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What does a Nurse Anesthesiologist do?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2016
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A nurse anesthesiologist is more formally called a certified nurse anesthetist or CNA. These are registered nurses who have completed several more years of study and practice at the graduate level in the field of anesthesiology. Depending upon the state or country in which they practice they may work alone or with an anesthesiology team to administer anesthesia for surgeries, procedures, and things like childbirth.

There are many things that a nurse anesthesiologist can do. When working alone they could consult with people prior to a surgery to get their medical history, information about past reactions to drugs, and specific details on weight and height. They often not only get information from patients, but give it by explaining how anesthesia will work and how patients might feel when they recover. A good CNA frequently uses this pre-surgical interview to help calm patients and alleviate some of their fears regarding the medical procedure they face.

Given the procedure the person will have, the CNA can next determine which drugs would be most appropriate. CNAs not only must determine proper medicines, but also calculate dosages as appropriate to the patient’s size and to the length of time the patient will need medication. This second part of the calculation is less predictable, since the same procedure can vary in length each time it is performed.

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During an actual procedure, the nurse anesthesiologist administers medication as needed. It should be noted that anesthesia could include a lot of different things. People usually think of general anesthesia only. There are also lighter forms of sedation like twilight sleep, and local anesthesia, such as epidurals, that CNAs are quite capable of giving.

In many cases, and particularly when general anesthesia is used, the CNA remains with a patient throughout anesthesia administration. He or she monitors the patient and determines when to use more or less medication to either maintain sedation or to maintain patient comfort. In most cases a nurse anesthesiologist will not stop patient monitoring until after a patient is finished with a procedure and fully awake.

The nurse anesthesiologist might practice in many different settings. Some work in birth centers, dental clinics, or dermatology/plastic surgery centers. Many CNAs work in hospitals. The above description of job duties may be different depending on where these nurses work. Some work as part of anesthesiology teams that include anesthesiologists. They might assist an anesthesiologist in procedures instead of working alone, and country or state laws may in part influence this. Sometimes the CNA has an anesthesiologist supervisor and will perform some basic anesthesia procedures, but must call in the anesthesiologist for more complex anesthesia needs or if problems arise.

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