Army Veteran ICU Nurse Now Cares for Patients as a Civilian CRNA


Kimberly “Kim” Rybak has always been drawn to helping patients in critical care and crisis situations. As a Lieutenant and Captain U.S. Army Veteran and former military Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse, she requested to work in code blue situations, a dire hospital code used to indicate someone requiring immediate resuscitation.

Today, she uses her expertise serving patients’ anesthetic needs as a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) at the main trauma hospital at a civilian medical center in Charlotte.

Kim first witnessed the expert care and bedside manner of advanced practice registered nurses as a sophomore in college in the Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC).

As a cadet, she got the unique opportunity to attend Airborne School, but ended up in the emergency room as an Army hospital patient after breaking her left clavicle. The nurse practitioner was professional, correctly diagnosed her break and provided her with the best possible care – a memory that stayed with Kim.

In 1997, Kim followed in her father’s footsteps and joined the Army as an Officer. She worked as a floor nurse before specializing as an ICU nurse at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, and Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

She cared for critically ill patients suffering from trauma, burns and neurotrauma and worked alongside many military CRNAs and anesthesia residents. She remembers them being confident and properly trained and learned a lot about them as their medical team colleague.

“CRNAs are one of the most coveted positions in the Army,” Kim said. “Most of the time it’s just them, the surgeon and the patient and they are responsible for putting in central lines, nerve blocks, epidurals, etc. Their training is intense and they are expected to be able to do everything.”

As an ICU nurse, Kim knew the appropriate steps she needed to take to result in a positive patient outcome, but was frustrated that making those kinds of decisions was out of her scope of practice. Eventually, she made the decision to go back to school and become a CRNA.

After resigning commission from the Army in 2005, she went to anesthesia school at Duke University and underwent the education and training necessary to provide patients with quality anesthesia care.
She earned her nurse anesthesia degree in 2008 and in addition to expanding her knowledge on pharmacology, physiology and technology, she applied many of the same skill sets she learned as a lieutenant and captain ICU nurse in the military to her work as a CRNA – specifically the expert care provided to patients and the comraderie among military Veterans.

“When I come across an Army colleague at work, there is a level of understanding that everyone is working together to get the job done. There are no egos,” she said. “Military medical staff, which includes ICU nurses and CRNAs, are trained to work with that mentality to save soldiers’ lives.”

Kim thinks many people are confused as to what a CRNA does and often times only anesthesiologists are credited for putting in their IV and managing their anesthesia, but nurse anesthetists also complete these tasks.

“CRNAs are the best kept secret in healthcare. If people knew all we really do, I think they would initially be surprised,” she said. “Frequently, the CRNA is the primary person administering the medication, watching the patient every second of their surgery and coordinating with the operating room staff. I would trust a CRNA to monitor me during a surgery, because I administer and have seen the expert anesthesia care provided to patients.”