Anesthesia Professionals Save Lives in Combat Zones around the Globe

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American humorist Will Rogers once ironically remarked, "You can’t say civilization don’t advance… in every war, they kill you in a new way." Military CRNAs, who are highly educated and skilled anesthesia professionals, constantly hone their ability to practice their vital profession in the demanding and ever-changing crucible of war. CRNAs in uniform took center stage during the Annual Congress yesterday afternoon during "Anesthesia in a Deployed Setting" in the Grand Ballroom.
 
Since World War I, CRNAs have been the main providers of anesthesia care to injured military personnel on the front lines of all U.S. military actions overseas. In the harshest of environments, they provide safe, high quality anesthesia care to soldiers and civilians alike, and are often deployed to provide care in adverse settings other than war, such as civil disorder, natural disasters, and humanitarian missions. CRNAs serve as officers in the Army, Navy, and Air Force, as well as in the Reserves and National Guard, and are required to meet the same physical fitness, ethical, and appearance standards of any member of the military. 
 
"CRNAs in the military are independent practitioners, and are prepared to administer every type of anesthesia to patients, anywhere at any time, including 'hot' combat zones," said presenter Colonel Janet Setnor, a 24-year U.S. Air Force Reservist, Nurse Corps veteran, and the Reserve Advisor to the Air Force Chief Consultant of Nursing Services. "While training to be some of the best anesthesia providers and caregivers in the world, military CRNAs are required to add the additional skill sets of knowing how to effectively perform in live fire, nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare zones. Throw into the mix that these duties are often performed while far from family and the comforts of home, and you come to appreciate how admirable the service of these professionals is," said Setnor.
 
The training is both diverse and complex, and includes marksmanship and proficiency in small arms, survival training, familiarization with the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Laws of Armed Conflict, military history, and customs and courtesies. All of these yearly training requirements are accomplished while maintaining the proficiency and certification requirements of any civilian CRNA. As officers, these CRNAs are military leaders who advance in rank, taking on demanding supervisory and command roles. Preparation for these leadership roles is gained by attending professional military schools such as "Command and Staff" colleges and "War" colleges, some of which are accredited to award Master of Science degrees. "We have a saying: For every drop of sweat in training, we save a gallon of blood on the battlefield. Our people believe it; so we train for it," said Setnor.
 
Nurses first provided anesthesia to wounded soldiers during the Civil War. During the Vietnam War, two AANA members, First Lieutenants Jerome Olmsted and Kenneth Shoemaker, lost their lives during the conflict—the only two CRNAs ever killed in the line of duty. "We have kind of an unofficial motto: One Team, One Fight. And I’m reminded of a Biblical scripture that reads, 'Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? And I said, Here am I. Send me!' As a military CRNA, I’m honored and privileged to serve with Air Force, Army, and Navy CRNAs who, despite the dangers and hardships, all raise their hands and say, 'send me!'" said Setnor. "How can you not want to be a part of a team like that?"
 
Not often emphasized is the humanitarian care provided to local citizens who may have been wounded as casualties of war, or are the recipients of much needed healthcare requiring anesthesia that may not have been possible without the presence of the U.S. military.
 
"The impact of our humanitarian efforts on the success of our operational missions cannot be overstated," said Setnor, who served in Afghanistan.   "Every second of beneficial care we provide to the local citizenry, every moment of kindness and compassion we give to them, comes back to us in the most unexpected ways. I have seen an entire village filled with suspicious and fearful people turn against their Taliban oppressors and embrace our coalition because of our willingness to help."​
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