How to navigate job stress as a new CRNA amid a global pandemic

CRNA alumna Charnelle Lewis sitting on a couch.

-By Charnelle Lewis, DNP '19

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an additional source of stress for many health care providers. As a new certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), the uncertainty of a secure job or being placed at a high risk of contracting the virus are real stressors contributing to anxiety and accelerated burnout.

Here are four ways to navigate job stress as a new CRNA amid a global pandemic.

1. Recognition and self-awareness.

As nurses, it can be challenging to recognize increased stress and how to manage it adequately. Merely ignoring the perception allows the response to remain unchecked. It is essential to know how you respond to stressors so that you can identify them. 

Frequently ask yourself precisely what is causing the stress, what coping mechanisms work well and how you can cope better. Eating right, exercising safely, getting adequate rest and maintaining a routine can help. Restoring mental and physical alignment will help prevent chronic stress that can have deleterious effects on your health. 

2. Connect with others.

Becoming a CRNA and starting your first job can be very intimidating. While CRNAs provide anesthesia to patients immediately upon graduation, the transition from a nurse anesthetist student to CRNA can provoke anxiety.

The perception you have of yourself as a provider will wax and wane. You’re in the operating room the entire procedure prepared to make rapid clinical decisions when seconds count. Be proactive about your growth and connect with new or seasoned CRNAs. This is not only a great way to combat anxiety, but these relationships can help you ease into your new role by providing support, advice and ways you can improve your practice.  

3. Stay in the know.

Stay current about the pandemic and any regulations that could potentially affect your employment. As a new graduate with loans, understand your student loan repayment options and when your deferment or payment suspensions expire. Prepare by having three to six months of emergency savings. Being knowledgeable about the pandemic, practice laws and finances will help you be proactive as you enter into the workforce.

4. Know your worth.

Uncertainty still looms around elective procedures and surgeries to help control the spread of the pandemic and conserve hospital resources. When the pandemic began, the drastic reduction of cases caused many CRNAs to be displaced or furloughed. While elective cases are on the rise and CRNAs have returned to the operating room, their unique skill set was put to the test on the front lines amidst the worst COVID-19 conditions.  

As a CRNA, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge to respond to airway emergencies when a patient is deteriorating, handling intubation and managing the patient’s ventilation. You also can provide rapid assessments and volume resuscitation, including placement of vital central lines and arterial catheters on the unit.

With excellent critical care knowledge and anesthesia expertise, CRNAs can step into multiple roles while also enhancing their scope of practice due to the suspension of supervision requirements by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Therefore, it is vital for all CRNAs — new or seasoned — to recognize their unique skillset and understand their importance in the health care industry. Knowing your worth provides you with the comfort of knowing your value, which can help you manage your stress by creating spaces that hone your unique abilities.

About Charnelle Lewis, DNP '19

Charnelle Lewis (aka Nurse Nelle) is a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist from Buffalo, NY. She graduated from UB School of Nursing in May 2019 with her Doctorate in Nursing Practice specializing in Nurse Anesthesia. As a student, she served as the vice president of the Graduate Nurses Organization, was awarded the Outstanding Graduate Student Award by the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society and traveled to Kenya on a medical mission to provide anesthesia and volunteer services.

After realizing that there was a lack of student nurse anesthetist voices online, she decided to utilize social media to help and inspire others to pursue CRNA school and share their journeys through her Nurse Nelle blog.

Published January 21, 2021