*Editor’s note: Starting in 2025, certified registered nurse anesthetists will be required to hold a doctoral degree rather than just a master’s.
Nurse anesthetists, also called certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), administer anesthesia to patients undergoing operations. They either administer a general anesthetic or use local anesthesia to numb a certain area of the patient’s body so they do not feel pain. CRNAs make sure to consult with patients about their allergies so that they can administer anesthesia safely. Some nurse anesthetists also work collaboratively with physicians.
CRNA main job duties include these tasks:
Carrying out physical assessments
Safely administering anesthesia
Monitoring anesthesia levels during the procedure
Intravenous and intramuscular anesthesia administration
Inhaled anesthesia administration
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Where Do Nurse Anesthetists Work?
CRNAs most commonly find jobs in physicians’ offices, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, dentists’ offices, plastic surgery clinics, ketamine clinics, and pain management specialists. They may also work for the military or the Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare facilities.
Administer anesthesia in hospital surgical suites and obstetrical delivery rooms, including critical access hospitals; guide patients with recovery.
Prepare patients through physical assessments; give and monitor anesthesia.
Plastic Surgery Clinics
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?
When deciding whether to become a nurse anesthetist, be sure to weigh the pros and cons. You can find some advantages and disadvantages in the following table.
Advantages to Becoming a CRNA
CRNAs possess greater autonomy and responsibility in their roles than other nurse professions, such as RNs or licensed practical nurses. Their education and experience working in critical care prepare them to make independent judgments on the job.
The healthcare industry has a high demand for nurse anesthetists. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that this profession could grow by 45% from 2019 to 2029.
CRNAs work directly with patients, which can be great for professionals who enjoy working with people.
It takes a long time to become a nurse anesthetist — and the transition to a required doctoral degree in 2025 will mean that aspiring CRNAs will soon need to dedicate even more time to their education.
The educational costs can add up over time. Although scholarships can help, many students take out student loans. These can require years or even decades to pay off.
Advanced practice nursing can result in challenging work schedules, which can prove difficult for nurse anesthetists who need to remain alert.
How To Become a Nurse Anesthetist
Becoming a nurse anesthetist requires about 6 years of education and 2 years of clinical experience. In 2025, the minimum degree to become a nurse anesthetist will change from an MSN to a DNP.
Earn an associate degree in nursing or a bachelor of science in nursing.
For full-time students, an ADN traditionally takes two years to complete, while a BSN takes four years. Both degrees prepare students to become RNs.
Pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses to receive RN licensure.
The NCLEX-RN exam evaluates RN candidates’ foundational knowledge of nursing skills and practices. A passing score is required for candidates to qualify for RN licensure.
Complete required nursing experience.
Individuals aspiring to become nurse anesthetists need to complete at least two years of experience in critical care nursing, such as an intensive care unit (ICU). Some graduate schools may accept only one year of experience.
Earn a master of science in nursing.
Find an MSN program with a nurse anesthetist specialization. These degrees typically last two years for full-time students. However, RNs with an associate degree might enroll in an RN-to-MSN degree that requires an extra one or two years.
Pass the CRNA National Certification Examination.
Finally, candidates must pass the certification exam that assesses test-takers’ ability to carry out nurse anesthetist duties.
Changing Educational Requirements for CRNAs
In 2007, the board of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (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.
Nurses currently enrolled in a master’s level CRNA program will not need to complete a doctorate.
Current CRNAs who were licensed through an MSN program do not have to complete a doctoral degree to practice. Facility requirements may vary by institution.
How Much Do Nurse Anesthetists Make?
Nurse anesthetists work in one of the highest paying professions within the nursing industry. In 2019, they earned a median annual salary of $174,790, according to the BLS.
Like other advanced nursing professionals, nurse anesthetists are in high demand. The BLS projects that the number of nurse anesthetists could increase by 45% from 2019 to 2029, along with nurse midwives and nurse practitioners. That makes advanced practice nurses among the fastest growing professions in the United States.
Frequently Asked Questions About Nurse Anesthetists
How long does it take to become a CRNA?
It takes at least seven years to become a CRNA. A bachelor’s degree in nursing traditionally lasts four years, then graduates must earn their RN certification and gain at least one or two years of experience in critical care. While previously CRNAs required only a master’s, candidates must now earn a doctorate. Most CRNA tracks have already transitioned to doctoral degree programs to comply with the new requirement; all current CRNA programs will transition to the doctoral level by 2022. In addition to the program length, some spend a few years working as an RN or enroll in a part-time program, which means they might take up to a decade to officially earn CRNA certification.
What's the difference between a CRNA and an anesthesiologist?
Anesthesiologists are physicians who attend medical school. In contrast, CRNAs are advanced practice nurses. While anesthesiologists specialize in administering anesthesia, CRNAs either assist in giving anesthesia or, depending on the state, can administer it themselves.
Can CRNAs prescribe medicine?
A CRNA’s prescriptive authority depends on the state in which they practice. In some states, nurse anesthetists can prescribe medication independently, while in others, CRNAs need to enter a supervisory or collaborative agreement with physicians to do so.
How much do CRNAs make in a year?
In 2017, the median salary for nurse anesthetists was $174,790, as reported by the BLS. According to PayScale data, entry-level professionals earn $142,920, but salary tends to increase as CRNAs gain experience.
Resources for Nurse Anesthetists
American Association of Nurse Anesthetists
Over 57,000 nurse anesthetists hold membership with AANA, which brings together professionals through continuing education opportunities and events. Members can access resources, learn from webinars, and attend conferences and assemblies. Students may also join and take advantage of professional networking opportunities. The organization publishes a scholarly journal as well.
Anaesthesia Trauma & Critical Care
Based in the United Kingdom (UK), but also available to non-UK nurse anesthetists, this is a course for professionals who want to learn how to manage trauma patients in critical care. The course lasts three days and teaches participants how to manage traumatic injuries through simulated scenarios. At the end of the course, graduates gain certification.
Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation
This organization prioritizes safety within the anesthesia industry, providing safety resources for professionals and patients. Individuals can apply for awards and grants, and they can network with and learn from experts at conferences and other events. Interested individuals can also keep up with regular newsletters from the foundation.
American Board of Nursing Specialties
Representing 930,000 certified nurses, this group focuses on improving patient outcomes by promoting speciality nursing certification. ABNS hosts a spring conference to discuss assessment and management of certification organizations. Members can gain continuing education credit by participating in the conference and other events. The group also publishes resources and presents awards.
Dr. Deborah Weatherspoon, Ph.D., RN, CRNA is an advanced practice nurse. She graduated with a Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. She is currently a university nursing educator and has authored multiple publications. She has also presented at national and international levels about medical and leadership issues. She enjoys walking, reading, traveling to new places, and spending time with her family.
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