of graduates has more than doubled since 1994, from 990 to 1,900 graduates in 2006.

    Even with greater numbers entering the workforce, today’s CRNA graduates are finding a number of job opportunities waiting for them.  As an example, the nurse anesthetist program that Sommer runs at Samuel Merritt College in Oakland, California, graduated 25 CRNAs in mid November 2007, and each graduate had a job already in place. In fact, several of the students had received more than one job offer.

    CRNAs already provide more than one-half of the anesthetics delivered in the United States each year, operating in a cost-effective manner while maintaining high-quality patient care. As the country’s hospitals and health care facilities work to control the rising cost of health care and maintain adequate staffing while accommodating the need for more surgeries overall, the demand for CRNAs is expected to increase well into the next decade. 

    For more information visit:   
    American Association of Nurse Anesthetics
    U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics


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