A career as a Certified Nurse Anesthetist rests much on scientific knowledge, but it also remains very much a mixture of science and art. One of the biggest rewards working as a CRNA is the respect that you get from other healthcare professionals and patients. I enjoy the combination of having a strong medical background and using my natural intuition while taking care of a patient’s physiological and psychological needs. A career as a CRNA for me is far from boring.
About Katherine Ford, MSN, CRNA: Katherine Ford grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. She graduated high school at Presentation High School and was an all-state basketball player. Ms. Ford has a deep passion for people and wanted to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps by becoming a registered nurse. She attended The University of San Francisco (USF) where she received her Bachelors of Science in Nursing degree with a minor in public policy in 2007.
Ms. Ford accepted her first RN position in the cardiothoracic unit at UCLA Medical Center, where she trained in caring for heart and lung transplant and cardiac surgery patients. In 2009 she was accepted to the Kaiser School of Anesthesia’s Master of Science in Nursing program and chose a path to become a nurse anesthetist. She graduated in August 2011 and took a position back in the San Francisco Bay Area at Kaiser Permanente Oakland. One year later, she moved back to Los Angeles with her fiancé and began work as a CRNA at Harbor UCLA. Ms. Ford gained intense training in trauma anesthesia as well an array of other high acuity medical specialties. Most recently, Ms. Ford, her husband and their newborn baby girl moved to Austin, Texas, where she started a CRNA position at Lakeway Regional Medical Center.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] Could you please describe your daily responsibilities as a CRNA at Lakeway Regional Medical Center? Who is on your team, and how do you collaborate to care for patients before, during, and after procedures?
[Katherine Ford, MSN, CRNA] I recently joined US Anesthesia, a large national anesthesia group that contracts with Lakeway Regional Medical Center in Austin, Texas. We are a small anesthesia department consisting of 4 anesthesiologist and 6 CRNAs.
My weekly schedule is five eight hours days. I start at 6:30am by setting up my anesthesia room, interviewing the patients, and putting the patient to sleep. At Lakeway, our anesthesiologist and CRNAs work closely together focusing on a team approach. We constantly communicate patients’ needs and specific anesthesia concerns with one another. As a CRNA, my role is assigned to an OR room for the day. The anesthesiologist will help me induce the patient, but I will manage the patients’ care under anesthesia until the patient arrives safety to the PACU.
The unique part about this CRNA role is the anesthesia department allows me to be proactive, yet autonomous in a team setting. Lakeway Regional is one of Austin’s premier orthopedic spine and neurology centered hospitals. The Austin Spine and Neuro Texas groups both operate at this facility bringing the most acute spine and neurological patients. Having such a high acuity makes my everyday job challenging, yet exciting.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] Could you please describe your role and responsibilities as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist at UCLA Harbor Medical Center, and how they differed from your current role at Lakeway Regional Medical Center?
[Katherine Ford, MSN, CRNA] UCLA Harbor is a level one-trauma center in Los Angeles County, allowing an abundance of sub-specialties and teaching opportunities. The high acute patient population and the collaborative environment amongst surgical residents, medical anesthesia residents, and CRNA nursing residents allowed for an endless amount of learning opportunities.
My typical day of work was a 12-hour shift. I would be assigned to a specific operating room, for example orthopedics or gynecological. After gulping a cup of coffee and putting on my scrubs, I would set up my anesthesia workstation and get ready to hit the floor running. After my initial anesthesia setup and anesthesia machine check, I would meet the patient in the pre-operative holding area to interview my first patient of the day. I discussed the anesthesia that would be provided and performed a thorough head to toe health assessment. Once the patient’s questions were answered, I would have the patient sign a legal anesthesia consent acknowledging that they are aware of the risks and benefits of anesthesia. Next, I would collaboratively generate an anesthesia plan with my attending anesthesiologist for the day and document this plan in our electronic medical record system. The patient would be transferred via gurney to the operating room suite where the attending anesthesiologist and I would begin safe anesthesia practices. When the patient was under anesthesia (whether it be general, local, regional, or neuraxial), I would thoroughly monitor the patient’s hemodynamics and anesthesia from start to finish, intervening when needed. These various types of anesthesia are all types of anesthesia that you will learn as an anesthesia student and become skilled in deciding on the safest anesthesia approach. At the completion of the surgical procedure, together the anesthesiologist and I would terminate the anesthesia, wake the patient up, and if it was a general anesthetic, remove the airway device (either an ETT or LMA). Lastly, I would transfer the patient to the recovery area, give a concise hand off to the PACU nurse, and monitor the patient until the patient was comfortable and safely recovering.
As a CRNA at Harbor UCLA, I had privilege of using the most advanced medical technology for administering anesthesia. Another great benefit of working at UCLA is the integrated electronic medical recording making communication ideal for gathering patient data, communicating patients’ needs, and working with a vast array of medical providers. Overall, UCLA was a unique experience with abundant learning opportunities.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] You also worked as a CRNA at Kaiser Permanente for their Oakland Medical Center. Could you elaborate on this role, including your responsibilities, work environment, and team?
[Katherine Ford, MSN, CRNA] My first job provided a great overall transition from school to working as a novice anesthesia provider. My CRNA role at Kaiser was also a supervision role, where an anesthesiologist would supervise your practice, but allow you the ability to make decisions based on their care.
Kaiser had all types of surgical cases and as a fresh CRNA out of school, I got a broad array of them. I enjoyed the neuro spine surgeries the most and dove into learning about chronic pain management and Ketamine use.
