A master’s degree in nurse anesthesia, one of the highest-paying master’s degrees, can prepare you for the in-demand career of a nurse anesthetist. Nurse anesthetists are healthcare professionals who may work in any environment where there is a need to administer anesthesia, the drugs that relieve pain and cause patients to lose consciousness in preparation to undergo surgical procedures. Nurse anesthetists find job opportunities in numerous healthcare settings, including hospitals, outpatient surgery centers and physicians’ offices.
It probably doesn’t surprise your that hospitals are a prime employment setting for nurse anesthetists. In fact, 14,420 of the 43,570 nurse anesthetists working in the U.S. were employed by general medical and surgical hospitals, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That equates to almost one-third of the occupation.
You will find opportunities for nurse anesthetists in general hospitals, surgical hospitals, critical access hospitals and veterans’ hospitals. Many nurse anesthetists who are employed by hospitals work in surgical suites, operating rooms and labor and delivery wards, according to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists. Nurse anesthetists may also work in trauma units, administering pain-relieving and loss of consciousness-inducing drugs to patients who have suffered severe injuries and who often require urgent medical intervention to save their lives or function.
Hospitals in rural areas, specifically, rely on nurse anesthetists to administer anesthesia for surgeries, childbirth or emergencies. In rural counties, nurse anesthetists make up more than four out of five anesthesia providers. Nurse anesthetists also take the lead in providing anesthesia services at medical bases in the Armed Forces.
Nurse anesthetists may help laboring women in freestanding birth centers, The Houston Chronicle reported. Nurse anesthetists in birthing centers most often administer regional anesthesia epidurals or local anesthetics, but emergencies may require general anesthesia.
Outpatient Surgical Centers
Many surgeries today are performed in ambulatory care centers instead of hospitals. In fact, outpatient surgeries accounted for almost 70 percent of surgical procedures performed in the United States in 2016, according to a report published by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia in surgical procedures conducted in these ambulatory centers, the most common of which include surgeries of the digestive system, eye, musculoskeletal system, integumentary system and nervous system, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
A nurse anesthesiologist in an outpatient surgery center has job duties similar to those found in a hospital environment. As the patient prepares to undergo surgery, the nurse anesthetist must provide pre-operative care that includes speaking to the patient to get their medical history and explain what to expect. The nurse anesthetist uses information from a physical examination of the patient and their medical history to choose the right medication and dosage. As the procedure begins, the nurse anesthetist administers the medication and then monitors the patient’s vital signs throughout the surgery. Checking on patients in post-operative recovery is also part of a nurse anesthetist’s job role.
Despite the growth in the number of outpatient surgical procedures performed, jobs for nurse anesthetists are much less common in ambulatory care settings than in hospitals. Just 1,910 nurse anesthetists worked in an outpatient care center in 2019, according to the BLS.
Another environment where patients receive care on an outpatient basis is a public or private healthcare clinic. Many nurse anesthetists who work in clinics will find jobs in specialized pain management clinics rather than primary care clinics.
Anesthesia isn’t used exclusively for major surgical procedures. Sometimes the drugs that produce numbness, relieve pain or even induce a loss of consciousness are required for in-office procedures. For example, you might be put to sleep for the duration of a wisdom tooth extraction. The types of medical offices that are most likely to employ nurse anesthetists are dentists’ offices, podiatrists’ offices, plastic surgeons’ offices, ophthalmologists’ offices and pain management clinics, according to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists. Surprisingly, physicians’ offices employ the largest share of the nurse anesthetist occupation, accounting for 22,870 jobs as of 2019, the BLS reported.
Because state laws outline the scope of practice and requirements for physician supervision that apply to nurse anesthetists, working under dentists and podiatrists is an option in some states but not others, the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists reported.