Surgery is increasingly recognized as an effective means of treating a proportion of the global burden of disease, especially in resource-limited countries. Often non-physicians, such as nurses, provide the majority of anesthesia; however, their training and formal supervision is often of low priority or even non-existent. To increase the number of safe anesthesia providers in Haiti, Médecins Sans Frontières has trained nurse anesthetists (NAs) for over 10 years. This article describes the challenges, outcomes, and future directions of this training program. From 1998 to 2008, 24 students graduated. Nineteen (79%) continue to work as NAs in Haiti and 5 (21%) have emigrated. In 2008, NAs were critical in providing anesthesia during a post-hurricane emergency where they performed 330 procedures. Mortality was 0.3% and not associated with lack of anesthesiologist supervision. The completion rate of this training program was high and the majority of graduates continue to work as nurse anesthetists in Haiti. Successful training requires a setting with a sufficient volume and diversity of operations, appropriate anesthesia equipment, a structured and comprehensive training program, and recognition of the training program by the national ministry of health and relevant professional bodies. Preliminary outcomes support findings elsewhere that NAs can be a safe and effective alternative where anesthesiologists are scarce. Training non-physician anesthetists is a feasible and important way to scale up surgical services resource limited settings.
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