CRNA followed winding path to career that thrills him

Circumstance played a tune in the career of nurse anesthetist Paul Evelyn, who works for American Anesthesiology of Georgia at Piedmont Healthcare. If it hadn’t, he might be wearing sparkly stage garb instead of scrubs.

Although he sings praises about the nurse anesthetist field and mentors those who choose that direction, he didn’t orchestrate this path from the get-go.

“Nursing was kind of like plan D for me,” Evelyn said with a laugh.

Evelyn, who holds a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) credential, graduated from University of Georgia in 1976 with a degree in piano. After spending the next decade turning it up to 11 while manning the keyboard in various bands around Atlanta, Evelyn rethought his music career.

“Things weren’t really happening,” Evelyn remembered. “I said to myself, ‘I’m not the millionaire rock star that I thought I was going to be.’”

A friend suggested nursing, and Evelyn went to LPN school. Upon graduating in 1988, he landed a job at Grady Hospital and became enamored with the craft.

For more than a dozen years, he chalked up countless hours in the field, and during that time he garnered an associates RN degree and eventually a bachelors of science in nursing. His nursing career, however, would strike another unexpected chord.

“I was working at Grady in the OR at this point, and I noticed a guy there giving anesthesia, who wasn’t a doctor,” Evelyn said. “I never knew that was possible. He said, ‘I’m a nurse anesthetist.’ I thought, ‘That’s an even better job than I have now.’”

He soon learned more about the CRNA credential. CRNAs administer anesthesia while working with surgeons, dentists, podiatrists and various other qualified healthcare professionals. According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) 2013 Practice Profile Survey, CRNAs provide more than 34 million anesthetics to patients annually in the United States.

Evelyn discussed the idea with his wife, Juliette, a fellow nurse whom he met on the job. He eventually opted to apply to nurse anesthetist school. In 2002, the Medical College of Georgia accepted him into its program, the only one of its kind in the state.

After a multitude of sacrifices and hard work, Evelyn kicked off the next phase of his career, this time as a nurse anesthetist.

In an effort to provide insight to those who may be interested in the field, Evelyn recently shared his experiences and thoughts on life as a CRNA.

On the challenges of attaining his CRNA:

“I went to Augusta and got my butt kicked in that program. [Laughs] It’s like nursing school times 10, but it’s worth it. …It’s not that it was so hard, but there was just so much. There were papers, tests, group projects and so much reading that it’s unbelievable. And I was going to work while I was in school. I tried working one day at Grady, and I already got behind. Fortunately, my wife was able to work. We had two small children at the time, and it was pretty tough. I was in Augusta from Sunday until Thursday, and my wife worked nightshifts at Grady on the weekends. So on the weekends, I just took care of the kids and had some home time. If I had to study for an exam, my parents helped out. It was doable. It was only for a year, because the second year you can move back home, because it’s all clinical. You’re working under a real CRNA and doing anesthesia.”

On what keeps him passionate about his job:

“It’s different now, but at the time a lot of nursing jobs didn’t have autonomy. A doctor writes an order and you do it. As a CRNA, you’re making all of these clinical decisions totally on your own and independent of the anesthesiologist. CRNAs deliver most of the anesthesia in the country. Most of the anesthetics are done in rural areas where there aren’t any anesthesiologists. So it falls on the CRNA to do it. That’s why the education is so intense. The buck finally stops with you. At Piedmont where I work, it’s a team effort. We work with anesthesiologists, and the CRNAs and the anesthesiologist assistants deliver the anesthesia. We’re the ones in the room with the patient the whole time. The anesthesiologist is on hand in case there’s a problem. … It’s a controlled environment. The thing that was so hard about working in the emergency room was you were running around putting out fires all day, whereas in anesthesia, it’s so controlled and safe. You get to work with surgeons, nurses and other smart people. It’s a great environment.”

On his advice to those interested in becoming nurse anesthetists:

“I’ll tell anyone who will listen what a great job this is. If I see young nurses in the OR, who are just out of school, I tell them to keep this field in mind. I’ve mentored a lot of young nurses. We have a lot of anesthesia students come through Piedmont, and I’m with a student just about every day. I love working with students, teaching them, seeing them develop, getting out there and doing what I’m doing, and doing it even better. …If you’re interested, study real hard, because it’s very competitive today, even more than it was when I was school. When you get out of nursing school, try to get into ICU right off of the bat, because you’ve got to have that ICU experience to get into a nurse anesthetist program. Find one, work real hard and learn as much as you can. After working at least a year in an ICU, then you can apply. It’s difficult to get into Medical College of Georgia’s program, because it’s the only nurse anesthesia program in Georgia. Other states have multiple programs. If you really want to do this, you will get in somewhere.”