Nurse Anesthetist or Nurse Anesthesiologist: Is it a Legal Issue?

Recently, I was at a social event with people who were not members of the medical profession. The common
question asked when you meet someone new is, “What do you do for a living?” My answer, “I am a nurse
anesthetist.” The lovely woman, then said, “Oh, do you do facials, botox and injections?” Obviously, she was thinking that I was an aesthetician. “No, I am a nurse anesthesiologist.” I finally said the words. The conversation quickly turned to discussion about recent surgery and previous anesthesia experience.

I have avoided going public about the terminology regarding our title, for many reasons. Not the least of
which is that I am an older CRNA and have been through the various iterations of our education, credentials and
professional organizations. Also, I am concerned that it will become a controversy that will be divisive and
distracting from other priorities. As predicted, the battle lines are being drawn and the arguments on social media
have been passionate and well-articulated.

When dissecting the various viewpoints on the topic, the one that needs to be challenged is whether or not there
are legal issues with the change in our identifier. I do not believe there is any legal issue in any of us personally using the term, “nurse anesthesiologist.” We can anticipate there will be issues at certain workplaces and
with some professionals who want to hold on to their own identity.

A quick perusal of intellectual property law and common usage shows no definitive right of one profession to claim
a title or to copyright or trademark it. Clearly, the suffix, “…ology” is defined as the “study of…”. CRNAs, study
both the science and art of anesthesiology and should have the right to be comfortable in using the term “nurse
anesthesiologist.”

The only legal issue that I can identify is related to the fraudulent use of a title that you have not earned. In other
words, if a CRNA by intent or neglect, pretends to be a physician anesthesiologist, that could be considered fraud.

I am well aware that several states and individual institutions have policies or regulations that restrict the use
of certain terms to the medical profession. How these would withstand a legal challenge is unknown, but our
system of laws that recognize common usage of terms would certainly be part of any argument.

I have not ventured beyond the right of an individual CRNA to correctly use the term, “nurse anesthesiologist.” The bigger issue and the one that will be part of this debate is what should AANA and other professional organizations do about this issue of identification. That is a discussion at a higher level and should include the cultural, ethical and branding aspects of our identification. This may be one of those situations where it is prudent to not ask for permission and to just do it.

AANA should certainly take on that mission, as it is one the members have expressed a strong interest. It should be done in a structured way, with all sides being evaluated.

Anesthesia Business Academy, while a membership organization for CRNAs, at this time, will not be taking an official stance on this topic. We will be following AANA discussions and decisions and monitor the arguments from the members. At our next board meeting, we will re-visit this topic.

That being said, the Academy will enforce the language that emphasizing that CRNAs practice Anesthesiology.

Let’s keep the discussion going, but if you plan to use a legal argument on either side of the issue, please include
citations.

If there is enough interest, I will consider setting up a panel discussion on this topic, which would be recorded and available on Anesthesia Business Academy website.

Note: the information on this blog is the personal opinion of the author and does not represent the policy of Anesthesia Business Academy.

Blog 2/12/18 by Jan Mannino

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