National CRNA Week is the AANA’s annual celebration of anesthesia patient safety and the nation’s nearly 54,000 Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists and student registered nurse anesthetists who safely and cost-effectively provide more than 45 million anesthetics each year. Known as National Nurse Anesthetists Week as recently as 2014, the updated name for this popular event helps patients, hospital administrators, healthcare professionals, policymakers, and others become more familiar with the CRNA credential and the exceptional advanced practice registered nurses who have earned it.
Reserve the 2021 dates to Celebrate National CRNA Week: January 24-30, 2021!
CRNAs Serving Our Communities
LCDR Hope Ferguson, DNP, CRNA
“Military runs in my blood. My dad is a 20-plus year retired U.S. Navy veteran, and I am a full-time Navy reservist. I work at the Memphis VA Medical Center, where the anesthesia department is integral to the COVID airway team. The team secures the airway and inserts any additionally needed access, such as arterial and central lines. My first military mobilization happened in a completely different environment, however. In March, I served aboard the USNS Mercy in response to emergency need by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In addition to my first mobilization, this was also my first time on a ship! The Mercy is a huge, 1,000-bed hospital ship that was dispatched to Los Angeles to provide relief for hospitals hit hard by the pandemic. Mercy’s sister ship, the USNS Comfort, was simultaneously deployed to New York.
“While docked in Los Angeles, the USNS Mercy took on the healthy-patient offload from overloaded hospitals, which opened beds on land for COVID-positive patients and kept the COVID-negative patients out of the COVID hospitals. During my two months onboard, I provided anesthesia for a wide variety of operative procedures such as a pacemaker, orthopedics, plastic surgery, and lap choles. I also provided care for the homeless population. While the ship was never full—we averaged 70 to 80 patients at any given time—it freed up much-needed beds for COVID patients.
“I am proud that I serve my country as a CRNA. The thing I love most about what I do is gaining the trust of my patients in a short, 10-15-minute timeframe. Gaining that amount of trust is hard for any provider to do, but I pride myself on my ability to do it in anesthesia.
“Ultimately, I am pleased knowing that my role onboard the USNS Mercy helped save lives in Los Angeles hospitals during the pandemic.”
Delia Rhinehart, CRNA
“In May, I traveled with four CRNA colleagues from Memphis to spend a month working at Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, NJ, which was 20 minutes from Central Park. Barnabas contained only COVID patients, and the staff was exhausted. I decided to go because I wanted to show what CRNAs can do. We can wear many hats, and we transition well. I also wanted to learn. This was a completely new experience, and we felt that we could gain knowledge that we could bring back to Memphis.
“The head of the department at Barnabas was pretty familiar with what CRNAs could do. Even still, when they saw everything that we were capable of, they took full advantage to get the most out of us. We really served as hospitalists—we managed the ventilators, ordered the meds, trained the ICU and OR nurses how to titrate vasoactive drugs, drips, etc. We weren’t just managing patients, we were teaching other providers. And they were quick studies.
“I found the work very rewording, yet very sad. We were told many patients would die, and they did. Watching people dying alone was the most difficult part, and it was really helpful being there with my Memphis colleagues. We were a great support system for each other. Everyone copes with death differently.
“The Barnabas staff loved the ‘Memphis 5’ and did not want to let us go. I haven’t done this type of thing in the past—uproot, reinvent myself and fill gaps where needed—and I feel like my colleagues and I definitely proved ourselves.”
Steven Moon, SRNA
It’s not easy to find any silver linings in the heavy, dark cloud that is the COVID-19 pandemic, but they are there to be found if you look hard enough. One example is the message repeated by many student registered nurse anesthetists that this world healthcare crisis has provided a trial-by-fire training ground for the next generation of CRNAs. Caring for critically ill COVID-19 patients wasn’t what any nurse anesthetist, from seasoned veterans to those just starting their education, could have foreseen a year ago. But whenever this pandemic finally ends, it’s safe to say that many new CRNAs entering the healthcare workforce will be ready for just about anything!
Steven Moon, an SRNA at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, shared his story with TANA for posting during CRNA Week. Special thanks and well wishes to all the SRNAs and CRNAs on the front lines of COVID-19!
