Meet a Nurse Anesthetist

Nalea Ko
Updated May 12, 2023
    Nurse anesthetists have safely administered anesthesia for more than 150 years. This Q&A with a veteran CRNA gives you an inside look at what nurse anesthetists do every day and what they get paid on average.
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    Did you know that every year in the United States, certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) administer 50 million anesthetics? In many rural regions that lack physicians, healthcare facilities rely on CRNAs for pain management.

    Interested in becoming a nurse anesthetist? Check out what a seasoned CRNA has to say to discover the challenges and rewards of the job.

    We interviewed Jenny Finnel, a nine-year CRNA veteran, to learn more about how she became a nurse anesthetist. Also, find out what CRNAs make and how you can become one.

    Q&A With a Nurse Anesthetist

    Jenny Finnell, MSN, CRNA, is a highly experienced anesthesia practitioner with over nine years of clinical experience across several settings, including open heart, obstetrics, outpatient surgery, and pediatrics. In addition to her clinical work, Finnell is also the founder of CRNA School Prep Academy, a highly successful mentorship program for nursing students pursuing a career as a CRNA.

    As CEO and founder of both CRNA School Prep Academy and Nurses Teach Nurses, Finnell is dedicated to making a difference in the lives of nurses everywhere through the power of mentorship. With a passion for helping others and a deep commitment to the nursing profession, Finnell is a true leader and innovator in the field of nursing mentorship.

    What inspired you to become a CRNA?

    CRNAs are advanced practice nurses who specialize in administering anesthesia to patients in various healthcare settings, including hospitals, surgery centers, and clinics. They work with physicians, dentists, and other healthcare providers to provide safe and effective anesthesia care.

    Many people choose to become CRNAs because of the autonomy and responsibility the role offers. As independent practitioners, CRNAs make critical decisions about the type and amount of anesthesia to administer, and they closely monitor patients throughout the procedure to ensure their safety and comfort. This high level of responsibility can be both challenging and rewarding.

    Another reason why people become CRNAs is the flexibility of the profession. CRNAs can work in a variety of settings, from rural hospitals to urban trauma centers, and they can choose to specialize in specific areas, such as pediatrics, obstetrics, or pain management.

    Furthermore, becoming a CRNA requires advanced education and training. To become a CRNA, individuals must first earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing and obtain a registered nurse (RN) license. They must then gain critical care nursing experience before applying to a nurse anesthesia program, which typically takes 2-3 years to complete. After completing the program, individuals must pass a national certification exam to become a CRNA.

    Overall, becoming a CRNA is a challenging and rewarding career choice that offers high levels of autonomy, responsibility, flexibility, and advanced education and training.

    These are the reasons that led me to choose a career as a CRNA:

    • Ability to use unique, life-saving, hands-on skills
    • Opportunity to exercise critical thinking when dealing with complex situations
    • Chance to apply pharmacology and pathophysiology knowledge on a daily basis
    • Diverse range of patient populations I could serve as a CRNA
    • Increased level of control over my patients’ outcomes
    • Expertise to safely manage anxiety and pain
    • Possibility of achieving a better work-life balance, with few to no nights, weekends, or holidays required
    • Potential to earn a higher income than other advanced practice roles
    • High job satisfaction among CRNAs
    • Profession’s high demand and numerous job opportunities

    What led you to pursue the role of CRNA educator, specifically?

    The memory of the immense desire I felt to become a CRNA, and the elation I experienced upon receiving my acceptance, still resonates with me. I recall the moments of doubt, the feeling of being overwhelmed, and questioning my own abilities. It is for this reason that I find joy in sharing my experiences and offering guidance to those who also aspire to this career path.

    Being a mentor is an incredibly powerful tool that can create profound and positive impacts on lives and communities. I have found great satisfaction in using mentorship to successfully guide aspiring CRNAs towards their dreams. I am proud to say that I am also building a network of Pay It Forward CRNAs who will continue to pay it forward through mentorship.

    As an educator, I view the opportunity to mentor others as a true honor.

    Over the past two years, you created the mentoring program CRNA School Prep Academy. Why is mentorship important in nursing?

    Nursing is a profession centered around helping others, which is why mentorship is crucial to its success. Nurses are inherently compassionate and giving, making mentoring a natural extension of these qualities.

    However, it’s easy for nurses to become so focused on their patients that they neglect their own needs for growth and support. By prioritizing mentorship, we can build stronger connections and support systems within our community, resulting in greater impact and fulfillment in our careers.

    Mentorship doesn’t have to be an extensive program or coaching initiative. It can be as simple as adopting a mindset of helping others and offering guidance in daily interactions with peers. This is the philosophy I share with my community, and I am proud to say that I am building a network of like-minded mentors.

    Once nurses experience the power of mentorship, they are naturally inclined to pay it forward and help others, as it is intrinsic to the nursing profession.

    While no day is the same, what is a ‘typical’ day like for a CRNA?

    As a CRNA, I can attest that while every day is unique, there are certain patterns that define a “typical” day. The nature of your work largely depends on the setting in which you practice. For instance, working at a hospital or facility may shape your daily routine.

