Richard E. Haas, PhD, CRNA, PHRN

Twenty years of teaching student nurse anesthetists

In June of 2015, I will celebrate my twentieth year of helping to chart the future of our profession by educating nurse anesthetists. This has not been a solitary pursuit. Without the talents and willingness of nearly hundreds of my CRNA colleagues, my personal efforts would have been for nothing. Anesthesia education is, and always has been, a team effort. As I reach the zenith of my career, I find myself looking backwards at what this career has meant to me. I also wish to peer forward to the future to encourage some of you to become teachers as well. The term “pearls” seems to place too high a value on these musings, so let’s just call them thoughts or reflections on some lessons learned throughout this time.

The first is that there is no substitute for hard work coupled with intellectual curiosity in the student nurse anesthetist. Brilliance will not suffice; the world is filled with the brilliant who have failed through lack of attention to detail or lack of desire for hard work. Hard work alone is not enough, without the intelligence to “get” the details of anesthesia, your work is for naught. Intellectual curiosity, on the other hand, combines the desire to know things with the necessary brain power to learn from what you have found. The hard work aspect is the dogged pursuit of understanding that which you have found, until the knowledge becomes part of you.

The second thought is that we are educating future professionals, not merely teaching a psychomotor skill set coupled with memorized data. The average student tends to have a dichotomous brain. There is “didactic” information (aka “book learning”) and “clinical” information (aka “hands-on”). This intellectual brick wall is, regrettably, often reinforced by colleagues in the operating room who use the “this is different than what the book says” explanation to various student questions. I have, to my embarrassment, used the same argument. In fact, the practice of anesthesia is ONE SINGLE CONSTRUCT which utilizes knowledge, judgment, and psychomotor skills. Indeed, the hallmark of the professional practitioner is to be expert in both what he or she does and what he or she knows.

The third item in our list is that students like structure and feedback. The quickest road to insanity for the average student nurse anesthetist is to provide only the most general or wishy-washy feedback. Students want to know and need to know which of their behaviors need the most work, and the ones in which they are demonstrating increasing signs of competency. Honest feedback, with time for debriefing and discussion, are precious jewels to most anesthesia students.

Finally, if you are not yet a clinical instructor, make every effort to become one. Your future colleagues need your help today. In our commonwealth there are 13 programs, not to mention those in Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC. It is nearly impossible for any school of nurse anesthesia to have too many clinical sites and too many willing preceptors. The term “willing” is very important; volunteers are always more highly sought than draftees. Some of you have no desire to teach, and we wish you only the best fortune in your career. As CRNAs we know that when one of us does well, we all do well. Some of you, though, may want to add the challenge of clinical or didactic instruction to your already impressive skill set. Contact your local school, we are always looking for folks to get interested in the lives and futures of our students.

Indeed, our anesthesia teachers are aging, and it is time for young professionals amongst us to seek the additional professional preparation required to administer and teach in nurse anesthetist educational programs. Our profession exists largely because each previous generation of CRNAs invests its time, talents, and efforts in the generation which follows it. These investments are truly invaluable when it comes to the preparation for and continuation of our profession. Our past is filled with achievement and success, we should expect no less from those who follow us in the future. Good teachers will make this happen.