National Allied Health Professions week is celebrated Nov. 2 – 6, 2020. Allied health professionals are an important part of the healthcare team at Baylor and its affiliates. Learn more about nurse anesthetists in this Q&A with Dr. Leslie Archibald, assistant professor of anesthesiology and health professions and chief CRNA at Ben Taub Hospital.
What is your educational background and your path that led to your career as a CRNA?
I received my Bachelor of Science in nursing from the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston in 2008. I earned my Master of Science in Nurse Anesthesia from Baylor College of Medicine in 2011 and my Doctor of Nursing Practice in Nurse Anesthesia from Baylor College of Medicine in 2013.
I began a career in hospitality management as a young adult but quickly realized there was little growth potential in that field, so I transitioned to nursing as a second career. My first nursing position was in the Trauma Surgical Intensive Care Unit at Ben Taub Hospital where I administered care to the most complex and critically ill patients. It was at this time that I was first exposed to Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA) and my path to anesthesia began. Through an unexpected but fortunate turn of events, I was paired with Dr. Jim Walker, the program director for the nurse anesthesia program at Baylor, for a portion of my baccalaureate education. I applied to the BCM Doctor of Nursing Practice Program – Nurse Anesthesia immediately upon graduation.
Describe your responsibilities in your role at Baylor College of Medicine / Ben Taub.
I became a faculty CRNA at BCM in 2012 and have been the chief CRNA at Ben Taub Hospital since 2016. My main responsibility is the management of BCM CRNAs that practice clinically at Ben Taub Hospital. My duties include, but are not limited to, recruitment, hiring, scheduling, and evaluating. I practice clinically at Ben Taub and also serve as the clinical coordinator for the BCM student registered nurse anesthetists (SRNA) that rotate through our facility. I am involved in SRNA education through the School of Health Professions and the DNP program, where I provide didactic lectures and sit on several educational committees.
What is the best thing about your career? What is the most challenging aspect?
This is a tough question because there are many things that are great about being a CRNA. I think the best part is helping patients during what is typically a very trying time of their lives and having an impact during their greatest moment of need. Alleviating the pain of a laboring mother, holding someone’s hand that is fearful of what lies ahead, and experiencing a patient’s gratitude when their pain and anxiety are diminished are some of the best rewards.
There are also many challenges to being a CRNA. Working in a Level One Trauma-designated hospital means you never know what your day will bring. You must always be one step ahead and be ready for the worst possible scenario. Unfortunately, we are not always able to save everyone despite our best efforts.
What would you tell others who are considering this career?
The path to becoming a CRNA is mentally and physically challenging but well worth the time and investment. As a CRNA, I have the ability to use the best parts of my nursing experience together with the skills I possess as an anesthesia provider – empathy and compassion combined with art and science. CRNAs are trained to use independent critical thinking skills and routinely utilize their education and training to the highest level. There are many benefits to the nurse anesthesia profession, including a wealth of job opportunities in a wide variety of practice settings and locations, the option to work in collaborative or autonomous practices, and a strong professional and organizational support system.
What are the benefits and opportunities of working in an academic health center?
Working in an academic environment is sometimes challenging but extremely rewarding. Fostering student education in the classroom and clinical arenas can be mutually beneficial to both parties. I enjoy witnessing the transition of a nurse from anesthesia student to graduate to practicing provider. Being a part of student education keeps me engaged in my profession and helps me stay abreast of the latest evidenced-based practices. I learn just as much from the students as they do from me.
What is the environment like at Baylor and Ben Taub?
We have a very collegial work environment in our department at Ben Taub. Our group consists of over 50 anesthesia providers, including CRNAs and physician anesthesiologists. Although our department is large, we still manage to maintain a mutually respectful environment with common goals. We have an excellent support system through our current chair and through upper management at the College level. We are a very fortunate group.
How has the pandemic impacted your role and the healthcare you provide?
The Department of Anesthesiology has been greatly impacted the pandemic. All elective surgeries were initially cancelled by state mandate, so it was necessary for the department to adjust our staffing plan while also trying to maintain a sustainable operating room schedule to cover urgent and emergent surgeries. This has been an ongoing challenge because the number of operating room cases dropped dramatically at the beginning of the pandemic and subsequently created a significant backlog of cases that still need to be performed. When caseloads were low, I worked with the BCM Occupational Health Program to coordinate the usage of our CRNAs to help staff the COVID-19 call center during the initial months of the pandemic. The CRNA team at Ben Taub volunteered to serve as members of a COVID Airway call team in the months of April and May. Our group has administered dozens of anesthetics to COVID-19 positive patients over the last several months and continues to care for these patients daily in the operating room.
See the images below for more information about educational programs in Baylor’s School of Health Professions.