Nurse anesthetist complete career guide
Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) administer anesthesia and other medications. They are qualified as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) through clinical training, a master’s degree, and by sitting for the relevant exams.
Nurse anesthetists can monitor patients who have had an anesthetic and are recovering. They typically work in clinical settings, such as operating rooms, intensive care units, emergency departments, and small or large surgery clinics. That means nurse anesthetists care for patients with planned procedures, as well as urgent care, trauma, and emergency surgeries.
Nurses in this field generally work in a team of other medical staff, including the surgeon, other nurses, and the anesthesiologist. CRNAs could also work with dentists, and some work independently with little interaction with other medical staff.
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. States including Texas, Ohio, Tennessee, and North Carolina have high employment levels for nurse anesthetists.
If you’re already a registered nurse (RN), there are several reasons why you might want to progress in your career and become a nurse anesthetist. CRNA salaries start at about $112,000 and can go up to $203,000. The profession is projected to be in demand over the coming years, with 45% growth predicted between 2019 and 2029.
In this article, you’ll find out more about the responsibilities and working environment of nurse anesthetists. We also set out how to become a CRNA, what degree you’ll need to earn, and what career prospects you may expect.
Pursuing a career as a nurse anesthetist
While excellent job prospects and an increase in salary are valid reasons for pursuing a career, there are other factors to consider. A job that’s a good match for your personality and skills can be very fulfilling. The role of a nurse anesthetist is well respected and holds considerable responsibility.
Although many CRNA roles are part of a team, there are opportunities to work autonomously, especially if you work at a rural clinic or hospital or for the U.S. Armed Forces, where you’re typically the only provider of anesthesia. Being able to make decisions and work independently are useful attributes in this career. Strong communication skills are also essential, as part of the role involves talking to patients about administering the anesthetic and any risks that may be involved.
Most positions are in clinical settings, although additional less hands-on roles exist in administration, management, staff supervision and resources. If you work on scheduled procedures, you could expect regular hours during the week. However, as CRNAs are also required for emergency surgery, you might need to work evenings and weekends.
How to become a nurse anesthetist
To become a CRNA, you’ll need to earn a graduate degree, gain experience, and pass exams. Overall, the process can take 7-10 years to complete. It usually starts with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree. After that, you can take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to become an RN.
It’s possible to earn an associate degree or nursing diploma and still become an RN. However, you’ll need to take a bridge program when continuing to graduate studies if you want to become a nurse anesthetist without earning a BSN. Once you’re an RN, you can continue your education, although many roles and graduate programs will look for at least 1 year’s experience working as a nurse.
Your next step to becoming a nurse anesthetist is to earn a master’s in science in nursing (MSN) degree. This program can take between 2 to 3 years to complete. You need to look for an institution that offers a program concentration in nurse anesthesia.
The requirements for nurse anesthetists are changing. Starting in 2022, students wanting to become a nurse anesthetist will need to earn a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree approved by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Education Programs (COA).
Earning an MSN in nurse anesthesia
Your time studying and working as an RN will prepare you to become a CRNA. However, when you earn your graduate degree, you’ll gain the necessary skills to specialize in this area. 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 complete 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, an unencumbered RN license, and at least 1 year of experience in an intensive care unit (ICU). As there’s a clinical residency component, the majority of courses are offered as campus-based or hybrid learning. Tuition is often charged per credit hour, and can range from $1,000 to $1,300 approximately.
Earning a DNP in nurse anesthesia
A doctor of nursing practice (DNP) with a specialization in nurse 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.
You’ll 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
Programs usually include clinical rotations and a scholarly project that involves the submission of a paper to a peer-reviewed journal. Application requirements for a DNP in nurse anesthesia include a bachelor’s degree in nursing, a grade-point average (GPA) of 3.0 or higher, and at least 1 year’s experience working in acute care, preferably in an ICU, as a nurse. The full-time tuition per semester for a DNP ranges from $25,000 to $30,000 approximately.
To be eligible to sit your exam, work, or continue your education, you’ll need to earn your degree at an accredited school. Accreditation is a peer-review process that evaluates universities and their programs. Nurse anesthetist schools are usually accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
You might want to apply for help with the costs of your degree. Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form can determine whether you’re eligible for federal aid. Alternatively, you might want to seek a grant or scholarship, such as the Health is a Right Not a Privilege APRN Scholarship award from Nursing Process.
To make a living as a CRNA, you’ll need to have a license as an RN, which you’ll gain before you start your graduate degree. This license is obtained by sitting for the NCLEX-RN.
There’s also 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).
Working as a CRNA
The average annual salary for nurse anesthetists is $157,960. CRNAs usually work in a clinical setting. That can include outpatient centers, surgical hospitals, medical hospitals, U.S. military facilities, research facilities, dental surgeries, or physician’s offices such as plastic surgeons or ophthalmologists.
There are 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 liaison with hospital departments and administration.
As well as being responsible for administering anesthetics, CRNAs have additional tasks, including:
- Explaining the anesthesia procedure and the risks to patients
- Monitoring patients who have received an anesthetic
- Pain management
- Responding in an emergency, especially in terms of airway management
Nurse anesthetists need to be calm under pressure. They need superb critical-thinking skills and must respond quickly in an emergency. Attention to detail and a desire to keep up to date with best practice are beneficial assets in this role.
Nurse anesthetists and anesthesiologists take different routes to achieve their careers. While they both administer anesthetic, the qualifications aren’t the same. In some scenarios, anesthesiologists, who are qualified medical doctors, will oversee CRNAs. However, both are able to work autonomously and independently administer medicines and anesthetics.
Who is this career best for?
A career as a nurse anesthetist involves considerable responsibility. It’s a well-paid job that is projected to grow in the next decade. It suits those with certain attributes, such as critical thinking and a calm manner.
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.
Advance your career as a CRNA
Although it will soon become mandatory, earning a DNP in nursing anesthesia is a career progression option for CRNAs. Typically, these programs will bring you up to date with best practice and give you the chance to research and write a paper.
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, and human physiology and pathophysiology.