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My debut novel, The Doctor and Mr. Dylan features a nurse anesthetist in the starring role of Mr. Dylan. Nurse anesthetists have provided anesthesia care in the United States for nearly 150 years, and CRNs will be a major factor in the future.
In the beginning, anesthesia care for surgical patients was often provided by trained nurses under the supervision of surgeons, until the establishment of anesthesiology as a medical specialty in the U.S. in the 20th century.
Here are 10 reasons why certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) will be a major factor in anesthesia care in the 21st century:
1. Rural America is dependent on CRNAs to staff surgery in small towns underserved by MD anesthesiologists. CRNAs are involved in providing anesthesia services to about one-quarter of the American population that resides in rural and frontier areas of this country. Despite a significant rise in the number of anesthesiologists in recent years, there is no evidence that they are attracted to practice in rural areas.
2. Obamacare will increase the demand for mid-level healthcare providers, e.g. nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and nurse anesthetists. These mid-level providers are perceived as a cheaper alternative to MD health care.
3. Seventeen states have opted out of the requirement for physician supervision of CRNA anesthetics. These states are Iowa, Nebraska, Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Kansas, North Dakota, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, Montana, South Dakota, Wisconsin, California, Colorado, and Kentucky. In these states, it’s legal for a CRNA to give an anesthetic without a supervising anesthesiologist or surgeon.
4. For cost-saving reasons, hospital administrators will consider the lower hourly rate charged by CRNAs to be a saving over MD anesthesia care rendered by anesthesiologists alone.
5. Future trends such as the American Society of Anesthesiologists’ Perioperative Surgical Home or bundled payments to Accountable Care Organizations will seek out the cheapest way to manage anesthetic populations. A likely economic model for a healthy patient population is the anesthesia care team, e.g. a 4:1 ratio of four CRNAs supervised by one MD anesthesiologist. This model can be used to staff four simultaneous surgeries on four healthy patients having simple surgical procedures. More complex procedures such as open-heart surgery, brain surgery, major vascular surgery, or emergency surgery will be best served by MD anesthesia care. Extremes of age (e.g. neonates or very old patients) and patients with significant medical comorbidities will be best served by MD anesthesia care.
6. Certain regions of the United States, particularly the South and the Midwest, are already entrenched with anesthesia care team models of 3:1 or 4:1 CRNA:MD staffing because of anesthesiologist preference. An MD anesthesiologist’s income can be augmented by supervising three or four operating rooms with multiple CRNAs simultaneously. These physicians will have little desire to rid themselves of nurse anesthetists and to personally do only one case at a time by themselves.
7. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) presents a strong, well-funded lobby which promotes the continuing and increasing role of CRNAs in medical care in the United States.
8. The educational cost for a registered nurse to become a CRNA is significantly less than the cost of training a board-certified MD anesthesiologist. The median cost of a public CRNA program is $40,195 and the median cost of a private program is $60,941, with an overall median of $51,720.
9. A registered nurse can significantly increase their income by becoming a CRNA. A registered nurse with one year of intensive care unit or post-anesthesia care unit experience can become a CRNA with 2-3 years of CRNA schooling. The average yearly salary of a CRNA in America in 2011 was $156,642.
10. The increasing starring role of CRNAs in American fiction ☺. (See The Doctor and Mr. Dylan, below)
After perusing this list one might ask, are CRNAs and anesthesiologists equals?
No, they are not. Anesthesiologists are doctors, and their training of four years of medical school followed by a minimum of four years of anesthesia residency makes them specialists in all aspects of surgical medicine.
The American Society of Anesthesiologists’ STATEMENT ON THE ANESTHESIA CARE TEAM states “Anesthesiology is the practice of medicine including, but not limited to, preoperative patient evaluation, anesthetic planning, intraoperative and postoperative care and the management of systems and personnel that support these activities. In addition, anesthesiology includes perioperative consultation, the management of coexisting disease, the prevention and management of untoward perioperative patient conditions, the treatment of acute and chronic pain, and the practice of critical care medicine. This care is personally provided by or directed by the anesthesiologist.” (Approved by the ASA House of Delegates on October 26, 1982, and last amended on October 16, 2013)
Doctor J H Silber’s landmark study from the University of Pennsylvania documented that both 30-day mortality and failure-to-rescue rates were lower when anesthesia care was supervised by anesthesiologists, as opposed to anesthesia care by unsupervised nurse anesthetists. This study has been widely discussed. The CRNA community dismissed the conclusions, citing that the Silber study was a retrospective study. In a Letter to the Editor published in Anesthesiology, Dr. Bruce Kleinman wrote regarding the Silber data, “this study could not and does not address the key issue: can CRNAs practice independently?”
I’m not a fan of CRNAs working alone without physician supervision. In both my expert witness practice and in the expert witness practice of my anesthesia colleagues, we find multiple adverse outcomes related to acute anesthetic care carried out by non-anesthesiologists.
CRNAs will play a significant role in American healthcare in the future. That significant role will be best played with an MD anesthesiologist at their right hand.
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Published in September 2017: The second edition of THE DOCTOR AND MR. DYLAN, Dr. Novak’s debut novel, a medical-legal mystery which blends the science and practice of anesthesiology with unforgettable characters, a page-turning plot, and the legacy of Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan.
In this debut thriller, tragedies strike an anesthesiologist as he tries to start a new life with his son.
Dr. Nico Antone, an anesthesiologist at Stanford University, is married to Alexandra, a high-powered real estate agent obsessed with money. Their son, Johnny, an 11th-grader with immense potential, struggles to get the grades he’ll need to attend an Ivy League college. After a screaming match with Alexandra, Nico moves himself and Johnny from Palo Alto, California, to his frozen childhood home of Hibbing, Minnesota. The move should help Johnny improve his grades and thus seem more attractive to universities, but Nico loves the freedom from his wife, too. Hibbing also happens to be the hometown of music icon Bob Dylan. Joining the hospital staff, Nico runs afoul of a grouchy nurse anesthetist calling himself Bobby Dylan, who plays Dylan songs twice a week in a bar called Heaven’s Door. As Nico and Johnny settle in, their lives turn around; they even start dating the gorgeous mother/daughter pair of Lena and Echo Johnson. However, when Johnny accidentally impregnates Echo, the lives of the Hibbing transplants start to implode. In true page-turner fashion, first-time novelist Novak gets started by killing soulless Alexandra, which accelerates the downfall of his underdog protagonist now accused of murder. Dialogue is pitch-perfect, and the insults hurled between Nico and his wife are as hilarious as they are hurtful: “Are you my husband, Nico? Or my dependent?” The author’s medical expertise proves central to the plot, and there are a few grisly moments, as when “dark blood percolated” from a patient’s nostrils “like coffee grounds.” Bob Dylan details add quirkiness to what might otherwise be a chilly revenge tale; we’re told, for instance, that Dylan taught “every singer with a less-than-perfect voice…how to sneer and twist off syllables.” Courtroom scenes toward the end crackle with energy, though one scene involving a snowmobile ties up a certain plot thread too neatly. By the end, Nico has rolled with a great many punches.
Nuanced characterization and crafty details help this debut soar.
Click on the image below to reach the Amazon link to The Doctor and Mr. Dylan:
Learn more about Rick Novak’s fiction writing at ricknovak.com by clicking on the picture below: