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How to Become a Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

By Oluwadamilola Osisanya

Published:

Did you know that nurse anesthetists administer approximately 49 million anesthetics to patients in the United States each year? The path to this high-impact medical profession is complex, requiring specific education and experience. Our article breaks down the essential steps, providing a clear roadmap on how to become a CRNA. Whether you’re considering this career path or seeking insights into this essential role, join us as we uncover the steps and intricacies of becoming a nurse anesthetist.

Career Summary

Nurse Anesthetist Salary

Nurse Anesthetist Salary

For those considering this career, understanding the nurse anesthetist salary is a crucial aspect. According to Glassdoor, the nurse anesthetist salary range is as follows:

  • Entry-level: US$ 182,000
  • Median: US$ 242,000 
  • Senior: US$ 331,000

This is significantly higher than the general average salary across the United States, which was reported to be $59,428.

Nurse Anesthetist Job Description

A nurse anesthetist is a specialized nursing professional who administers anesthesia for surgeries and other medical procedures. They are responsible for assessing patients preoperatively, selecting and administering appropriate anesthesia, monitoring patient vital signs during procedures, providing postoperative care, and collaborating with the surgical team.

Nurse Anesthetist Career Progression

The career progression for a nurse anesthetist typically follows these stages, each with its unique responsibilities:

  • Entry-Level CRNA: You will start here as a newly certified nurse anesthetist. Responsibilities primarily involve administering anesthesia under supervision, understanding diverse surgical procedures, and developing clinical skills.
  • Experienced CRNA: With a few years of experience, you will gain more autonomy in anesthesia administration and complex case management and may start supervising junior staff.
  • Senior CRNA: As a senior CRNA, you will often lead anesthesia teams, handle complex surgical cases, and may be involved in administrative duties or policy development within their department.
  • Chief CRNA or Anesthesia Department Manager: In this executive role, you will oversee the entire anesthesia department, manage staff, develop departmental policies, and liaise with other hospital departments.
  • CRNA Educator or Academic Faculty: You also have the option to transition into academic roles, teaching future nurse anesthetists and conducting research in anesthesia and pain management.
  • CRNA Consultant: As an experienced CRNA, you might also work as a consultant, advising hospitals, healthcare systems, or policy-makers on anesthesia care, safety protocols, and healthcare management.
Nurse Anesthetist Career Progression

Best Aspects of Working as a Nurse Anesthetist

  • Integral role in ensuring successful surgeries through expert administration of anesthesia.
  • Mastery of specialized, high-level clinical skills in anesthesia and pain management.
  • Collaborative work environment with surgeons, nurses, and other medical professionals.
  • High earning potential reflecting the specialized and critical nature of the work.
  • Opportunities for leadership and management roles within healthcare settings.

Worst Aspects of Working as a Nurse Anesthetist

  • Managing critical situations and making quick decisions can be highly stressful.
  • Work often includes nights, weekends, and being on-call.
  • The role can be physically exhausting and emotionally draining.
  • High responsibility carries the risk of legal and ethical challenges.
  • Dealing with complex and high-risk patient cases requires constant vigilance.

Useful Skills to Have as a Nurse Anesthetist

  • Expertise in Anesthesia Techniques
  • Pain Assessment and Management
  • Emotional Resilience
  • Airway Management Skills
  • Critical Thinking

Popular Nurse Anesthetist Specialties

  • Pediatric Anesthesia
  • Obstetric Anesthesia
  • Cardiothoracic Anesthesia
  • Neuroanesthesia
  • Critical Care Anesthesia
  • Orthopedic Anesthesia

How to Become a Nurse Anesthetist

Nurse Anesthetist 6 Steps to Career

Embarking on a career as a nurse anesthetist requires rigorous education and hands-on clinical experience. These foundational elements are pivotal in shaping skilled professionals to deliver exceptional anesthesia care.

Education

The journey to becoming a nurse anesthetist is anchored in a robust educational foundation. This path not only equips aspiring CRNAs with critical skills and knowledge but is also a pivotal stepping stone in achieving excellence in this specialized and demanding field.

Do I need a degree to become a Nurse Anesthetist?

Yes, you need a degree to become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA). The typical path to becoming a CRNA involves several educational and professional steps:

  • Bachelor’s Degree: Firstly, you need to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a similar degree. This is the foundational degree for a career in nursing.
  • Registered Nurse Licensure: After obtaining your bachelor’s degree, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to become a licensed Registered Nurse (RN).
  • Experience in Critical Care Nursing: CRNA programs typically require candidates to have at least one year of experience working in a critical care setting. This experience is crucial as it exposes the types of patients and situations you’ll encounter as a CRNA.
  • Graduate Education: You must complete a graduate degree program in nurse anesthesia. These programs typically award a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). They are specifically designed to provide the advanced education and training required for nurse anesthetists, covering areas such as anesthesia pharmacology, anesthesia biology, and pain management.
  • Certification: After completing the graduate program, you must pass the national certification examination administered by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA).

Becoming a CRNA is rigorous and requires a significant commitment to education and practical experience. However, it leads to a highly specialized and rewarding career in nursing and anesthesia.

Why is it important to get a degree in Nursing?

Obtaining a degree in Nursing is crucial, as it lays the foundational knowledge and skills necessary for meeting the nurse anesthetist job description.

Here’s a breakdown of the key points:

  • Essential Nursing Knowledge and Skills: A degree in nursing provides the essential theoretical and practical knowledge required in the field. This includes understanding human anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and patient care principles. These are foundational for any advanced nursing practice, especially for a nurse anesthetist who must deeply understand how anesthesia interacts with different bodily systems.
  • Clinical Competence: Nursing programs incorporate clinical rotations, which are critical for gaining hands-on experience. This experience is invaluable for future Nurse Anesthetists, as it hones their skills in patient assessment, care, and medical equipment—all of which are essential in the highly technical field of anesthesia.
  • Licensure and Certification Requirements: To become a CRNA, one must first be a licensed Registered Nurse (RN). A Nursing degree is a prerequisite for taking the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN), which grants RN licensure. Without this degree and subsequent licensure, you cannot advance to a CRNA role.
  • Foundation for Advanced Study: A bachelor’s degree in Nursing (BSN) provides the academic foundation required for admission into graduate programs in nurse anesthesia, which are necessary for becoming a CRNA. These advanced programs build on the knowledge gained during undergraduate studies.

How long does it take to get a degree in Nursing?

The journey to becoming a Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) starts with obtaining a nursing degree. The timeframe for completing this degree varies based on the chosen educational path.

  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN): This program, usually around 2 years, is a foundational step available at many community colleges and some universities. It provides the necessary skills and knowledge to become a Registered Nurse (RN)
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): The BSN is a 4-year program offered at numerous universities. It encompasses a broader scope of nursing education, including general education, nursing theory, and extensive clinical practice. This degree is increasingly recognized as the standard in nursing, particularly for specialized roles like Nurse Anesthetists.
  • Accelerated BSN Programs: Accelerated BSN programs provide a quick pathway into nursing for those with a bachelor’s degree in another field. These programs can be completed in approximately 11-18 months and are intensive, covering nursing education rapidly.
  • RN-to-BSN Programs: Registered Nurses who initially completed an ADN can opt for RN-to-BSN programs to further their education. These programs typically take 1-2 years and offer the flexibility of part-time or full-time study, accommodating working nurses.

How much does it cost to study Nursing at university?

When considering how to become a CRNA, understanding the cost of nursing education is crucial. 

On average, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from a public university might cost around $37,600, whereas attending a private institution could elevate the expense to over $150,400, including tuition, room, and board. These figures suggest a substantial investment in your education, emphasizing the need for strategic financial planning. 

Exploring diverse funding options like scholarships and financial aid, which can significantly alleviate the financial burden of pursuing a nursing degree, is advisable. This prudent approach to managing educational expenses is critical to becoming a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA).

Can I become a Nurse Anesthetist through online education?

Becoming a Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) through online education is partially possible, but it’s essential to understand this pathway’s specific requirements and limitations.

Many nursing programs offer online options for obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). These programs are often designed for individuals who are already registered nurses but hold an associate degree or diploma in nursing. They focus on theory and knowledge, which can be effectively delivered online.

After obtaining your BSN and becoming a registered nurse, you must acquire experience in a critical care setting. This practical experience cannot be gained online and requires hands-on work in a healthcare facility.

