Legislator’s grandmother, a CRNA, lives life of caring


When state Representative Aaron Bernstine was a boy, he had it better than most.

“Grandmothers are always the best at fixing bumps and bruises,” he said. But Rep. Bernstine’s grandmother, Stella Rybka, was a certified registered nurse anesthetist, so she was able to “fix it a little bit better.”

Mrs. Rybka was born and raised in New Castle, Pa., and began her career as a registered nurse (RN) at Jameson Hospital. When the hospital, in need of anesthetists, offered to train staff members to become nurse anesthetists, she leapt at the opportunity, a response that was very much in character for her.

“She always talked about the importance of continuing education and striving to make yourself better,” Rep. Bernstine recalled. “No matter what you do, it’s about continuing to get better, which I know is a strong focus of PANA. It’s about continued improvement in your vocation.”

The spirit of constant betterment that Mrs. Rybka exemplifies so well is very much alive in the new generation of CRNAs in Pennsylvania. The commonwealth currently is home to more than 3,000 CRNAs and is one of the top states for CRNA students nationwide, with 12 university-level nurse anesthetist programs spread across the state.

Mrs. Rybka developed her interest in anesthesia during her RN training when she was working in an operating room and became “fascinated” by the work being done by the anesthetists. While the intellectual challenges of her craft were important to her, at the end of the day it all came down to one thing: her passion for caring for her patients.

“I just loved all my patients,” she recalled. “And not only because they were all asleep at the time,” she joked. Being able to be there for her patients and console them during difficult times in their lives “gave [her] a sense of fulfillment.”

According to Rep. Bernstine, this dedication to caring for others has extended beyond Mrs. Rybka’s career.

“My aunt has multiple sclerosis and is bedridden,” he said. “To this day, my grandmother provides exceptional care to my aunt, which is why my aunt is in the good health that she is in. I know that her training has been extremely helpful in that regard. Every day I thank God that she had that training and care in her heart to continue treating my aunt.”

Currently, there is no definition for “certified registered nurse anesthetist” under Pennsylvania’s Professional Nursing Law, which means that highly-trained, hardworking, exceptionally dedicated professionals like Mrs. Rybka are not fully recognized for the high level of care that they provide. Pennsylvania is one of only four states that fail to recognize CRNAs in this manner.

Rep. Bernstine has signed on as a co-sponsor of House Bill 719, which will grant professionals like Mrs. Rybka who do what she describes as “the wonderful work of being an anesthetist,” the level of recognition they have earned. A companion measure (S.B. 274) already has passed the Senate and currently is under review by the House Professional Licensure Committee.

“Anytime that we can go out and be supportive of people, like the members of PANA, who are working hard every day and putting food on the table for their families, I’m excited to do that,” Rep. Bernstine said. “We all know that a stronger PANA means a stronger community.”

About Professional Designation Legislation

CRNAs are highly-skilled advance practice nurses who ensure the highest level of care and pain management for patients. As the hands-on providers of anesthesia care, CRNAs practicing in every setting where anesthesia is administered, including hospital operating and delivery rooms; ambulatory surgical centers; the offices of dentists, podiatrists, ophthalmologists, and plastic surgeons; and pain management centers.

Yet, Pennsylvania remains one of just four states that do not recognize certified registered nurse anesthetists. Under the state’s Professional Nursing Law, there is no official definition for “certified registered nurse anesthetist,” meaning these professionals are recognized only as registered nurses (RNs). Two companion measures --- S.B. 274 in the Senate and H.B. 719 in the House --- would change that and formally recognize certified registered nurse anesthetists as “CRNAs” under Pennsylvania statute.

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