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2004 Active members in American Association of Nurse Anesthetists in the United States: 29,344

2002 Active members in American Association of Nurse Anesthetists in Iowa: 265

2004 U.S. Median Salary: $120,000
Total income (salary plus overtime and bonuses: $135,000

2004 Iowa Median Salary: $128,000
Total income (salary plus overtime and bonuses: $138,000

***Source: American Association of Nurse Anesthetists

If I was a nurse anesthetist I would like to work in
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Classes in the basic sciences were important to John when he was in high school. He enjoyed the classes he took in chemistry, physics, anatomy and math. He is confident that these classes helped him to complete his bachelor's degree in college. "Art was my worst class," he claims. "I was always good at the sciences." Having a knack for the sciences is definitely a key to a career in healthcare, and John had that knack. In fact, as early as ninth grade, he knew he was interested in nurse anesthesia and did everything he could to prepare himself for that career.

After earning his nursing degree at South Dakota State University and becoming a registered nurse, John spent two years working in an intensive coronary care unit before starting a two-year anesthesia program. Upon finishing the program, he passed a national certification examination and was able to work as a nurse anesthetist.

Today most anesthesia programs are two-and-a-half years, but the path for this profession is unchanged; you must have a bachelor of science in nursing (or other appropriate bachelor's degree), a current license as a registered nurse, at least one year of critical care experience, then completion of an anesthesia program.

Work Experiences and Internships:

John grew up on a farm, so in high school he did a lot of farm work. He really enjoyed the animal husbandry side of things and feels his farm experiences exposed him to the biological sciences and helped to ground him in his quest for a career in science.

In college, John was committed to his education. He didn't take any jobs outside of his field, so after finishing nursing school he worked in an intensive coronary care unit for two years where he gained the experience required to enter the anesthesia program in Fargo, North Dakota. After that his time was totally dedicated to anesthesia. In fact, most of his time in the anesthesia program saw him working at a hospital. There was a lot of hands-on training which allowed him to work in a healthcare setting actually practicing anesthesia.

John recommends that high school students interested in this career volunteer or work part time in a healthcare facility. This will allow them to gain some knowledge of the environment. He also says that college students graduating with a degree in nursing have a lot of options open to them. He urges them to keep the laws of supply and demand in mind when choosing an area of nursing. "As of 2001, 53 percent of hospitals in the United States were in need of nurse anesthetists," he says. "That's a huge shortage."

Activities and Organizations:

4-H and sports were a part of John's high school activities, and he feels these have contributed to his career success. "Sports can teach discipline," he says. "It also taught me to reach for my goals." Since the ninth grade, his goal has been to be a nurse anesthetist. He knew there was a lot of schooling and work involved in attaining this goal. The discipline he gained in high school sports helped him to stay focused on his career goals.

4-H taught him how to interact with people. "In a hospital setting, people are usually at their worst," he says. "They're scared and encountering a difficult time in their lives." His success while interacting with these people is important to doing his job well. He feels his experience in 4-H helped him to learn to deal with people.

In college there weren't any career-specific organizations open to John. College students interested in nurse anesthesia today can visit http://www.aana.com/ to see if their college has a student nurse anesthetist organization.

Setbacks and Obstacles:

"Do I really want to go back to school for two years?" That was a question John asked himself after working as a registered nurse for a year. He enjoyed working in the intensive coronary care unit but knew he had to go back for a two-year anesthesia program in order to become a nurse anesthetist. He kept his career goal in sight and decided to go back to school.

But making the decision to return to school presented John with some obstacles. Financially he had to make some sacrifices. He lived in a cheap, but undesirable apartment, located next to a railroad track. The noise kept him awake at night, and his hanging plants shook when trains passed by. Dining out consisted of a meal at a local fast food restaurant, and he and his fiancée postponed marriage until he had completed school.


Finding the correct career fit is what motivated John to seek his career goals. He had a gut feeling that nurse anesthesia would fit into the life he wanted to live, so he went for it! He researched the career when he was in ninth grade and found that it fit with his natural talents and with his personality. The farther he got down the path, the more he realized that his instincts were right. Keeping his final goal in mind, which was to be a nurse anesthetist, kept him going.


It all started in the ninth grade. His class was given a career exploration assignment in social studies. He began researching and found anesthesia. It sounded interesting so he chose to write his essay about it. He knew it was math and science oriented, and since those were the things he knew he was good at he thought anesthesia would be a perfect career choice. Before that he had considered being a farmer like his father. In fact, he enjoyed animal husbandry so much that he even considered becoming a veterinarian. But nurse anesthesia won his heart, and he chased his ninth grade dream.

Next: A day in the life of a Nurse Anesthetist.



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