“I began my nursing career and CRNA school preparation in June 2018 working in a Level I trauma center in the Medical-Surgical ICU in Flint, Michigan. This also included being transformed into a COVID-only ICU during the winter of 2019 and into the spring of 2020. As part of the ICU team, we worked with limited staff, PPE and resources, and used these limited resources and our critical-thinking skills to turn a step-down unit into an ICU to help care for patients with this new disease. Implementing new and unfamiliar treatment interventions and having to learn how to respond rapidly to unfamiliar situations was something I felt contributed to my CRNA school preparation. Additionally, I returned to Michigan during my Christmas break to lend a helping hand to our non-COVID-19 sister unit, the CCU, to help lessen the burden of staff shortages there, while also helping my parents out at home while my Mom began her chemotherapy treatments. Being able to use the critical-care knowledge and experiences to help care for patients in an advanced role was one of the pushes for me to want to become a CRNA. Now that I am here, as an SRNA, I am excited to put my prior and current learning experiences to use in caring for future patients.”
(Steven Moon, holding the “to” sign, and part of the team he worked with in the COVID-19 ICU prior to becoming an SRNA.)
Codie Moszczynski, SRNA
When Codie Moszczynski, SRNA, front-line hero, contacted TANA to share her story, she was completing her third experience as a traveling ICU nurse on the front lines of the pandemic. At the time, January 4, 2021, Codie was in San Antonio, TX, following stints in Brooklyn, NY, and El Paso, TX, two of the nation’s epicenters when she was working there. This is her story as she submitted it and shared details in a follow-up phone interview.
“Beginning April this year, prior to starting CRNA school in August, I chose to travel to NYC to the epicenter of the pandemic in hopes of putting forth my best efforts to help and alleviating the strain on my fellow ICU nurses. I was in NYC for a total of 74 days, returning home in early July; now, during my Christmas break from CRNA school, I have found myself in San Antonio with a few classmates from my cohort. We have worked weeks in a row (yes, you read that right, weeks!) with very little in the way of resources, PPE, and sometimes hope to see this through. I work the night shift—7p to 7a—caring for a lot of COVID patients in a busy hospital with no available beds. Although my classmates and I should be taking a break and spending time with our families, it’s not that simple. We have the critical tools, experience, and knowledge to make a difference and that is the most important task right now.
Found My Calling
“A native of Florida, I attended the Florida Southwestern State College nursing program; my professional background is as a trauma ICU nurse. How did I gravitate toward nurse anesthesia? That’s easy: I found my calling. I’ll be starting my second semester as a first-year SRNA in February 2021. By the time I’m done with school, there will be such a need for nurse anesthetists. CRNAs will be leaving the workforce following the pandemic—so many are simply spent.”
Headlong into the Hot Zone
“The decision to travel wasn’t very difficult: I felt bad for my ICU nursing colleagues—they were hit hard by this pandemic. I was compelled to help them, so I did. I was fortunate to be able to travel with two of my SRNA colleagues from Union—first-year SRNAs like myself. It was good to be able to share such challenging experiences with colleagues who have similar interests and were at a similar point in their careers and nurse anesthesia preparation.”
“It’s hard to describe what it was like in Brooklyn. For anyone who questions, those ice trucks with the bodies in them were real. I was in Brooklyn—the epicenter—on a FEMA contract until July 3. I worked the night shift (7p-7a) as part of the first wave of 500 nurses to arrive in NYC, and it still wasn’t enough to cover the crisis.
“On July 4, just after I got home, I received a text asking if I’d travel to San Antonio to help out. ICU nurses there were dealing with 4-5 patients instead of two. Northing was normal. I hesitated, needing the break, but said, ‘OK, fine.’ I couldn’t say no—they needed the help badly.
“I started my anesthesia program when I got back from Texas, completing my first semester by mid-December. Sadly, my Dad passed away on December 9. He had caught COVID last June—he already had some health issues, and the virus tipped him over the edge. I was with him when he passed. It was a rough year start to finish.
“Shortly after the semester ended, I got sent to El Paso. In a sense it was good for me—it took my mind off my Dad as much as anything could. But I was amazed how bad it was in El Paso—very bad, worse than NYC at the height of the first wave. It was shocking to see people dying…just…all the time. A lot of our patients were Hispanic, and young—in their 30s and 40s. I think some of the reasons they were so vulnerable to the virus was poverty, diet, comorbidities, tight quarters—big families in small spaces. It only takes one person to catch COVID and bring it home and infect everyone you live with. In El Paso I felt like I was chasing my tail all the time—everyone was really sick. I finished out my trip working in San Antonio before returning to Tennessee.
