Faces of TxANA is an opportunity to learn more about the work of Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists, how CRNAs positively contribute to our state’s healthcare sector, and the role these leaders play in TxANA. This month, we invite you to meet Dr. Abby Caswell, DNP, CRNA.
We recently visited with Abby Caswell, DNP, CRNA, who also serves as Secretary/Treasurer for TxANA’s Board of Directors (2017-2019). Dr. Caswell shared her thoughts on why she’s a CRNA, the opportunities and challenges facing the profession, and the role TxANA plays for CRNAs in educating the public and our state leaders about CRNAs as well as the vital role they play in providing high-quality, cost-effective anesthesia care.
At Work: High-Quality Care with a Team Approach
Abby is an Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology at Baylor College of Medicine and practices clinically at Ben Taub Hospital in Houston through a collaborative agreement between the two organizations. Ben Taub is a level one trauma and high-risk obstetrics center, meaning Abby is routinely involved in truly life or death situations. Abby also provides anesthesia services to Houston’s indigent population that might not otherwise receive care. Abby described the incredible diversity of her work as reason she’s passionate about the profession. “I love the variety of case types that I get to provide services for (OB, trauma, vascular, ortho, ECT, organ donation, urology, etc.),” said Dr. Caswell.
Abby added, “I work with a phenomenal group of highly educated and dedicated CRNAs. We are very much like a little family that can depend on one another. We are all committed to shaping the future of CRNAs by educating SRNAs to practice to the full scope of their education and licensure.”
Abby's decision to make a career in healthcare and to become a CRNA connects back to her own family. “My mother was ill throughout my childhood. She did not have health insurance and received most of her care at a community hospital similar to Ben Taub. I was frustrated by the lack of respect and subpar care given to her simply because she could not afford to pay for the services she received,” said Dr. Caswell. “I became a nurse because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of people like my mom.”
Her interest in anesthesia care developed after several of her ICU nursing colleagues began applying to CRNA programs. “I had been practicing as a nurse for about 10 years at that point, but I had no idea that the CRNA profession even existed. I was no longer being challenged in my current position, so the CRNA career path offered an opportunity to challenge myself and take on a new role in nursing and healthcare,” added Abby.
Words to Live By
When we asked Abby what advice she would give to colleagues or anyone considering becoming a CRNA, she reflected the deep-rooted commitment to quality healthcare and focus that it takes to be a CRNA. Abby reminded us, “You literally hold someone’s life in your hands every time you put them under anesthesia. Pride and ego have no place in those situations, so the day you think you know everything is the day you need to step away.”
And, what sets CRNAs apart from other anesthesia providers? Her nursing background only strengthened her commitment to high-quality, patient-centered clinical care. “Being a nurse does not negate the fact that we provide safe, effective, quality anesthesia care. It is the primary thing that separates us from our counterparts and allows us to truly give patient-centered care,” Dr. Caswell explained.
She offered more valuable perspective to younger students considering work in the field, “Do not enter this profession if money is either the sole reason or the primary reason for doing so. There are so many other important motivators for becoming a CRNA.”
But her favorite piece of advice was a nugget shared by her husband over the years and one that rings true for the challenging and important work that CRNAs do each and every day. “If it was easy, everyone could do it!”
Away from the Office
When she’s not serving patients or teaching, Dr. Caswell has always been an avid reader and she loves to travel. “Experiencing new cultures, going on adventures, eating new foods, and sleeping in hotels” make her time away from the hospital or university big fun.
Membership in TxANA first came out of necessity, a requirement by Abby's program director at the time. But, she quickly realized the greater value of the organization in representing CRNAs, advancing the profession, educating the public and lawmakers, and advocating for public policy that’s good for CRNAs and good for patients.
What role can TxANA play in educating the general public? Dr. Caswell explained, “I was a nurse and did not even realize the CRNA profession existed. The public is certainly not going to know about the profession unless we advocate on behalf of ourselves and through our association to let them know what it is we do, why it matters, and the role we play in our healthcare system. I also strongly believe that I have no business complaining about how I am being represented if I don’t bother to give my input.”
She decided to join TxANA’s board as a way “to shake things up and add some new perspective.” Abby credits current TxANA leadership and active members in the association’s continuing growth and success. “I believe we have succeeded in electing a progressive board that is willing to step up, take chances, and make difficult decisions in order to advance the practice of CRNAs in Texas. We are the largest nurse anesthetist association in the nation. TxANA can shape national CRNA practice by setting an example for others to follow,” explained Dr. Caswell.
Parting Thoughts: The Future of Anesthesia Care
Dr. Caswell is a strong advocate for CRNAs and communicating the vital role they play in rural and urban healthcare settings, ensuring patients receive the life-saving anesthesia care they need when and where they need it. She noted, “CRNAs are indeed the future of anesthesia. We provide safe, quality anesthesia care. We are highly educated and trained to provide that care. And, we are the most cost-effective means of providing that care to the people who need it.”