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AANA Name Change Sparks Controversy, Patient Safety Concerns

AANA changed its name to the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology, sparking concern from industry groups that say the change could pose risks to patient safety.

The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists will now refer to itself as the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology (AANA), but industry groups are concerned about how the name change will impact patient safety. 

The AANA represents over 60,000 certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) across the country. The group also revealed its new logo and mission statement, “CRNA focused. CRNA inspired.,” at an AANA Annual Congress event in early August.

“Moving forward as the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology (AANA), the name change is part of a yearlong rebranding effort designed to advance the science of nurse anesthesiology and advocate for CRNAs—one of the U.S. healthcare system’s highly sought-after anesthesia care providers,” an AANA press release stated.

But the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) released a statement “condemning” the name change and calling out the association for exacerbating medical title misappropriation in healthcare.

AANA encouraged its members to refer to themselves as nurse anesthesiologists rather than nurse anesthetists, which could confuse patients and cause disruptions in the care setting. ASA warned that the change could ultimately pose a risk to patient safety.

“Many physician anesthesiologists value our nurse anesthetist colleagues and the important work all of us do together every day. We also know nurse anesthetists value and recognize the importance of our physician-led, team-based model of care—a model ASA is dedicated to preserve and enhance along with our shared commitment to patients,” Beverly K. Philip, MD, FACA, FASA, president of ASA, explained in a public statement.

“AANA’s title misappropriation is a deceptive use of established medical terms and is part of their continuing push for nurse-only practice, which can jeopardize our patients’ safety and well-being. It also misleads the public and engages in the pretense that nurse anesthetists’ education and training are equivalent to that of physicians.”

ASA pointed out a commonly held ethical principle in healthcare that patients should have knowledge of the education, training, and experience of the healthcare professionals delivering their care. The term “anesthesiologist” is typically reserved for physicians.

ASA, along with the American Board of Anesthesiology, the American Medical Association (AMA), and the American Board of Medical Specialties, unanimously agreed that professionals who call themselves “anesthesiologists” must hold a license to practice medicine.

The group also cited a New Hampshire Supreme Court ruling from March 2021 that upheld the New Hampshire Board of Medicine’s right to limit the use of the term “anesthesiologist” to licensed individuals.

“We will continue to fight medical title misappropriation at every level and in every arena,” Philip continued.

“While we recognize the value of our nurse anesthetist colleagues, ASA will not allow AANA leadership to continue their harmful initiatives.”

AANA reasoned that CRNAs practice in every care setting in which anesthesia is delivered and are the primary anesthesia providers in rural and underserved areas. 

“Since its very beginning 150 years ago, the administration of anesthesia by nurses has been essential in caring for patients safely, comfortably, and compassionately. “When anesthesia is administered by a nurse, it is recognized as the practice of nursing,” Steven M. Sertich, CRNA, MAE, JD, Esquire, president of AANA, asserted in the announcement.

“Our new name tells the story of who we are, what we do, and what we stand for,” said President Sertich. “We have now unified this understanding behind a clear, revitalized brand.”

Similarly, the American Academy of PAs recently made the decision to refer to PAs as “physician associates,” a choice that was met with similar disdain by industry groups. In 2019, the group announced its decision to refer to physician assistants simply as PAs.

AMA and other industry groups contended that the most recent change may confuse patients and subsequently risk patient safety.

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