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How to Become a CRNA

August 25, 2020 | Staff Writers

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The certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) nursing specialty is among the most lucrative in the field. A CRNA administers and manages anesthesia in clinics, hospitals, delivery rooms, dental offices, and other healthcare settings. These professionals are trained to administer many types of anesthetics and provide pain management during surgery. CRNAs also monitor patients’ vital functions while administering anesthesia.

There are about 45,000 CRNAs currently practicing in the United States. CRNAs out-earn many other types of nurses, drawing a median annual wage of around $174,000. They are also in high demand, with overall employment projected to grow by 26% from 2018 to 2028.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a certified nurse anesthetist and an anesthesiologist?

Anesthesiologists earn a medical degree and administer anesthesia as part of the physician role. While many CRNAs administer anesthesia independently, others assist or work with physicians. In general, large hospitals keep both anesthesiologists and CRNAs on staff. Smaller facilities, particularly those in rural areas, usually only employ CRNAs.

How long does it take to become a CRNA?

CRNAs typically earn their credentials in 7-8 years. The process includes completing a bachelor’s degree and obtaining a registered nurse (RN) license, logging at least one year of work as an RN, and earning a master’s degree in nurse anesthesia from a program accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs.

Can a CRNA prescribe medication?

CRNAs can prescribe medication, but whether they can do so independently or not varies by state. Full prescriptive authority allows CRNAs to prescribe medication without restrictions. States with reduced or restricted prescriptive authority place limits on the types of medications that CRNAs can prescribe and/or require a collaborative agreement with a physician.

What degree do you need to become a CRNA?

CRNAs must earn a master of science in nurse anesthesia from an accredited program. The program must prepare candidates to pass an examination administered by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA). Opportunities for specialization include dental anesthesia, neurological anesthesia, obstetrics, pediatrics, and plastic surgery.

Steps to Becoming a Nurse Anesthetist

  • Get Your Undergraduate Nursing Degree

    Prospective CRNAs must first become registered nurses (RNs) and earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Candidates take classes in chemistry, biology, and physiology during the first two years of nursing school. Many of these courses can be completed at a community college, resulting in an associate degree.

    The second two years of the program focus on more advanced nursing concepts. Classes often include family/community health, sciences, ethics, and nursing practice. Additionally, students typically complete at least one clinical rotation.

    Associate degree-holders may be able to secure entry-level nursing positions that provide tuition reimbursement benefits, allowing them to work towards a bachelor’s degree at reduced cost. Candidates who hold a degree in another field may also be able to earn an accelerated bachelor’s degree in nursing.

    The CRNA specialty is challenging and highly demanding, and universities offering CRNA programs are often quite selective. Prospective CRNAs are advised to maintain a 3.0 GPA or higher in their undergraduate nursing programs.

  • Get Your Registered Nurse License

    While state licensing requirements vary, you must hold an RN license to become a CRNA. You also need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam required by your state nursing board, or state regulatory agency, for you to earn your RN license. Read more becoming an RN here.

  • Gain Practical Nursing Experience

    Individuals who wish to enroll in a nurse anesthetist degree program must demonstrate 2-3 years of nursing experience; usually in a critical care setting. It is best if you gain this experience in an ICU or a surgical intensive care unit.

  • Earn Your Nurse Anesthesia Degree

    Next, you must earn your master’s degree in nurse anesthesia. This typically takes full-time students about three years. Master’s candidates learn about anesthesia equipment and management as they gain a great deal of classroom and clinical practice. In the first part of the program, students take classes in physiology, pain management, pharmacology, and anesthesia for various medical specialties. The second portion usually involves supervised clinical experiences.

  • Apply for Your Certification

    All RNs in the U.S. must pass the NCLEX-RN national licensure examination to work as a nurse. After passing the exam, a nurse anesthetist usually spends at least one year or 1000 hours gaining work experience before enrolling in a graduate-level program. A secondary certification level is available through the Board of Certification or Recertification for nurse anesthesia. After earning a master’s degree, candidates are eligible to sit for the NBCRNA CRNA exam.

Working as a Nurse Anesthetist

Nurse anesthetists work in operating rooms, outpatient centers, emergency rooms, and pain management units. They assist patients who require pain medication, like epidurals during childbirth, or other forms of anesthesia for operations and injuries. The CRNA specialty is one of the highest paid nursing positions in the country.

Where to Work as a CRNA

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, CRNAs find the highest employment levels in physicians’ offices, hospitals, and outpatient care centers. This is particularly true in Texas, North Carolina, and Tennessee. The highest-paid CRNAs work in outpatient care centers, hospitals, and home health care services.

Wyoming, Montana, and Oregon pay CRNAs the highest salaries, with annual mean earnings approaching $250,000. The New York City-Newark-Jersey City, Houston, and Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan areas are home to the highest CRNA employment levels. However, CRNAs in Toledo, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Columbus, Georgia earn the biggest paychecks, with mean annual wages surpassing $247,540.

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