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Role of an Anaesthetic Nurse in Australia

What an RN specialising in anaesthetics does, and how the job differs from nurse anaesthetist.

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The role of an anaesthetic nurse is to support anaesthetists during surgeries. Key responsibilities are to set up and manage equipment, aid in administering anaesthesia, and monitor patient conditions throughout surgical procedures. They ensure a safe and comfortable experience for patients undergoing anaesthesia.

Unlike the US and some other countries, there is no nurse anaesthetist (or 'nurse anesthetist') position for Australian nurses and nurse practitioners. According to ANZCA, "Anaesthesia is delivered by a team led by specialist anaesthetists: doctors with a minimum of seven years of training after graduation from medical school." Under our system of anaesthetist roles, nurses assist in the process but do not independently administer anaesthesia.

Becoming an anaesthetics nurse is a matter of gaining relevant experience. Once you are a registered nurse, you don't technically need postgraduate qualifications to apply for jobs. However, many nurses opt for additional training in nursing fields such as anaesthetic and recovery, perianaesthesia, critical care, emergency, intensive care, and pain management.

Key Responsibilities

When a patient undergoes surgery in Australia, normally a perianaesthesia nurse will be there to help ensure the procedure runs smoothly and safely. Their key duties are to:

  1. Prepare anaesthesia equipment – set up and ensure the equipment is ready and functional for each surgical procedure.
  2. Assist in anaesthesia administration – support the anaesthetist in administering anaesthetics and monitor its effects on the patient.
  3. Monitor patient vital signs – continuously observe the patient's condition during surgery, including vital signs and responses.
  4. Provide patient care and recovery – offer care in both pre- and post-anaesthesia stages, aiding patients as they recover from anaesthesia effects.
  5. Respond to emergencies – be prepared to assist in any anaesthesia-related emergencies and provide interventions.

In the public sector nurse enterprise agreements of New South Wales and South Australia, specific perioperative staffing requirements are outlined. NSW requires at least one anaesthetic nurse per operating session. South Australia needs one per operating room, especially in settings involving anaesthesia or sedation.

How Do I Become an Anaesthetic Nurse?

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To become an anaesthesia nurse in Australia, you must be a registered nurse (RN) or an enrolled nurse (EN) with a Diploma of Anaesthetic Technology. You'll need to gain relevant experience by working in surgical wards, recovery units, intensive care, or emergency departments. Here, you'll develop skills in anaesthesia care and patient monitoring.

On-the-job learning is the main way an RN becomes an anaesthetics nurse. Training courses and certifications may be part of this. ANZCA "Assistant for Anaesthetist" guidelines indicate that nurses should be well-versed in anaesthesia care, including the safe handling of controlled substances, understanding the equipment, and emergency procedures.

The final step is to apply for job openings such as 'Registered Nurse - Anaesthetics.' Some positions may require as little as one year of relevant work experience and no postgraduate qualifications.

Higher job designations and higher pay rates are achievable through postgraduate study. Classifications RNs can aim for include clinical nurse specialist, clinical nurse educator, clinical nurse consultant, and nurse unit manager. Advanced practice jobs in this specific field are limited. However, clinical leadership, education, and management positions are widely available in broader nursing fields that encompass anaesthesia.

Related: Postgraduate Nursing Courses Online

Is Being an Anaesthetic Nurse Worth It?

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Yes, if you enjoy the work. Anaesthetic nursing doesn't require a significant initial investment in terms of postgraduate education and can be a stepping stone to senior jobs. It offers transferable skills and is well-suited to those interested in both the surgical aspect of healthcare and direct patient interaction.

However, this is not a field you can usually set your sights on for a career from the outset. The scope of practice in anaesthesiology for registered nurses is limited, leading to narrow paths in advanced nursing practice nurse.

The hype around nursing and anaesthetics often centers on nurse anaesthetists, who are trained to administer anaesthesia but are not permitted to do so in Australia.

You may create more opportunities by broadening your domain. A more popular option is to study and specialise in Anaesthetics and Recovery (Perianaesthesia) Nursing. Even larger nursing fields worth exploring include Perioperative, Critical Care, Emergency, and Pain Management Nursing.

Related: Benefits of a Graduate Certificate in Nursing

How Much Do Anaesthetic Nurses Make?

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Perianaesthesia nurses are generally on the pay scale of registered nurses. In Australia, the average salary for a fifth-year nurse working is $86,861 per year.

Qualification and continuing education allowances are available if you hold a Graduate Certificate in Nursing or higher qualification, such as a Graduate Diploma in Nursing or a Master of Nursing degree. The extra payments range from an average $3,253 per year in Australia for a Grad Cert through to $5,331 for a master's degree. Essentially the only condition is that your qualification should be relevant to your work.

A Clinical Nurse Specialist classification offers higher pay than RN jobs, with an average maximum salary of $107,382 nationally. To qualify, experience and a relevant postgraduate qualification are required.

Related: Highest Paid Nurses in Australia (Ranked)