Kaiser was an environment of constant learning and development. Every week, our anesthesia department met and discussed pertinent cases, growing our never ending growth and development. Making the decision to leave Kaiser was a hard decision, but it was extremely important for me to be closer to my fiance, Jeff.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] Could you please describe what your experiences have been as a CRNA working as an independent contractor for Foothill Anesthesia and Sedates, Inc.? What kinds of medical settings did you work in as an independent contractor, and is the type of work you do different from the work you do at a specific hospital or medical center?
[Katherine Ford, MSN, CRNA] After years of being in an acute care setting (UCLA Harbor), I was introduced to the idea of working in a more independent practice. Living in California (an opt-out state), I decided what a privilege it was to be able to do anesthesia without direct supervision of an anesthesiologist. I began to network with other CRNA’s and to actively seek out anesthesia opportunities that would prepare me to become a sole provider. I met two wonderful mentors, Lisa Pulver, CRNA and Greg Wright, CRNA who allowed me to work with them to provide anesthesia in the Beverly Hills and Santa Monica area. The two specialties I chose were pain management and plastics.
There are a few differences between being a full time employee and an independent contractor. First, to work in independent practice you need to have anesthesia experience under your belt. I wouldn’t recommend this type of work for a new CRNA. When you are the sole anesthesia provider at a facility, you are in charge of the patient and equipment. For example, if the oxygen goes out, you need to change your own tank. Trouble shooting issues and taking care of the patient when you are on your own takes autonomy, critical and quick thinking, and organization.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] Why did you decide to become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, and what academic and professional experiences helped you to determine that this field of work was right for you?
[Katherine Ford, MSN, CRNA] During a medical mission trip to Africa, I was immersed in very high-risk and intense medical situations with healthcare providers. These healthcare providers continually impressed me with their medical skills inserting breathing tubes, placing invasive IVs, and monitoring labile hemodynamics. I was intrigued and knew that as a CRNA I would truly be exceptional in this capacity too.
As a nursing student, I decided to seek out more information about becoming a CRNA. My professors at USF and my preceptors at UCLA helped me achieve my goal of becoming a CRNA. I am lucky to be embraced with such wonderful and helpful mentors in my life.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] What have been some of the most rewarding aspects of working as a CRNA? On the other hand, what specific challenges have you encountered in this field of work, and how have you managed these challenges?
[Katherine Ford, MSN, CRNA] A career as a Certified Nurse Anesthetist rests much on scientific knowledge, but it also remains very much a mixture of science and art. One of the biggest rewards working as a CRNA is the respect that you get from other healthcare professionals and patients. I enjoy the combination of having a strong medical background and using my natural intuition while taking care of a patient’s physiological and psychological needs. A career as a CRNA for me is far from boring.
Despite its benefits and financial rewards, a career as a CRNA is physically and emotionally demanding. Maintaining a recipe for optimism, belief in your self, and ambition will help yield a successful CRNA career. I have learned so far that some things are out of my control. If I could say that I did everything safely for a patient, then I know I did the best I could do. Creating a work life balance is my main priority. Exercising your brain and body is extremely important in this career and will supply energy and spirit. Lastly, knowing work expectations is vital; communication with your manager or health care team, knowing your job description, and creating a cordial camaraderie with your colleagues, will produce a high degree of job satisfaction.
If you are afraid of the hard work, then this is not the career for you. Embrace the challenges and long road that it takes and I promise that it will be worth it. Becoming a CRNA takes every bit of determination, enthusiasm, and ambition.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] For current and prospective MSN students who are interested in becoming certified registered nurse anesthetists, what advice can you give them about optimally preparing for this field while pursuing their degree?
[Katherine Ford, MSN, CRNA] In my professional CRNA career, I have had the opportunity of mentoring several nurses to become CRNAs. My advice has always been three fold. First, you need to cultivate the ambition and courage to embrace the arduous path to become a CRNA. The root word for courage is “cor” and in Latin that means heart. It is not easy and takes a person who is completely dedicated and is willing to work hard. Second, it is imperative to choose a nursing job that focuses on teaching and continuing education. For me, I was accepted as a new graduate into the UCLA new graduate critical care preceptorship program. It was during this training program in the cardiothoracic unit that I gained a foundation for the knowledge and experiences in advanced nursing skills. Third, continue your own knowledge. This might mean studying for the CCRN exam, taking extra nursing courses, or reading evidence based research journals. As I reflect on my path, I believe I was successful because of these three steps that made me authentically stand out amongst other CRNA candidates.
A CRNA career is challenging. When you are accepted into a CRNA program, the first challenge you will encounter is the strenuous and abundant amount of didactic information. Be prepared to read and read and read. As you move further into the program, the clinical aspect next becomes demanding. You will have to juggle implementing safe didactic and newly acquired anesthesia skills (such as intubating an airway or placing an arterial line into a patients radial artery) into practice while keeping professional standards and also ethical and legal requirements. This role is strenuous and most likely you will feel fatigued, burned out, and question if you made the right choice. The ultimate answer is YES! These feelings are normal and expected. A professor of mine at Kaiser School of Anesthesia, Sass Elisha, Ed. D., always repeated this phrase to our class: “Keep flapping your wings.” That phrase held true to me when I was feeling beyond exhausted preparing for a career as a CRNA. This phrase meant to me to never give up, keep striving to reach your desired goals and to maintain focus. Everything that you will need to prepare for the final licensing exam will be covered throughout the CRNA program curriculum you choose. In conclusion, stay focused, stay calm, and stay vigilant.
Thank you Ms. Ford for participating in our APRN career guide interview series!