What Is a CRNA?

Keith Carlson, RN, NC-BC
Updated May 15, 2023
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CRNAs are advanced practice nurses who administer anesthesia and work at the pinnacle of nurse earning power. Let’s unpack the awesome specialty of the CRNA.
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A female nurse anesthetist places an oxygen mask on a senior patient while sedating him in preparation for a surgical procedure in a hospital operating room. The young Malaysian nurse is wearing a dark green hijab over her green scrubs, and has a mask and medical cap on. A heart monitor and medical equipment are in the background. The nurse is looking towards the doctor in the foreground while awaiting his instructions.Credit: JohnnyGreig / E+ / Getty Images

Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who have a robust education to acquire the expertise to administer anesthesia in a variety of settings. CRNAs administer up to 80% of the anesthesia provided in American rural counties and are considered to be safe and cost-effective.

If you’d like to understand what a CRNA credential might mean to your career, use this guide to learn what CRNAs do, how to become one, why you might choose this highly specialized nursing career path, and what you can expect to earn.

How Long to Become:
7-10 years

Job Outlook:
12% growth from 2021-2031

Average Annual Salary:

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Does a CRNA Do?

DNP Required
Certification Required

Jenny Finnell, CRNA and founder of CRNA School Prep Academy, explains that “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.”

The autonomy of CRNAs is determined by each state, and more than half grant full independence. CRNAs enjoy complete autonomy in all branches of the military.

A CRNA administers pre-anesthesia and anesthesia. They conduct pre-anesthesia patient assessments, receive signed patient consent, and may prepare the operating room for procedures. During surgery, CRNAs administer anesthesia and manage patients’ airways, including intubation and extubation. The CRNA may be consulted during patient recovery from anesthesia.

nurse holding anesthesia mask in surgery room

Shannon Fagan / The Image Bank / Getty Images

Key Responsibilities

  • Selecting, ordering, and administering anesthetic medications
  • Conducting pre-anesthesia patient assessments and getting signed consent
  • Managing patients’ airways during surgical procedures
  • Providing postoperative consultation and patient assessment

Career Traits

  • Calm under pressure
  • Organization and attention to detail
  • Stress management
  • Delegation and collaboration

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Where Do CRNAs Work?

CRNAs practice in settings where anesthesia, pain control, and/or airway management are needed, including hospital surgical departments, labor and delivery, ambulatory surgical facilities, ketamine clinics, pain centers, the U.S. military, offices of dentists and ophthalmologists, and more. CRNAs may also work for private anesthesiology groups which are employed by various medical centers.

CRNAs enjoy full-practice authority in every branch of the military, and they provide anesthesia on the front lines, military bases, ships, and other facilities throughout the world.

Acute Care Hospitals

In hospitals, CRNAs ensure proper administration of anesthesia in the surgical setting. CRNAs perform pre-anesthesia patient assessment and education, administer anesthesia and maintain an open airway during surgical procedures, and manage postanesthesia recovery.

Ketamine Clinics

In ketamine clinics, CRNAs perform patient assessments and collaborate with psychiatric professionals. The CRNA manages ketamine administration and monitors patients regarding safety, side effects, and recovery.

Ambulatory Surgical Centers

The responsibilities of CRNAs in ambulatory surgical centers are similar to that of CRNAs in hospitals. They perform pre-anesthesia assessments, administer anesthesia, and manage postanesthesia recovery.

The main difference between ambulatory and acute care surgery is that ambulatory surgical patients are discharged on a same-day basis.

Why Become a CRNA

There are many excellent reasons to become a CRNA, and also some disadvantages to consider.

“Many people choose to become CRNAs because of the autonomy and responsibility the role offers.” says Finnell. “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.”

Rewards of Becoming a CRNA

  • check-circleCRNAs command the highest salaries of all nursing professionals.
  • check-circleCRNAs are in high demand, with 12% job growth predicted by the BLS through 2030.
  • check-circleCRNAs practice independently in a majority of states and throughout all branches of the military.

Challenges of Becoming a CRNA

  • x-circleIncreased levels of responsibility come with greater liability.
  • x-circleBecoming a CRNA requires extensive education and training.
  • x-circleCRNAs must work under a high degree of pressure.

How to Become a CRNA

As the highest-paying nursing specialty, it’s no surprise that to become a CRNA takes time, study, and perseverance.

“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.”

— Jenny Finnell, MSN, CRNA

According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology (AAN), prospective nurse anesthetists can anticipate a minimum of 7-8.5 years of education and experience to become a CRNA. This includes about four years to earn a bachelor’s, 2-4 years to complete a doctor of nursing practice (DNP), and an average of 2,604 hours of supervised nurse anesthetist experience.

The AANA lists the minimum educational requirements for becoming a CRNA as:

  • A baccalaureate or graduate degree in nursing
  • An unencumbered RN or APRN license
  • A minimum of one year of full-time experience as a critical care RN
  • Graduation from a nurse anesthesia educational program accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs

A DNP degree is strongly recommended as the minimum requirement for all entry-level APRNs as of 2025. While this has not yet been officially codified, the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA) has already independently committed to the target date of 2025 for CRNAs.

In fact, the COA no longer accredits new master’s level CRNA programs, and students entering the field after 2022 must earn a doctoral degree to become certified.

Those pursuing a career as a CRNA can earn either a DNP or a doctor of nursing anesthesia practice (DNAP) degree. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) is the body that accredits DNP programs; the Nurse Anesthetists Council for Accreditation approves DNAP programs.

Some organizations do not recognize the DNAP as a so-called “terminal degree,” so CRNAs seeking tenured faculty positions may prefer to have a DNP degree.

How Much Do CRNAs Make?

As of May 2022, the BLS reports the average annual salary for CRNAs as $205,770, and the median annual salary as $203,090. CRNAs can expect an average hourly wage of $98.93. Factors that may influence an individual CRNA’s earning potential include quality of education, years of experience in critical care before becoming a CRNA, years of practice as a CRNA, and geographic location.

Earning potential is high. North Dakota offers the highest average annual CRNA salary, with California, Connecticut, New York, and Illinois all coming in well above $200,000

Frequently Asked Questions About CRNAs

How long does it take to become a CRNA?

Becoming a CRNA generally takes 7-10 years, including undergraduate nursing education and clinical experience.

How do you go from RN to CRNA?

For nurses with an associate nursing degree, the path to becoming a CRNA involves attending an RN to bachelor of science in nursing bridge program, followed by earning an master’s, and finally a DNP or DNAP.

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

Anesthesiologists and CRNAs are educated in different academic systems. Anesthesiologists attend medical school and complete a residency. Some anesthesiologists also complete a fellowship. CRNAs are RNs with advanced practice credentials.

As of 2025, all new CRNAs must have a doctorate. Based on the state practice environment, some CRNAs must be supervised by a physician.

Can nurse anesthetists work independently?

CRNAs are allowed to work independently in any state where unrestricted practice is allowed. In states where the supervision of a physician or collaborative agreement is required, the CRNA must practice under that physician. CRNAs can rely on their state’s nursing board for detailed information about practice restrictions.

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