The History Of Nurse Anesthesia And What The Future Holds For CRNAs

Dec 18, 2023

Learn about the history of Nurse Anesthesia and understand what the future may hold for this profession. Whether preparing for a CRNA school interview, still researching the career path or a Nurse Anesthesia Resident conducting research for your DNP project, this article will provide you with helpful insights into the history and future of Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists. Let’s dive in!

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The Pioneers of Anesthesia

The roots of nurse anesthesia can be traced back to the 19th century. Nurse Anesthetists played a crucial role in providing anesthesia during surgeries and in combat. The early pioneers of this profession faced numerous challenges but remained committed to patient care.

Nurse Anesthesia Key Figures:

Catherine Lawrence (1863)Administered anesthesia during the battle of Bull Run. She used chloroform for wounded solders needing emergency operations in the field.

Sister Mary Bernard (1844-1896): Sister Mary Bernard, a member of the Sisters of Mercy in Chicago, is often regarded as one of the earliest pioneers of nurse anesthesia. She practiced anesthesia and surgery alongside Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, a pioneering female surgeon and Civil War veteran. Together, they provided anesthesia services during the Civil War, marking a significant milestone in the history of nurse anesthesia.

Alice Magaw (1899-1933): Alice Magaw, a nurse from Minnesota, made substantial contributions to the development of nurse anesthesia and became known as the Mother of Anesthesia. She was the Mayo brothers personal anesthetist administering over 14,000 anesthetics at the Mayo Clinic without a single death.She played a pivotal role in establishing protocols for safe anesthesia administration.

Agatha Hodgins founded Lakeside Hospital School of Anesthesia in 1915 in Cleveland, Ohio. She went on to start the National Association of Nurse Anesthetists in 1931 in Cleveland, Ohio, now the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology (AANA).

Nurse Anesthetists During World War I and Beyond

The world changed dramatically during World War I, and nurse anesthetists were no exception. With an increased demand for anesthesia services on the battlefield and in hospitals, nurse anesthetists stepped up to the plate. Their expertise became vital in saving lives and alleviating the pain of wounded soldiers.

Establishment of Formal CRNA Programs

During this era, several hospitals and healthcare institutions recognized the need for structured education in nurse anesthesia. Formal programs began to emerge, offering aspiring nurse anesthetists the opportunity to receive systematic training. These programs covered topics such as pharmacology, anatomy, physiology, and the practical aspects of administering anesthesia.

Standardization and Accreditation of CRNA Schools

One of the critical achievements during this period was the standardization of nurse anesthesia education. Agatha Hodgins and her contemporaries worked diligently to develop comprehensive curricula and accreditation standards. Their efforts laid the foundation for consistent, high-quality education and training programs for nurse anesthetists across the country. In 1945 the first certification exam was administered which allowed nurse anesthetist to be a recognized discipline within the larger healthcare community. In 1956 Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) credential was adopted.

CRNA Advocacy and Professionalization

Nurse anesthetists not only play a vital role in access to anesthesia services but also advocate for their rights and professional recognition. The establishment of the AANA was a monumental event in the history of nurse anesthesia. It provided nurse anesthetists with a collective voice and a platform to promote their profession. The AANA worked to set standards for education, practice, and ethics within the field.

CRNA Milestones

1963: COL Mildred Clark became the first CRNA chief of the Army Nurse Corps

1973: Goldie Bragman becomes the first black president of the AANA

1986: CRNAs obtain direct reimbursement from Medicare

1998: All CRNA programs transitioned to a masters degree.

2001: Iowa becomes the first opt-out state

2023: All CRNA programs transitioned to a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree.

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The Future of CRNAs

Technological Integration: Nurse anesthetists will continue to integrate cutting-edge technology into their practice, utilizing artificial intelligence, and data analytics to improve patient care, optimize anesthesia administration, and enhance patient outcomes.

Patient-Centered Care: With a critical care nurse background, CRNAs are uniquely suited to lead patient centered care with shared decision-making, personalized anesthesia plans, and enhanced patient education to promote positive surgical experiences.

Expanded CRNA Scope of Practice: Nurse anesthetists will advocate for further expansion of their scope of practice, gaining autonomous practice rights in more states and participating in advanced practice roles, such as pain management and critical care.

CRNA Education and Training: Nurse anesthesia education programs will evolve to meet the demands of a changing healthcare landscape, incorporating new technologies, pharmacological advancements, and interprofessional collaboration and rural independent practice sites into their curriculum and clinical training.

Advocacy for Healthcare Access: Nurse anesthetists will continue to advocate for healthcare access, particularly in underserved and rural areas, where their services are often essential in bridging gaps in anesthesia care.

Expansion of Roles: Nurse anesthetists will continue to expand their roles beyond the operating room, providing anesthesia services in various clinical settings, including labor and delivery rooms, out-patient surgical centers, dental clinics, medical spas, critical care units, military services and pain management clinics.

Inclusion in Interprofessional Teams: Nurse anesthetists are integral members of interprofessional healthcare teams, collaborating with surgeons, physicians, and other healthcare providers to optimize patient care.


The legacy of nurse anesthetists continues to be defined by their unwavering commitment to patient safety, their adaptability in embracing advancements in healthcare, and their advocacy for the profession. As the profession evolves, nurse anesthetists will remain at the forefront of anesthesia care, ensuring that patients receive safe, effective, and compassionate anesthesia services.

Where to Find More Information on CRNA Careers

To learn more about CRNA careers, you can visit the following resources:

CRNA School Prep Academy has membership options to help YOU achieve your goal of becoming a CRNA, no matter where you are in your journey. Join CRNA School Prep Academy today!



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