Why I Became a CRNA

Paul Austin, PhD, CRNA

  • May 4, 2015

CRNA Since 1985

Paul AustinWhen I was in high school in the Panama Canal Zone, it was all about hunting, fishing, motorcycle racing and going to the beach. In my junior year of high school, I knew I had to get serious about college. My aunt, Helen (Childs) Houck, is an RN and discussed nursing opportunities with my family and me. A child of the Depression, my father had always worked hard in all types of climates and told me not only can you make a good living as a nurse but you will work in an environment where it is warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Working in a hospital seemed like a good decision and I knew I would never make it racing motorcycles.
I first learned about nurse anesthesia when I was doing a rotation in the operating room as part of my diploma nursing program. The CRNAs, Bernadette Sovie, Van Lavigne, and Bob LaRock, were all great. The autonomy and helping patients through surgery seemed very satisfying. Admittedly, the machines fascinated me. I eagerly read articles in the old issues of the AANA Journal loaned to me by the CRNAs.
My sights were set on becoming CRNA as I followed my girlfriend (now my wife) to a university where we earned our BSN degrees while working at a local hospital. Military nurse anesthesia programs were (and are) highly respected and I thought it was for me. As a veteran of the Korean War, my father as well as my other family members, were very supportive of my decision to join the Air Force.
After working three years in the special care (intensive care) unit at Maxwell Air Force Base, I was selected to attend the U..S Navy Nurse Corps Anesthesia Program and George Washington University in Bethesda, Md., in 1983. At that time, the Air Force sent four nurses per year to the Navy program along with a number to the Air Force program at Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas. The training was rigorous. We were in the hospital seven days a week, seeing postoperative patients on Saturdays and preoperative patients on Sundays. The hard training prepared us to independently provide anesthesia care in any setting. Families make sacrifices as the nurse anesthesia student is not home very much, but the work pays off – for the student and their family.
During my career in the Air Force, I also earned a master degree and a PhD degree in nursing. I held positions as a staff CRNA, clinical instructor, didactic instructor, assistant program director, clinical site director and program director as well as serving as the Chief Consultant to the Air Force Surgeon General for Nurse Anesthesia. Mainly because I spent most of my career in education, we were never stationed overseas but lived in seven states. Providing anesthesia care in a variety of settings both as an independent provider and with anesthesiologists was challenging and rewarding. Teaching nurse anesthesia students and providing career counseling was particularly gratifying. After spending a brief period solely in the clinical setting when I retired from the Air Force, I am back in education.
An unexpected aspect of being a CRNA were the opportunities offered by being a nurse specializing in anesthesia. During my PhD program, I was fortunate to conduct my research in the laboratory dedicated to advancing respiratory care. Knowledge of respiratory care was instrumental in being able to conduct research in this prestigious laboratory. The collaboration with critical care physicians, other nurses, and respiratory care professionals resulted in being able to present papers at meetings across the country and publish in journals in the U.S. and abroad.
Anyone thinking of a career in nurse anesthesia should take as many science courses as possible in high school. Nursing students should take the maximum number of sciences courses while in nursing school including biochemistry. Have faith that while these courses do not seem important, they are key to understanding physiology and pharmacology. Critical care experience as a registered nurse is required and experience in a busy surgical intensive care unit is excellent preparation for anesthesia school.
I am so thankful for my aunt suggesting that I become a nurse. Nurse anesthesia is a great profession and I continue to enjoy practicing, teaching, and supporting the profession through working with the AANA.