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On the Battlefield or Here at Home, Highly Skilled CRNAs are Saving Lives

June 29, 2019 - 9:00am
Capt. Matthew Popejoy, MS, CRNA, ANC, USAR
Capt. Matthew Popejoy, MS, CRNA, ANC, USAR

As we Americans look ahead to a long Fourth of July weekend, this is often a time when the nation’s thoughts turn to the members of our military forces who have the responsibility to protect our precious freedoms. For me, this year’s holiday is especially meaningful, as I prepare to be deployed sometime this year in a very different and challenging role: as a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA).

I had enlisted in the U.S. Army the month before 9/11, and served over a period of eight years in both Iraq and Afghanistan before making the transition to become an officer and a nurse. After spending my initial years in the Army learning and practicing how to inflict maximum harm on others, I now had an intense desire to give back and to heal people.

Initially my goal was to become a critical care registered nurse, but then one day in my undergraduate nursing school, a military CRNA came to speak to us. I had no idea that this specialty even existed, but as he spoke about the autonomy and responsibility that is at the heart of being a CRNA, I knew that I wanted to acquire the advanced training and skills that would enable me to provide anesthesia effectively and safely to our soldiers in the field.

In my new deployment, I will be the sole anesthesia provider within a several hundred mile radius, with a focus on life-saving and resuscitative surgery in collaboration with general and orthopedic surgeons. I am confident to take on this role because of the extensive training required to become a CRNA.  I received my Masters in Nurse Anesthesia from the University of South Florida over two-and-a-half incredibly rewarding but grueling years.

Overall, CRNAs are required to have a minimum of seven to eight years of education, training and experience. For me, hands-on clinical experience in hospitals and other care settings was an integral part of my training and placed a strong emphasis on working autonomously. Just like in the military, my CRNA training instilled in me the mindset that I may be the one, solitary person who others are depending on to protect and save their lives—and that I’d better be prepared to get the job done as an army of one.

Even as I look forward to my new CRNA role, I know that here in Florida, my fellow CRNAs are facing an important challenge. Well over half of the states in our country allow CRNAs to practice autonomously, with no requirements for supervision by a physician. Florida, however, has not yet modernized its laws to allow CRNAs to practice independently to the full extent of their training and expertise.

I fully support removing barriers to independent practice for CRNAs in Florida. From a patient’s perspective, CRNAs play a unique role in the quality of surgical care. Patients are often filled with anxiety prior to surgery, and we have the bedside acumen from our years of intensive care experience to calm their fears and earn their trust.

CRNAs also play a critical role in expanding access to care and making care more cost-effective. By enabling CRNAs in Florida to operate independently at the full scope of their practice, healthcare facilities can choose the model of anesthesia delivery that best meets their needs. This is especially important for community, rural and critical access hospitals faced with severe financial challenges.

Today’s CRNAs are the primary providers of anesthesia care in rural America, to maternity patients, in the Veteran’s Administration and U.S. military, and in many medically underserved inner-city communities.

As we mark this Independence Day, let’s take a moment to remember all of the skilled professionals -- both military and civilian -- who help keep us safe and well, whether it’s on the battlefield or here at home.  From my own personal perspective, I can say it is an honor and privilege to serve this great country.

Matthew Popejoy of Tampa is a certified registered nurse anesthetist and Captain in the U.S. Army Reserves


Mat. Thank you for your service. As a Vietnam and the First Gulf War Vet. I know exactly what you are speaking of. I was the sole anesthesia provider in USS Midway CV 41 and her entire battle group. In June of 1990 while in the northern Sea of Japan an explosion and fire left me dealing with massive third degree burns and many victims. Multiple intubated patients and hospital corpsman with ambu bags acting as ventilators. Twenty-four hours later we where able to evacuate our first patients. Two young men died in the initial explosion and one young man died some weeks later back at Fort Sam Houston’s burn unit. Yes we are trained to have autonomy and some of us function well in that situation when given the opportunity. I too live and work in Florida and it is time for the laws to come into the 21st century.

What a smooth and well articulated article. Thank you for your service as both a member of our military and as a CRNA. I hope you continue to write about your journey!

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I had no idea of your service to this country, all the while you were in Nashville. Thank you. And my your successes far outreach your expectations.

May you stay safe and come home to share the work you have done for your battle buddies, shipmates, and wingmen. There is no higher calling then to care for others. God speed.

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Matt we love you,Summer and boys. Thank you for all you have done in your short lifetime. We are proud of you and hope we can see you guys again in the future. Danny is doing great and I’m doing great no chemo fo since October but go for a CT Scan July 9th and we will see from that point. Be safe in your journey ahead and will pray for you and family.

Mathew, Thank you for your service and everything you do for the anesthesia community.

I fully support you and fully support full practice authority for CRNAs! The majority of surgeries performed in the US has a nurse anesthetist as the anesthesia professional at the head of the bed, staying with their patient from start to finish. Florida needs to make this improvement to modernize and save health care across the state.

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