    In my own career, I began by focusing heavily on obstetrics, performing spinals for C-sections and labor epidurals, often working 24-hour shifts. However, as I gained experience, I shifted my focus to open heart surgeries, lungs, and big vascular cases, which my peers did not typically handle.

    [operating room] for a day to provide regional peripheral nerve blocks for patients.

    While your employer may set a standard number of work hours per week, you can often adjust your schedule to meet your personal needs. It is rare for most staff to work night shifts, so you may have the flexibility to maintain a more traditional work schedule that allows for a favorable work-life balance.

    What are some of the greatest challenges of being a CRNA?

    As a CRNA, there are several challenges that one may face. One significant challenge is working in high-pressure situations, where patients can quickly deteriorate, and it is up to the CRNA to stabilize them for the operation and ensure they wake up safely.

    It is crucial to be comfortable delegating tasks and being in charge of the room, which can be a challenge for those who are naturally shy or reserved. It takes time and practice to build confidence in this area.

    Additionally, breaks can be unpredictable or non-existent, depending on staffing levels, and shifts may not have a predictable end time if staffing is short or if surgeries run long. It is essential to be flexible and adaptable to these circumstances.

    [intensive care unit] can provide valuable insight into whether this profession is the right fit.

    What are the greatest rewards of being a CRNA?

    As a certified registered nurse anesthetist, one of the greatest rewards is knowing that you played a crucial role in saving a patient’s life during a major surgery. You get to be the one who ensures that the patient wakes up after the operation with little to no pain or discomfort. It is a privilege to be that smiling, reassuring face they see before they drift off to sleep.

    We carry a significant responsibility and are entrusted with a patient’s life, which is a great honor. It’s incredibly humbling to be in a position where you can speak for someone who is rendered helpless. Additionally, the one-on-one interaction with patients is deeply fulfilling and allows you to provide them with the highest level of care possible.

    What advice would you give to those looking to pursue a career as a CRNA?

    As a seasoned CRNA mentor who has guided thousands of nurses on their journey to becoming a CRNA, I cannot stress enough the importance of researching this career path and possible schools as early as possible, even if you are still a prenursing major. To gain valuable experience, it’s crucial to shadow CRNAs early and often, attend open houses, and get involved in leadership roles to build your network and gain exposure to the field.

    One of the biggest pieces of advice I can offer is to seek out mentorship! Pursuing this career path can be challenging, so it’s essential to seek support from your peers and surround yourself with others who share the same goal. Having a mentor can provide guidance and support and help you navigate the complexities of this field.

    Furthermore, I highly recommend surrounding yourself with positive role models that will keep you encouraged and moving forward. Persistence is key in this field, and it’s essential to learn from the challenges ahead and be adaptable to any situation. With hard work and dedication, you can find success as a certified registered nurse anesthetist.

    What Does a Nurse Anesthetist Do?

    The level of autonomy granted to a CRNA depends on where they work. CRNAs provide 80% of anesthesia in rural counties, according to the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology. In these areas, CRNAs work independently of physicians.

    Elsewhere, CRNAs work with surgeons and anesthesiologists in surgical procedures and operations. Their duties may include:

    • Monitoring anesthesia for surgical or obstetrical operations to ensure patients have pain-free procedures
    • Assessing a patient’s pain level after surgery and helping them recover from anesthesia
    • Collaborating with surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare providers
    • Educating patients about anesthesia delivery and potential risks
    • Developing pain management plans
    • Inserting catheters

    “As a CRNA, I can attest that while every day is unique, there are certain patterns that define a ‘typical’ day. The nature of your work largely depends on the setting in which you practice.”

    — Jenny Finnell, MSN, CRNA

    How to Become a Nurse Anesthetist

    A CRNA is an advanced practice nurse. This means you not only need a bachelor’s in nursing and clinical experience but also a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) to become a CRNA. The entire process of becoming a CRNA — from undergraduate education to licensure — takes 7-10 years. The steps to CRNA licensure include:

    • Earn your bachelor’s in nursing degree, which includes about 733 clinical hours
    • Pass the National Council Licensure Examination
    • Gain state licensure
    • Earn a DNP or doctor of nursing anesthesia practice (DNAP) and complete about 2,604 clinical hours
    • Finish 6,032 hours as a critical care registered nurse
    • Pass the National Certification Examination, administered by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (to take the exams, you need a DNP or DNAP and current RN license)

    “Overall, becoming a CRNA is a challenging and rewarding career choice that offers high levels of autonomy, responsibility, flexibility, and advanced education and training.”

    — Jenny Finnell, MSN, CRNA

    How Much Do Nurse Anesthetist Nurses Make?

    Nurse anesthetists rank as one of the highest-paid nurses. Like other occupations, nursing offers financial rewards if you continue to learn. Nurse anesthetists make a median annual salary of $195,610 as of May 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

    That said, the top 90% of CRNAs earn more than $100 an hour, or $239,000 per year, according to the BLS. Gaining experience, continued education, and certifications can help you fetch a higher salary in a high-demand field.

    According to the BLS, employers will add employment for nurse anesthetists at a rate of 12% from 2021-2031.