Nurse Anesthetist

If you thought being an Anesthetist is a walk in the park think again.  Sure it always seems like they are falling asleep in the corner during surgery, but in reality there is great depth and intricacy to what they do.

Many nurses consider the call to the nurse anesthetist career but sometimes the path seems daunting, or the thought of ANOTHER nursing program seems like a too much to endure.

We asked Nick Angelis a CRNA and past cardiac nurse to share his experiences in his career as a nurse anesthetist.   He was only too happy to share his career with us and the nursing community, so thanks Nick, Enjoy!

What is it that made you want to become a nurse?

Don’t ever give the generic answer of “I want to help people” in an interview.  For me, I wanted something scientific or in communications and theater, so nursing was a good compromise.  Also, I discovered that clowns don’t get paid well.

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Where was your first job as a nurse and what did you do while working there?

My first health care job was a nurse tech.  I didn’t do much–I was pretty bad at it.  After graduation I worked in cardiac care at Cleveland Clinic.  Especially with the heart transplants, we often had patients dependent on ten different infusions to keep them alive immediately after surgery.

Can you tell us what made you want to make the jump to nurse anesthetist?

It was always my intention to become a CRNA.  I took my GRE as a sophomore in nursing school, knowing that if I wasn’t accepted into graduate school within five years I’d probably have to take it again.  I was always interested in chemistry and pharmacology, so it was a natural fit.  I wanted to reach my full potential but had the practicality to realize that randomly accumulating degrees in health care isn’t always profitable.

For nurses that are interested in making this jump themselves, what kind of education did you need to become a nurse anesthetist?  Was it difficult to get into the program?  Can you give us an idea of what the schooling was like, time wise, stress wise, difficulty wise.

You need a BSN and at least one year of experience in critical care before you start school.  Many nurses will require more than one year as a nurse to acquire some of the trouble-shooting and clinical skills you’ll expand on as a nurse anesthetist.  Programs are extremely competitive and look at GRE or equivalent test scores and undergraduate GPA.  An interview with prospective candidates is also required.  Even if you’ve been in the military, anesthesia school will be the most grueling period of your life, requiring up to seventy hours a week of your time in the classroom and hospital and generating a great deal of stress.  As an example of how this stress can strain relationships, one program told me 33% of their students experienced a divorce during or right after school.  It’s important to have a solid support system before you start.  For me, the in-depth academic work was easy compared to putting it all together in clinicals.  Most master’s level programs are about twenty-seven months in length, with one or two weeks off a year.

What are some of your favorite things about being a nurse anesthetist?

It’s less frustrating than being a nurse in that you can quickly deal with most situations with the appropriate treatments without having to chase down a doctor.  Seeing the quick effects of your interventions is definitely satisfying.  Also, the job is more mentally draining than physically, so as long as you keep up the latest research, you don’t need to retire as soon as you would moving patients all day as a nurse.  The collaborative skills developed as a nurse are still vital to communicate with patients, the surgical team, other anesthetists, and anesthesiologists.
What are some things that you find difficult about this career field that someone who is looking to become a nurse anesthetist should know about if they want to pursue this career field?

It can be very stressful and there is no tolerance for anything other than exceptional care.  Nurses are expected to learn as much at their first job as they did in school, but nurse anesthetists need to be immediately competent.  I benefited by working as an agency nurse in a variety of specialties and facilities so I could improve my ability to quickly assess a situation or new equipment and take the right course of action. Also, you need to have a plan B since the path to nurse anesthesia isn’t straight forward and requires smart financial planning as well (which I just wrote about on

Can you share a stressful situation or a particularly rewarding case that stands out in your career as an anesthetist that can give people an idea of what type of hurdles they may encounter as a nurse anesthetist?

One of my favorite procedures at my institution involves scoping a sedated, prone patient for about half an hour.  I find it rewarding because it’s such a challenging case and always takes every bit of skill I have to individualize an anesthetic plan for the patient.  The job is a tremendous responsibility because every day we stop patients from breathing, breathe for them, and control the rest of their autonomic nervous system as they undergo surgery.

Any final words of wisdom for anyone pursuing this career field?

It takes stubbornness, determination, a good attitude, and a high capacity to learn, but that willingness to work hard is what will get you through school.

If you are interested in learning more about becoming a Nurse Anesthetist you may visit our Becoming a Nurse Anesthetist Page.   You can also check out the book that Nick Angeles wrote called How to Succeed in Anesthesia School.