“I believe every program should be sending students to help out and experience caregiving in the heart of the pandemic. It taught me flexibility—how to go with the flow yet be more keen about certain things. A had a lot of great experiences, and a lot of really bad ones!”
Coping with the Stress of the Front Line
“I find healthy ways to deal with the stress of what we are dealing with on a daily basis. I journal a lot. I try to eat right and take my vitamins, go to the gym. I get my nails done.
“I got my vaccine, which gives us healthcare workers a glimmer of hope—oh gosh, this might really end! I also talk about it a lot – that’s how I cope. My husband, my friends—I’m fortunate to have them. You find yourself going through the motions and replaying everything in your head all the time. There are positive outcomes, but so many bad ones. Facetiming with family members of critically ill COVID patients is really bad. I hold the phone up and turn away.”
Message for the Public
“People need to help each other. There was so much tension last year. We need to come together ultimately and be there for one another—take better care of one another. It’s about more than family—it’s about community. Wear your mask, get vaccinated. It’s not just about ourselves!”
Isaiah Fuller, CRNA
“Last April, I drove up to New Jersey with two of my colleagues to care for COVID-19 patients at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston. When I arrived for the first day of work, I can tell you that there was no way to imagine how truly bad it was. People were dying in droves. Recovery rooms and ORs had been turned into ICUs. Anesthesia machines were being converted to ventilators. COVID-negative patients were afraid to come to the hospital for fear of catching the virus, and as a result many were dying at home when they could have received care that might have saved them.
“The tougher patients were sent to our facility—the ones who might not make it. I was rounding on 6-7 patients per room, doing everything—intensive care, trachs, inserting lines… It’s bred into us CRNAs not to give up, so if something we try doesn’t work, we change it. If that doesn’t work, we change it again. Our training keeps us going, but our commitment to our patients does, too. We care tremendously about our patients and providing them with the best possible care. My personal philosophy: Treat every patient like they are family.
“It was very humbling going to NJ. I’m only 36, but I always considered myself sort of an ‘old-school’ nurse. I went to NJ to work hard and help train the other nurses and providers how to take care of these incredibly sick patients. You can think you know a lot, and suddenly you feel like you don’t know anything. When I got back from NJ, I was changed. I’m not as high-strung as I once was. It has made me a better person—seeing what I saw. Six patients died on my first shift!
“I had one patient while I was there who crashed so many times I never thought he would make it. But I was there when they rode him out to rehab. He had a girlfriend who was pregnant and kept calling to check on him. We had to get him through this to see his baby!
“Whenever possible, I want to meet the patient and make that bond. The ultimate goal, of course, is a positive outcome.
“I cared for another COVID patient who was young, healthy, athletic. He told me he had no one, so I held his hand prior to intubating him to let him know I cared. I realized he might never make it without the breathing tube. He was still there when I left to return home on June 1. I often wonder what happened to him…
“One of my patients, Bill Squires, actually became like family to me. He was a fighter. I bear-hugged him to pick him up and carry him from the bed to a reclining chair because he had not been out of bed for 30 days. I cut his hair, shaved him, made him presentable for his family when he talked with them via Facetime. I used my own iPhone because the hospital’s iPad didn’t work. I would just leave my phone with him for an hour and go take care of my other patients.
“I had to put Bill on a ventilator for 25 days. He looked like he was coming around when we took him off the ventilator, but his fever spiked two days later, and I had to reintubate. After his second extubation, I could tell his body was exhausted from inactivity, so I became a makeshift physical therapist and performed active steps to break down the mucus in his lungs.
“When Bill finally left the hospital, I was in tears. Some of his family tracked me down to say ‘thank you,’ and Bill himself called on Thanksgiving and Christmas. (Read more about Isaiah and Bill.)
“It’s patients like Bill who keep me going. Nurse anesthesia isn’t a clock-in, clock-out job. However long it takes and whatever it takes to get the job done, you need to be willing to do it. I stay with my patients the whole case and am the one who takes them to recovery. I don’t want to feel like I’ve broken my promise to my patient that I’ll be with them from the start of their procedure to the time they go to recovery.
“If I were asked to go back to another COVID hotspot, I would do it again and not think twice about it.”