Letter to the Editor

Bills would lower state standards for anesthesiology

Tuesday, March 4, 2003

To the editor:

On Feb. 18, the Missouri House of Representatives voted in favor of legislation that affects the welfare of all Missouri residents. House Bill 390 (and its companion bill, Senate Bill 300) would license anesthesiologist assistants to practice in this state. SB 300 will soon be debated.

In Missouri, physician anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists are licensed to administer anesthesia. Both are highly qualified, competent practitioners who are well-experienced in patient care prior to entering anesthesia training. Anesthesiologist assistants, while well-educated in the undergraduate sciences, have no patient-care experience. Licensing these assistants would lower the standard for anesthesia care in Missouri.

Anesthesiologist assistants require anesthesiologist supervision, whereas nurse anesthetists are qualified and licensed to practice with either an anesthesiologist or surgeon. Nurse anesthetists may work without anesthesiologist supervision. This provides the patient an extra layer of protection as the anesthesiologist is frequently out of the operating room. In the case of an anesthesiologist assistant, when the anesthesiologist leaves the room the patient would be left in the care of the assistant who is not qualified to work alone.

The purported need for anesthesiologist assistants is the shortage of anesthetists. However, the number of nurse anesthesia programs and graduates is steadily increasing. In 2002, 1,400 nurse anesthetists were to graduate, and two new educational programs were added with more on the way.

We should not lower our standards. We should be calling our state representatives and senators to oppose SB 300 and HB 390.