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New Jersey Debates Oversight of Nurse Anesthetists

A suggested revision to current New Jersey Department of Health and Human Services (DHSS) regulations now requiring nurse anesthetists to work in tandem with anesthesiologists could mean big changes for operating rooms all over the state. The change would allow these nurses to administer anesthesia without direct doctor oversight, as long as physicians could be reached in emergencies.

The change would not be shocking for the medical community as a whole — 30 states already let specially trained nurses administer anesthesia without supervision from physicians — but the proposal is nonetheless making waves throughout New Jersey’s health care field.

Both the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists and New Jersey Association of Nurse Anesthetists Inc. support the measure, which they argue would not only take some of the burden off of busy doctors (allowing them to attend to more pressing, emergency situations), but would let these highly educated nurses live up to their potential. To be certified as an Advanced Practice Nurse (APN with a specialty in anesthesia — formerly known as a certified registered nurse anesthetist), a nurse must:

Physicians with the New Jersey State Society of Anesthesiologists (NJSSA) see the situation differently, however. They simply do not feel that even the rigorous education and training requirements put upon APNs are enough to take the place of the knowledge and skill of an on-site anesthesiologist. They fear that nurses are ill-equipped to handle unexpected emergencies that could affect patients being put under for surgery or treatment.

NJSSA is so wary of this new regulation that it has encouraged the state legislature (through a bill proposed by Assemblyman Neil Cohen) to codify into law the existing DHHS regulations requiring APNs to be supervised by doctors. This legislative action would force any changes to be made by state lawmakers instead of DHHS officials.

Only time will tell if the proposed revised regulation will be accepted, if the new law passes or what effect (if any) the lack of supervision of APNs would have on operating rooms across the state. In the meantime, however, if you or a loved one has been injured by the negligence or recklessness of either an APN or an anesthesiologist during surgery, seek the counsel of an experienced medical malpractice attorney in your area to learn more about possible legal recourse.

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