While some coursework for nurse anesthesia programs can be completed online, these programs are highly specialized and require extensive clinical training. 

The clinical components, critical for developing hands-on skills in anesthesia, must be completed in person at a healthcare facility. Some programs may offer a hybrid model where theoretical coursework is completed online, but the practical, hands-on training is conducted in person.

The process of becoming certified as a CRNA involves passing a national certification examination, which cannot be done online and requires your physical presence.

What are some web resources to learn skills to become a Nurse Anesthetist?

For aspiring nurse anesthetists, several specialized online resources provide education and training tailored to this field:

  • TheCRNA.com: This comprehensive online resource is dedicated to everything related to Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs). It offers a wide range of information, including details about CRNA jobs, schools, and news in the field of Nurse Anesthesia​​.
  • American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA): The AANA website provides extensive information about how to become a CRNA and a fact sheet about the role and significance of CRNAs.  Additionally, they offer online continuing education opportunities, managing credit submissions, and tracking for the credentialing body, the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA)​​​​.
  • California Association of Nurse Anesthesiology (CANA): CANA has created an Online Education Platform specifically for CRNA professionals. This platform offers on-demand, affordable options for earning Class A credits, certified and approved by AANA​​.

These resources provide foundational knowledge, continuing education, and professional development opportunities essential for anyone pursuing a career as a Nurse Anesthetist.

Practical Experience

Practical experience is a cornerstone in the journey to becoming a nurse anesthetist, bridging the gap between theoretical knowledge and real-world application. Through hands-on clinical practice, aspiring CRNAs truly hone their skills and understand the nuances of patient care in anesthesia.

What are internship opportunities for a Nurse Anesthetist?

Here are some key types of internships relevant to this area:

  • Anesthesia Department Internships: Hospitals often have dedicated anesthesia departments where interns can gain direct exposure to anesthesia techniques, patient assessment, and perioperative care. These internships are invaluable for understanding the role of anesthetics in surgery and critical care.
  • Perioperative Nursing Internships: Focused on the care of patients before, during, and after surgery, these internships offer a comprehensive view of the surgical process, including the administration and monitoring of anesthesia.
  • Pain Management Clinic Internships: These internships provide exposure to chronic pain management, a critical aspect of anesthesia care. Interns learn about various pain management techniques and how anesthetics play a role in long-term patient care.
  • Simulation Lab Training: Some programs offer internships in simulation labs where interns can practice anesthesia techniques in a controlled, risk-free environment. This experience is crucial for developing hands-on skills in administering and monitoring anesthesia.
  • Academic Medical Center Internships: These internships at university-affiliated hospitals blend clinical practice with academic research. They provide opportunities for anesthesia-related research projects, enhancing practical skills and scientific understanding.

What Skills will I learn as a Nurse Anesthetist?

As a nurse anesthetist, you will acquire diverse skills for providing high-quality anesthesia care and patient management. These skills encompass clinical competencies, technical abilities, and interpersonal attributes.

Here are some key skills you will learn:

  • Anesthetic Administration: You will learn to administer various types of anesthesia (general, regional, local) and sedation techniques safely and effectively.
  • Patient Assessment and Monitoring: Acquiring preoperative, intraoperative, and postoperative patient assessment and monitoring skills is crucial. This includes evaluating patients’ medical histories, physical conditions, and responses to anesthesia.
  • Advanced Pharmacology Knowledge: Understanding the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of anesthetic agents and adjuvant drugs, including their interactions and side effects, is critical.
  • Pain Management: You will learn techniques for managing acute and chronic pain, including using pain blocks and other non-pharmacological methods.
  • Airway Management: Skills in managing patients’ airways are vital, including intubation, ventilation, and dealing with airway emergencies.
  • Emergency Response: You will be trained to respond swiftly and effectively to allergies, cardiac or respiratory arrest, and other anesthesia-related complications.
  • Critical Thinking and Decision Making: The ability to make quick, informed decisions in high-pressure situations is essential, especially when dealing with unexpected events during anesthesia.
  • Patient Safety and Quality Care: Emphasizing patient safety, adhering to infection control protocols, and contributing to quality improvement in anesthesia care.

These skills are essential for safe and effective patient care and contribute to the professional growth and development of a nurse anesthetist. Given the evolving nature of healthcare and anesthesia technology, continuous learning and skill development are integral to this role.

