I’m a prior PJ and I’m currently in a CRNA program. I’m here to help any PJs thinking about pursuing a medical career in Anesthesia. When I was going through the pipeline, I was lucky enough to go through the Army’s Joint Special Operations Combat Medical Training Course. During our clinical training, we got our intubation practice in the operating rooms (OR) of big hospitals and medical centers. What I thought were anesthesiologists (MD-A) training me, were actually CRNAs. I never heard of them, and come to find out, in the general sense; they are Critical Care (ICU) nurses with a Master’s degree in Anesthesia. They are trained to provide the exact same anesthesia care as anesthesiologists, without having to obtain a medical degree.
CRNAs get paid pretty well (depends on which area of the country you work and the type of practice you’re in; which I will get into in another blog), not as high as MDAs, but high enough that you’ll be in one of the higher tax brackets. However, you do the same amount of work, if not more, than MDAs. You can compare the difference to Officers and Enlisted, CROs versus PJs. In the facility I originally trained in, there was one MDA to 4 CRNAs. The CRNAs were the ones actually in the OR providing anesthesia care to the patient having surgery. The MDA acted more as a supervisor and was only paged if the CRNA required additional help. Now this system differs between different hospitals and different states, but CRNAs are trained to do everything a MDA can do. The only real difference in terms of scope of practice in different hospital settings is what the CRNA is allowed to do.
Now the route to become a CRNA is very different than the route to become a MD. That’s not to say that becoming a CRNA is any easier, just that it requires less time, less schooling, and less cost (student loans to pay back) than going the med-school route. Getting into a CRNA program is very competitive. You still have to work hard nonetheless. But I can tell you from first hand experience, as long as you have the grades and high GPA to back up your resume, just having a PJ background will take care of the rest.
If you are interested in becoming a CRNA, you can find more information about the career and the colleges offering a CRNA program at www.aana.com. I will post more info about the process and path to becoming a CRNA, and some extra details about the job itself in later blogs. For now, I can tell you in my experience, there is never a day where I do not look forward to coming to work at the hospital. This job will test and challenge your anatomy and physiology, as well as your pharmacology. If you have any questions or comments, just post your comments at the end of this blog. Good luck to you in your post-Pararescue medical career endeavors!