Why I Became a CRNA

Tafford E. Oltz, MBA, CRNA

  • Jan 28, 2013

Tafford E. Oltz, MBA, CRNA
1996 Clinical Practitioner of the Year Award
2012 Ira Gunn Award
CRNA since 1970

Tafford OltzIt was during my first year as a nursing student that I became acutely aware of CRNAs.  My medial/surgical nursing instructor, Elizabeth Culbertson, had been a military CRNA in England during WWII.  She and I had long conversations about nurse anesthesia and the professional reward and personal satisfaction that the profession offered. She was the most influential person who encouraged me to become a CRNA.
During nurses training, I worked as a scrub nurse in the operating room where I was able to observe anesthesiologists providing their “magic” of making patients unconscious and insensitive to pain and then return them to consciousness at the end of their procedure.  I was intrigued by the anatomy, physiology and pharmacology that were required by the anesthetist. I knew at that moment, more than anything, I wanted to become a CRNA.
After graduation and boards, I moved to Montana and worked in the ER at the local community hospital. I applied to the nurse anesthesia program at the Mayo Clinic.  One month later I was accepted into the nurse anesthetist program, and two months later I was living in Rochester, Minn. The experience and training that I received at Mayo was irreplaceable. I was single and volunteered for every case that was available. My perception was that you learn clinical anesthesia by experience.  The more hours that you put in and the more cases you do, the better anesthetist you become. This philosophy has paid off. The education that I and my CRNA spouse received has allowed us to practice independently at several rural hospitals from Montana to the Virgin Islands.
Early on in my career, I became active in our state association and started speaking at continuing education meetings. I took advantage of every learning opportunity to advance my skills as a CRNA. I was fortunate to have been able to receive both advanced training in OB regional anesthesia under Dr. John MacDonald and pain management under Dr. Kathy Wood at the University of Colorado. This advanced training has allowed me to practice OB and pain management throughout my career in areas that were previously closed to nurse anesthetists.
At the University of Iowa I was the chief nurse anesthetist and the department administrator. Later I was promoted to the Assistant to the Chairman of the Department of Anesthesia. My close relationship with the Chairman allowed us to develop the nurse anesthesia program at the University of Iowa and I become the first interim director of that program.
I have been told throughout my career, that as a CRNA you couldn’t compete with anesthesiologists, and you couldn’t evaluate MD anesthesia patient quality. Both of these assumptions were determined by federal and state courts to be false. As a CRNA, you are only restricted by your own self-imposed limitations.  Believe in yourself, believe in your profession and believe and support the AANA.