• Reflections on A Career in Nurse Anesthesia

    Bijal Patel, DNP, CRNA, is a member of the AANA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee

    How long have you been a CRNA and what is your current practice settings? I have been a CRNA since 2005. I have provided anesthetic services in a multitude of settings: office based, hospital(inpatient/outpatient), overseas in foreign countries, and outpatient surgical centers.

    Is nursing your first career? How early on in your nursing career did you know about nurse anesthesia? Nursing was my first career.  I did not know what a CRNA was until I started working as a RN in the Neurosurgical ICU at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. One night my patient was coding and one of the nurses I was working with was a student registered nurse anesthetist (SRNA). He knew how to manage the airway until the anesthesia team arrived.  After seeing that I was so impressed with his skills and knowledge base that I began to do more research into what a CRNA was. I then applied to Rush University in Chicago.

    What ultimately made you choose to be a CRNA? After seeing how highly trained, educated, and respected they are, I decided this was a career for me.  I always knew I wanted to make a difference, and I knew this was my path.

    Describe your experience in nurse anesthesia school. Anesthesia school was intense.  When I went to Rush University, it was the number one school in the country for CRNA training.  They were deserving of that title.  We worked endless hours, studied very hard, and had the best mentors who respected us.   We had access to simulation labs and airway clinics, and we worked side by side with the medical anesthesia residents.  I left that program with a strong foundation of anesthesia knowledge and experience.  We rotated through every type of practice setting. Upon reflection, the training I received was the perfect foundation to start my career.

    What are three things you wish all nurse anesthesia educators knew about students of color and/or SRNAs of Asian descent? That although there are not many of us, we are equally driven and qualified to complete these programs.  Educators must inform, empower, and mentor minority students to better prepare them for their careers.

    What are the gifts of nurse anesthesia and what are you proud of? The gifts of being a CRNA are that you are highly educated, highly respected, and highly compensated, there is a high demand, high autonomy, and depending on where you work, high flexibility with your schedule. As for myself, I have three children, and having flexibility in my work schedule allows me to spend more time with them.  That is something most people do not have in their professional careers. I work fewer hours and have higher compensation than many of my friends who are professionals. During COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, I went back to school and received my doctorate and certification in global health from Northwestern University. It was not easy going back to school after 17 years, but I am so proud of my accomplishments. I plan on using my knowledge to provide healthcare services to underserved populations.

    Advice to students or CRNAs who are just starting out in this profession. Being a CRNA entails great responsibility. I advise students to be vigilant, and professional, and never to be afraid to ask for help or advice. Discuss your concerns and weaknesses with your mentors; only then can you become stronger. You are a future leader, so always lead by example. Be great, be amazing, be knowledgeable, and be a CRNA!