Nurse Anesthetist Career Guide

MSN required*

certification required

Editor’s Note: From 2025 onwards, certified registered nurse anesthetists must possess a doctoral degree instead of just a master’s.

What Does a Nurse Anesthetist Do?

Nurse anesthetists, also known as certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), are responsible for administering anesthesia to patients during surgical procedures. They may administer either general anesthesia or use local anesthesia to numb specific areas of the patient’s body, ensuring they remain pain-free.

CRNAs prioritize consulting with patients regarding their allergies to safely administer anesthesia. Additionally, some nurse anesthetists collaborate closely with physicians.

Critical thinking skills are essential for CRNAs to assess changes in their patients’ conditions and make swift, informed decisions. Furthermore, they must maintain strong communication skills to effectively collaborate with other healthcare professionals during procedures and interact with patients.

Key responsibilities of CRNAs include:

Primary Responsibilities

    • Carrying out physical assessments
    • Safely administering anesthesia
    • Monitoring anesthesia levels during the procedure

Skills Learned

    • Intravenous and intramuscular anesthesia administration
    • Inhaled anesthesia administration

Where Do Nurse Anesthetists Work?

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) are typically employed in physicians’ offices, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, dentists’ offices, plastic surgery clinics, ketamine clinics, and by pain management specialists. They may also be engaged in roles within the military or at Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare facilities.

Hospitals

Nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia in surgical suites and labor and delivery rooms. They also work in critical-access hospitals and guide patients with recovery.

Physicians’ Offices

CRNAs prepare patients through physical assessments and give and monitor anesthesia.

Plastic Surgery Clinics

CRNAs use anesthesia on patients undergoing cosmetic and plastic surgeries, either numbing a part of their bodies or administering a general anesthetic.

Why Become a Nurse Anesthetist?

Before pursuing a career as a nurse anesthetist, carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages outlined below to make an informed decision.

Advantages to Becoming a CRNA

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) have more autonomy and accountability compared to other nursing roles, such as registered or licensed practical nurses. Their education and critical care experience equip them to make crucial decisions on the job.

The demand for nurse anesthetists in the healthcare industry is significant. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 13% growth in this profession from 2020 to 2030.

CRNAs have direct patient interaction, making it an ideal fit for professionals who thrive on working with people.

Disadvantages to Becoming an CRNA

Becoming a nurse anesthetist is a lengthy journey, and the shift to a mandatory doctoral degree by 2025 will demand even more dedication from aspiring CRNAs.
Meeting the costs of a nursing degree can pose challenges, with expenses accumulating over time. While nursing scholarships and grants offer assistance, many students resort to taking out student loans, which can take years or even decades to repay.
Advanced practice nursing may entail demanding work schedules, presenting a challenge for nurse anesthetists who must maintain vigilance.

How to Become a Nurse Anesthetist

Becoming a nurse anesthetist entails approximately six years of education and two years of clinical experience. By 2025, the minimum requirement to become a nurse anesthetist will shift from a master’s degree to a doctor of nursing practice or doctor of nurse anesthesia practice.

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Education and Experience Requirements for Nurse Anesthetists

Before becoming a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), nurses must meet specific eligibility criteria. This typically involves earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and obtaining an RN license, which usually takes around four years of full-time study. Upon completing their BSN programs, individuals need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination to obtain their RN license. Subsequently, they must acquire at least one year of full-time or equivalent part-time work experience in a critical-care environment before enrolling in a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program. On average, RNs entering nurse anesthesia educational programs have approximately three years of work experience.

At the master’s level, students can often specialize in nurse anesthesia, equipping them with the necessary skills for their postgraduate careers. It’s important to note that all anesthesia master’s programs will transition into doctoral programs, particularly the Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice, by 2025.

Upon completion of their graduate degree, individuals can pursue national certification from the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists. This involves passing a national certification exam covering a wide range of topics. Furthermore, aspiring nurse anesthetists must obtain state-specific licensure for advanced practice nursing by meeting their state’s requirements, which can be obtained from the state’s nursing board.

Changing Educational Requirements for CRNAs

What Changed

    • In 2007, the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology (AANA) approved a statement requiring CRNAs to earn a doctorate by 2025.
    • AANA did not specify what type of doctoral degree is required, but many programs offer a doctor of nurse anesthesia practice.