What is the Work-Life Balance of a Nurse Anesthetist?

The work-life balance of a nurse anesthetist can be challenging but manageable, depending on the work setting and individual preferences. CRNAs often work in high-pressure environments like operating rooms, which can entail long, irregular hours, including nights, weekends, and being on-call. 

However, many enjoy flexible schedules, especially those in private practice or part-time positions. The intensity of the job can be offset by the satisfaction of playing a critical role in patient care and the potential for higher-than-average compensation in the nursing field

Balancing the profession’s demands with personal life requires good time management and self-care practices. The overall work-life balance varies among individuals and can be influenced by workplace, type of practice, and personal resilience.

What’s the Career Outlook for a Nurse Anesthetist?

The career outlook for nurse anesthetists in the USA is highly favorable. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall employment of nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners is projected to grow by 38% from 2022 to 2032, significantly faster than the average for all occupations. 

During this period, an average of about 29,200 job openings for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners are expected each year​​. This robust growth indicates a strong and increasing demand for healthcare professionals specialized in anesthesia and related fields.

Nurse Anesthetist Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities of a Nurse Anesthetist?

Nurse anesthetists have a wide range of job opportunities across various healthcare settings, each requiring specialized anesthesia skills and knowledge. Key opportunities include:

  • Operating Room Anesthetist: Primary role in hospitals, administering anesthesia for surgical procedures.
  • Pain Management Clinics: Managing chronic pain using various anesthesia techniques.
  • Obstetric Units: Providing epidural pain relief for labor and delivery.
  • Outpatient Surgical Centers: Working in settings where minor surgeries require short-term anesthesia.
  • Research and Education: Involvement in clinical research or teaching future nurse anesthetists in academic settings.
  • Administrative Roles: Taking on leadership positions in healthcare facilities, managing anesthesia departments or teams.
  • Military and Government Services: Providing anesthesia care in military hospitals and other government healthcare facilities.
  • Freelance or Independent Practice: Some CRNAs work independently or as contractors, offering their services to various healthcare organizations.

What Type of Companies Hire a Nurse Anesthetist?

Nurse anesthetists are highly specialized professionals, and their expertise is sought after by various organizations, distinct from those hiring other types of nurses.

Here are some unique employment settings for nurse anesthetists:

  • Anesthesia Groups: These are specialized groups or practices solely focused on providing anesthesia services, often contracting with multiple healthcare facilities.
  • Dental Surgery Centers: Given their expertise in anesthesia, CRNAs are employed in dental settings, particularly for complex or extensive dental procedures.
  • Freestanding Surgical Centers: Outpatient surgical centers not part of larger hospitals hire CRNAs for various surgical procedures.
  • Plastic Surgery Clinics: Nurse anesthetists are key in administering anesthesia for surgeries in cosmetic and reconstructive surgery clinics.
  • Ambulatory Care Centers: These centers, focusing on outpatient procedures, often require nurse anesthetists’ expertise for various surgeries that don’t require hospital admission.
  • Trauma Centers: CRNAs play a vital role in trauma centers, providing anesthesia care for emergency surgeries and critical care procedures.
  • Field Hospitals and Disaster Relief Organizations: Nurse anesthetists may work in field hospitals in emergency and disaster situations, providing urgent anesthesia care in challenging conditions.

Each setting offers unique challenges and opportunities, allowing nurse anesthetists to apply their skills in diverse environments and patient care scenarios.

Should I Become a Nurse Anesthetist?

Deciding to become a nurse anesthetist is a significant choice that requires thoughtful consideration of the key points discussed in this article. Reflect on your personal interests, skills, and long-term career goals. 

The role demands dedication, a rigorous educational path, and a challenging yet rewarding work environment. It offers a unique blend of technical skill, patient interaction, and critical decision-making. 

This career can be highly satisfying if you find fulfillment in providing detailed, high-level care and are interested in anesthesia and pain management. Ultimately, aligning this profession with your aspirations and strengths is crucial for a fulfilling career. 

Consider these factors carefully to make an informed decision about pursuing a career as a nurse anesthetist.

Careers Related to Nurse Anesthetist


Oluwadamilola Osisanya

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