Nurse anesthetist career guide
Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) administer anesthesia and other medications. They also monitor patients who have had an anesthetic and are recovering. Anyone studying to become a nurse anesthetist will need to learn about sedation, the different medications used, and the types of anesthesia, such as general, regional, and local.
CRNAs are specialized in administering anesthesia and earn some of the highest nursing salaries in the US.
Nurse anesthetists are qualified as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) through clinical training, completing advanced college degrees and by sitting for the relevant exams. CRNAs are specialized in administering anesthesia and earn some of the highest nursing salaries in the US.
In this career guide, you’ll find out more about the responsibilities of nurse anesthetists, how much they earn and how you can become a CRNA.
What does a nurse anesthetist do?
While specific duties may vary by workplace, a nurse anesthetist typically:
- explains the anesthesia procedure and the risks to patients
- administers anesthesia to patients according to individual needs and requirements
- monitors patients who have received an anesthetic
- manages any ongoing pain experienced by the patient
- provides support during scheduled surgical procedures
- responds in an emergency, often to help with airway management
There are also some CRNA roles that involve less patient contact. They include managerial positions where you could oversee a team of nurses or manage the resources of a practice. There are also roles that involve training nurses and serving as liaisons with hospital departments and administration.
Where do nurse anesthetists work?
CRNAs usually work in clinical settings, such as operating rooms, intensive care units, emergency departments, and small or large surgery clinics. That can include outpatient centers, surgical hospitals, medical hospitals, U.S. military facilities, research facilities, dental surgeries, or physicians’ offices.
Nurses in this field generally work in a team of other medical staff, including the surgeon and other nurses. Some CRNAs also work independently with little interaction with other medical staff.
After receiving your DNP, you can pursue employment in a nurse anesthetist setting. The place you work as a CRNA will affect your future salary:
Offices of physiciansMedian salary: 195K US$
Some medical procedures are carried out at physicians’ offices, such as plastic surgeries or ophthalmology centers. At these locations, nurse anesthetists manage and administer anesthesia to patients.
General medical and surgical hospitalsMedian salary: 212K US$
For any minor or major surgeries, nurse anesthetists are on-hand to assess patients and administer anesthetic.
Outpatient care centersMedian salary: 245K US$
Patients who recently had surgery or have ongoing medical problems will require nurse anesthetists to help them manage their pain relief at these outpatient care centers.
Colleges, universities and professional schoolsMedian salary: 200K US$
Experienced CRNAs will sometimes go on to train the next generation of nurse anesthetists. They will teach students anesthetic nursing theory as well as more practical tasks, like how to insert an epidural into a patient.
Nurse anesthetist salary numbers
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage of a nurse anesthetist in 2021 was $195,610. Employment for nurse anesthetists is expected to increase by 40% between 2021 and 2031, faster than the average growth of other occupations. More emphasis on preventative care, increased demand for healthcare services, and a rise in chronic conditions contribute to this growth.
The BLS also indicates that Connecticut is the top-paying state for a CRNA, with an annual mean wage of $276,540. New Jersey comes in second at $263,850, with Illinois third at $250,280 and West Virginia fourth at $247,650. Conversely, the lowest-paying state for CRNAs is Arizona, with an annual mean wage of $142,250. Arkansas and Kansas aren’t far behind, at $154,580 and $154,640, respectively.
A nurse anesthetist is paid an average base salary of $173.209 per year. However, various factors, including qualifications, experience, and location, can influence earning potential. The median salary for a nurse anesthetist ranges from $124,000 to $219,000.
Nurse Anesthetists salary information by state
The nominal salary is the unadjusted salary paid.
The real salary is adjusted to consider the purchasing power by state. We multiply the nominal salary by a state purchasing parities index to indicate the relative value of salaries by state. For instance, while New York or California might pay the highest nominal salary, these states are relatively expensive and so the real value of the salary is often less than a cheaper to live in state with a lower nominal salary.
When available we provide 2020 state level salary information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing 10th, 50th, and 90th percentile earnings to provide the range of salary experienced by each career. Salary data is aggregated from the actual reported income of the US labor force, and is considered the most trustworthy data source for salary information.
Payscale is a salary survey service meant to provide employers and employees with salary data at local levels to benchmark and compare. While Payscale has a much smaller sample size than BLS, Payscale does update more frequently so data may be considered fresher. Payscale also indicates salaries at a wider range of roles whereas BLS sometimes aggregates numerous professions into one category which may skew salary data. For this reason, we find Payscale to be a good secondary salary indicator. All information received from payscale is via a paid API. You can read more about payscale and their data methodology here.
District of Columbia
- 10th percentile: $93,200
- 50th percentile: $159,970
- 90th percentile: $208,000
Highest salary states
Helpful skills and key considerations
A career as a nurse anesthetist involves considerable responsibility. They need superb critical thinking skills and must be able to respond quickly and calmly in an emergency. They should also have good attention to detail and a desire to keep up to date with best practices. Strong decision making and communication skills are essential too, as part of the role involves talking to patients about administering the anesthetic and any risks that may be involved.
Although there are part-time and flexible positions, most nurse anesthetist roles are a full-time commitment and require shift work that could include evenings and weekends.
As the majority of CRNA roles are in clinical settings, the job wouldn’t suit someone who prefers to work from home. Although there are part-time and flexible positions, most nurse anesthetist roles are a full-time commitment and require shift work that could include evenings and weekends.
Roles in hospitals, including ICUs and emergency rooms, are more likely to involve irregular work hours. However, positions in small surgical clinics or physician’s offices are more likely to have set hours during the week. If you have family commitments or need to work regular hours, it’s possible to do so as a nurse anesthetist in these workplaces.
However, if you prefer a less stressful career, the following related options may be more suitable:
- Nurse midwife
- Nurse educator
- Occupational health nurse
- Public health nurse
- Nurse case manager
Are you an excellent communicator with strong time and stress management skills? Are you attentive to details? Can you work diverse hours and handle emergencies? If so, then a nurse anesthetist career may be for you.
How to become a nurse anesthetist
After graduating from high school, the steps towards becoming a nurse anesthetist are as follows:
- Earn an approved nursing diploma, an accredited associate degree in nursing (ADN), or a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN).
- Obtain licensure as an RN after graduation.
- Gain experience working as a nurse for 1 year.
- Obtain a master’s of science in nursing (MSN) from an institution that offers a program concentration in anesthesia.
- Earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree approved by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Education Programs (COA).
- Pass the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetist (NBCRNA) and CRNA exams.
Important changes to nurse anesthetist schooling
Starting in 2025, you’ll need a DNP to become a CRNA. Previously, you only needed an MSN. This career guide gives you the details of how to become a nurse anesthetist if you’re starting at the ADN or BSN level, so it includes the DNP as a required educational step.
How long does it take to become a nurse anesthetist?
If you were to study full time and work the required 1 year in a clinical setting, it can take between 7 and 10 years to become a DNP certified in anesthetic nursing. However, this depends on various factors including your chosen educational path, existing qualifications and program format.
Many educational institutions offer online or hybrid programs at BSN and MSN level, which can cost less than traditional on-campus programs. These programs tend to be more flexible, which may appeal to students who work or have family responsibilities. Note that curricula with clinical practice components may still require students to go to campus.
Earn an associate or bachelor’s degree
Most nurse anesthetists start their career by earning a BSN, which generally takes 4 years of full-time study to complete. Some students opt for an ADN, typically requiring 18 to 24 months of full-time study. Course concentrations can include subjects like biology, chemistry, nutrition, and ethics.
Alternatively, students could pursue the less common route of a 1-, 2- or 3-year nursing diploma. Candidates with any one of these degree qualifications are usually eligible for RN or LPN licensure.
A BSN builds a firm foundation for career and educational advancement in anesthetic nursing and may help fulfill certification requirements.
A bachelor’s degree is often preferred by employers. It’s more extensive than an associate’s degree, commonly including 120 credits and 800 hours of clinical practice. It also builds a firm foundation for career and educational advancement as a nurse anesthetist and may help fulfill certification requirements.
Admission requirements depend on your chosen school and program. However, a minimum GPA of 3.0, strong SAT or ACT scores and letters of recommendation are typical prerequisites. A personal statement, in-person interview, and background check may also be required.
Other education options exist for non-traditional nursing students who want to become a nurse anesthetist eventually. An LPN-BSN program is ideal for licensed practical nurses who don’t have an RN license, ADN, or BSN. These programs usually allow students to apply their previous training and experience to their bachelor’s degree while fulfilling RN licensure requirements.
An RN-BSN program is suitable for licensed RNs who already have a diploma or associate’s degree but want to pursue their BSN. Also known as an accelerated or bridge program, an RN-BSN often allows students to transfer their existing credits. As such, it can reduce the time taken to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Obtain RN licensure
Once you’ve earned an accredited RN qualification, you can complete the 6-hour NCLEX-RN exam as a prerequisite for nursing licensure. It tests candidates on general nursing subjects like preventative care, safety, infection control, and care management.
After passing the exam, you can apply to your State Board of Nursing for your RN license. Some states have other requirements, such as a criminal background check. There’s also the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC), which is a multistate license that allows RNs to practice across 33 participating states.
Work in an intensive care setting
After receiving your RN license, you can pursue employment in a healthcare setting. If you’re looking to specialize as a nurse anesthetist, it’s best to gain experience as an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse.
ICU nurses earn a median salary of $67,407 and work in hospital intensive care units. By working in this setting, ICU nurses gain experience in caring for critically ill patients who need ongoing pain relief and treatment, sometimes in emergency situations. This puts them in a good position to study for an MSN that has a focus on anesthesia.
Masters of nursing (MSN)
Your time studying and working as an RN will prepare you to become a CRNA. However, it’s only when you earn your MSN that you’ll gain the necessary skills to specialize as a nurse anesthetist. Most programs are about 28 months long and are full-time. There are some part-time programs available, which can take up to 5 years to complete.
In this advanced-practice specialty track, you’ll learn:
- advanced pharmacology
- principles and practice of nurse anesthesia
- advanced clinical assessment
- regional anesthesia
- anesthesia and coexisting disease
Typically, these programs require you to earn between 60 and 85 credits. A clinical anesthesia residency or practicum is a significant part of the second year of study and gives you the opportunity to gain hands-on experience.
Application requirements for these programs include a BSN, a valid RN license, at least 1 year of experience in a clinical setting, and a minimum GPA of 3.0. Letters of recommendation, GRE test scores, and a statement of purpose may also be required.
As there’s a clinical residency component, the majority of courses are offered as campus-based or hybrid learning. Some colleges also offer accelerated MSN degree programs.
Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
A DNP with a specialization in anesthesia usually takes 36 months to complete. Generally, you’ll need to earn between 80 and 90 credits. Most programs are full-time, although part-time options are available.
Programs usually include clinical rotations and a scholarly project that involves the submission of a paper to a peer-reviewed journal. You’ll also learn how to:
- translate research to clinical practice
- measure patient outcomes
- administer anesthetics
- think critically
- work with patients across the lifespan in various clinical settings
Application requirements for a DNP in nurse anesthesia include an MSN, a GPA of 3.0 or higher, and at least 1 years’ experience working in acute care, preferably in an ICU, as a nurse.
Obtaining CRNA licensure
There’s a specific licensure procedure for nurse anesthetists. It measures the knowledge and skills of entry-level professionals before they can practice. The National Certification Exam (NCE) is set by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA).
You’ll need to take a Continued Professional Certification (CPC) assessment once every 8 years to maintain your licensure. There are 4 core components that require you to demonstrate your skills and knowledge, including:
- airway management
- anesthesia equipment and technology
- applied clinical pharmacology
- human physiology and pathophysiology
Accreditation ensures that nursing education programs are held at high standards of quality throughout the country. Accrediting authorities assess and approve programs that meet certain criteria.
National accreditation refers to a program that adheres to the standards of a body approved by the U.S. Department of Education. State board accreditation means that a program is approved in a particular state only.
Most schools won’t allow you to transfer credits from a program that isn’t accredited by an approved body. Employers might not accept your qualification in this case, either.
That’s why it’s essential to do your research and make sure that any program you choose is accredited by a reputable authority. Primary accrediting bodies for nurse anesthetists include:
- Commission on the Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
- Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA)
- Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
The cost of a degree depends on various factors. Your chosen school, degree type, and whether you choose to study part- or full-time all impact how much you’ll pay. Accelerated, hybrid, and online degree programs may be more cost-effective than traditional on-campus study.
The average tuition and fees for a full-time student at a public 4-year institution per year are:
At a private nonprofit 4-year institution, the average tuition and fees costs per year are as follows:
Nursing students at all major levels may be eligible to apply for financial aid, scholarships, or grants from their educational institution. Additionally, private and governmental organizations may have scholarships, work-study programs, loan forgiveness programs, and other forms of financial aid available for nursing students. Here are a few potential opportunities:
- Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
- American Red Cross Jane Delano Student Nurse Scholarship
- Association of periOperative Registered Nurses Scholarship
- A Nurse I Am Scholarship
- Dr. Francis Anthony Beneventi Medical Scholarship
CRNAs primarily care for patients before, during and after medical procedures that require anesthesia. They can manage and administer pain relief in a variety of healthcare settings, which involves a lot of responsibility and attention to detail.
Nurse anesthetists are also in demand in the US and earn six-figure salaries on average. While this route of specialization has more educational requirements compared to other nursing specialties, the high salaries and good job prospects make it a fantastic investment for nurses who are looking to progress in their careers.
CRNA vs anesthesiologist, what’s the difference?
Nurse anesthetists and anesthesiologists take different routes to achieve their careers. While they both administer anesthetics, the qualifications aren’t the same. Anesthesiologists are qualified medical doctors who sometimes oversee CRNAs. However, both are able to work autonomously and independently administer medicine and anesthetics.
American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA)
Professional association representing certified nurse anesthetists in the U.S.
American Nurses Association (ANA)
This national organization represents the interests of registered nurses.