Student Nurses

    • Nurses currently enrolled in a master’s level CRNA program will not need to complete a doctorate.

Licensed CRNAs

    • Current CRNAs who were licensed through an MSN degree program do not have to complete a doctoral degree to practice. However, facility requirements may vary by institution.

Career and Salary Overview for Nurse Anesthetists

Nurse anesthetists belong to one of the highest-paying professions in the nursing field, with a median annual salary of $195,610 in 2020, as reported by the BLS. Similar to other advanced nursing professionals, nurse anesthetists are experiencing high demand, with the BLS forecasting a potential 45% increase in the number of advanced practice nurses from 2020 to 2030. Furthermore, the employment of nurse anesthetists is expected to grow by at least 13% during the same period.

Top-Paying States for Nurse Anesthetists
StateAverage SalaryTotal Number of CRNAs
AlaskaAbove $208,000120
Connecticut$276,540430
New Jersey$263,8501,460
Illinois$250,2801,140
West Virginia$247,650320

Source: BLS

Top-Paying Metropolitan Areas for Nurse Anesthetists
Metropolitan AreaAverage SalaryTotal Number of CRNAs
Fairbanks, AKAbove $208,00040
Green Bay, WIAbove $208,00050
Madison, WIAbove $208,000110
Wausau, WIAbove $208,000Data not available
Springfield, IL$298,890100

Source: BLS

Top-Paying Industries for Nurse Anesthetists
IndustryAverage Salary
Outpatient Care Centers$254,180
Specialty (except Psychiatric and Substance Abuse) Hospitals$219,540
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals$212,340
Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools$200,340
Offices of Physicians$194,240

Source: BLS

Frequently Asked Questions About Nurse Anesthetists

How long does it take to become a CRNA?

Becoming a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) typically takes at least seven years. This includes a four-year bachelor’s degree in nursing, obtaining an RN license, and gaining 1-2 years of critical care experience. Some individuals may choose to work as an RN for a few years or enroll in a part-time program, extending the process to around a decade before officially earning CRNA certification.

Previously, a master’s degree was sufficient for CRNAs, but now a doctorate is required. Many CRNA programs have already transitioned to doctoral degree programs to meet this new requirement, with all current CRNA programs expected to shift to the doctoral level by 2022.

What’s the difference between a CRNA and an anesthesiologist?

Anesthesiologists are physicians who have completed medical school, while CRNAs are advanced practice nurses. Anesthesiologists specialize in administering anesthesia, whereas CRNAs either assist in its administration or, depending on the state, have the authority to administer it themselves.

Can CRNAs prescribe medicine?

The prescriptive authority of a CRNA varies based on the state of practice. In certain states, nurse anesthetists can independently prescribe medication, while in others, they are required to establish a supervisory or collaborative agreement with physicians to do so.

How much do CRNAs make in a year?

The median salary for nurse anesthetists, reported by the BLS, stands at $195,610. As of April 2022, Payscale data indicates entry-level professionals earn $148,680, with salaries typically rising as CRNAs gain experience.

Can nurse anesthetists work independently?

Nurse anesthetists’ autonomy varies by state, with most permitting independent practice for CRNAs, while others mandate supervision or collaboration. Professionals should consult their state’s nursing board for specific regulations.

Resources for Nurse Anesthetists

With over 57,000 members, the AANA unites nurse anesthetists worldwide through ongoing education and professional networking events. Members have access to resources, webinars, and conferences. Students can also join for networking opportunities and access to a scholarly journal. A UK-based course on trauma patient management is open to international nurse anesthetists, offering a three-day program on handling traumatic injuries through simulated scenarios.

Graduates receive certification upon completion. Prioritizing safety in the anesthesia industry, the organization provides resources for professionals and patients, offers awards and grants, and hosts events for networking and learning opportunities.

Regular newsletters are available for those interested. Representing 930,000 certified nurses, the ABNS focuses on enhancing patient outcomes by advocating for specialty nursing certification. The group hosts a spring conference focusing on assessment and management of certification organizations, offering continuing education credits to attendees. Additionally, the group publishes resources and presents awards.

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