Recognizing nurse anesthetists

by Karilyn Privetts
Certified registered nurse anesthetist

It has often been said that to know where you are going, you must first know where you have been. Nurse anesthetists have traveled a hard and tumultuous road to get where they are today, which is why their contributions are being recognized during National Nurse Anesthetist Week Sunday to Jan. 26.

Nurse anesthesia was established in the late 1800s as the first clinical nursing specialty in response to the growing need surgeons had for anesthetists. Nurse anesthetists, pioneers in anesthesia, have been administering anesthesia for 150 years and have played significant roles in developing the practice.

Certified registered nurse anesthetists have been the main provider of anesthesia care to U.S. service men and women on the front lines since World War I.

Many of the advancements for medicine have come about during times of war, and this is no less true for the fields of nursing and nurse anesthesia. It became common practice for nurses to administer anesthesia during the mid-19th century, and since the Civil War, America has used nurse anesthetists in every conflict our military has seen. During the Civil War, anesthesia was administered by John Harris with chloroform and stimulants to the wounded near the Battle of Gettysburg. The nurse anesthetists serving in World War I were under the auspices of the Red Cross — they did not receive full military pay, rank, allowances or veterans’ compensation. They served out of patriotism, duty and love of their profession and of mankind.

It was during this time that the Army and Navy recognized the need for nurse anesthetists and began to train nurses to work as anesthetists for service in our military.

During World War II, nurse anesthetists fought for military rights. At the onset of the Korean War, a beautiful, eloquent, national call for help from nurse anesthetists was issued. In Vietnam, nurse anesthetists developed new anesthesia equipment.

Today, nurse anesthetists are actively involved in caring for our troops, civilian casualties, wounded enemy combatants and rescue missions.

Military CRNAs are acutely aware of the responsibility of being the sole anesthesia provider, whether shipboard with the U.S. Navy or in all branches of services as part of forward surgical teams.

They can provide care in a hospital, aboard a ship, in a connex box or in a tent. They are experts in their field, fluent in supervision of staff, and have earned the respect of those with whom they work. They serve in austere conditions, oftentimes under fire, to aid their fellow man.

Today’s war is ongoing, and although the contributions of our CRNAs are many, they may not be fully realized for years to come.

There is no more satisfying way of life than serving mankind while at the same time serving our country as a CRNA in the U.S. military.

Though all CRNAs are vital to our profession, I believe we owe a special debt of
gratitude to those in our military.

Landstuhl Regional Medical Center’s nurse anesthetists will host an information table in front of the hospital’s dining facility during National Nurse Anesthetist Week (excluding Monday) from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. with more information for those who are interested.