Carollynn Heath says there is no place a certified registered nurse anesthetist is more important than in rural locations.
"There are 30 Georgia counties where a CRNA is the only provider of anesthesia care," she said.
And CRNAs are the sole anesthesia provider in the majority of 34 Georgia critical access hospitals where anesthesia is provided.
Both Heath and her friend Shannon Stansell are Georgia CRNAs who say many people do not know about their work, though nurse anesthetists have been around for more than 100 years.
Meeting at the Surgery Center on Weems Road in Columbus, the women, affiliated with Southern Crescent Anesthesiology, talked about the job they both describe as rewarding and stressful.
Neither can imagine doing anything else.
Stansell has been in the field for 15 years. Much of her work is done at West Georgia Medical Center in LaGrange, Ga.
"We provide the same drugs, use the same tools as an anesthesiologist, and studies have shown the care to be as good," Stansell said.
"In Georgia, we can work without the supervision of a doctor," added Heath, a six-year veteran who works in Columbus.
They say using a CRNA can be cost-effective for a patient.
A CRNA can administer every type of anesthetic and provide care for all surgeries, including an open-heart procedure or cataract surgery. You can also find them at a colonoscopy. They deliver the epidural providing relief from childbirth pain.
Both Heath and Stansell worked in an intensive care unit before deciding to move to a new challenge.
"I always wanted to be a nurse," Stansell said.
As a youth, Heath also knew her future was in the medical field.
Founded in 1931, the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists is the professional organization for more than 49,000 nurse anesthetists.
According to the organization, CRNAs administer approximately 40 million anesthetics to patients each year in this country.
"We play a big role with the military, going on all deployments," Heath said.
According to the AANA, nurse anesthetists have been the main providers of anesthesia care to U.S. military personnel on the front lines since World War I.
Though the CRNA credential did not come into existence until 1956, nurses first provided anesthesia to wounded soldiers during the Civil War.
To become a CRNA, one must first have a baccalaureate degree in nursing, be a registered nurse and have at least one year of experience in a critical-care setting.
One must then receive a master's degree from an accredited nurse anesthesia program.
Stansell earned her degree in anesthesia at the Medical College of Georgia, and Heath got one from the Gooding Institute of Nurse Anesthesia.
"With this job I use everything I learned," Heath said.
The two enjoy working closely with people, and Heath said pain management is tailored to the patient.
Heath expects to see many more CRNAs in the future.
"As more people learn about this job, you are going to see the numbers grow," she said.