I can attest to the lack of awareness, I worked in Virginia for many years and never once heard about nurse anesthetists. They existed, but I think everyone just introduced themselves as "anesthesia".
I "discovered" CRNA's when I moved, as I have said in previous posts the attraction for me was;
1. Strong organization in the AANA
2. Increased autonomy and responsibility
3. The technical aspects
4. Being in a position where most of the time people will listen to what you have to say rather than assume you do not have enough knowledge to contribute. (Translation increased respect)
I think that one of the most important things we can do is introduce ourselves as nurse anesthetists, or nurse anesthesia students.
Some nursing schools
do not ever mention the CRNA route as a future possiblity, maybe sending some type of educational materials to nursing schools in areas where there is not a CRNA program would increase awareness for that group.
Convince some medical show to create a central character that is a CRNA, that would increase awareness pretty quickly. Although probably not acheivable.