Nurse Anesthetist

Becoming a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) is an extraordinary endeavor, demanding commitment, compassion, and excellence. This guide navigates the path to CRNA, unraveling the educational and licensure requirements that lead to a vital role in healthcare teams. 

Nurse Anesthetist
Nurse Anesthetists provide safe care for millions of patients each year and are integral to nearly every aspect of the patient-anesthesia care process. Nevertheless, this career path is often unfamiliar to those outside of the anesthesia profession. Continue reading as we provide an introduction to what CRNAs are, their role within an anesthesia care team, and how to get started if you’re interested in exploring this unique opportunity.

What Is a Nurse Anesthetist?

Nurse anesthetists are licensed, registered, advanced-practice nurses who, after obtaining critical care experience, complete a post-graduate master’s or doctoral degree with a focus on anesthesia practice. CRNAs enjoy a high degree of autonomy and CRNA licensure affords them independent practicing rights that are very similar to their MD colleagues.

The primary role of the CRNA is to administer anesthesia to patients undergoing surgery or other medical procedures. In addition to general anesthesia, CRNAs may provide sedation and pain relief as well as monitor patient vital signs. CRNAs can be found in all specialties and settings, from ambulatory care centers to large hospitals, and this diversity allows for a wide range of experiences and added responsibilities.

Facts About Nurse Anesthetists

  • CRNAs safely administer anesthesia to over 50 million patients each year in the United States.
  • CRNAs are the sole anesthesia providers in nearly 100% of rural hospitals in some states and account for more than 80% of the anesthesia providers in rural areas nationwide.
  • Nurse anesthetists are the primary providers of anesthesia for men and women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.
  • A 2010 study published in the Health Affairs Journal found no difference in patient outcomes between nurse anesthetists and physician anesthesiologists

What Does a Nurse Anesthetist Do?

According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology, nurse anesthetists are primarily responsible for the care of patients during all stages of anesthesia induction, administration, intraoperative monitoring, maintenance, and recovery. Nurse anesthetists must be able to recognize and diagnose life-threatening complications of anesthesia (and other serious medical conditions) and act quickly to resolve them. They also function as effective members of the anesthesia care team, interfacing with surgeons, physicians, radiologists, critical care specialists, and other nurses. Additionally, nurse anesthetists are responsible for preparing the operating room and monitoring patient vital signs throughout the surgical procedure. Listed below are many of the crucial tasks they perform on a daily basis:
  • Performing a physical assessment of each patient prior to surgery
  • Evaluating the airway to assess the adequacy and predict difficult airway management challenges
  • Selecting and preparing drugs, equipment, and solutions for anesthesia delivery
  • Administering anesthetic agents, observing the patient’s response, reporting findings to physicians, and managing complications
  • Operating anesthesia equipment (including ventilators) during anesthesia induction, maintenance, and recovery
  • Observing the patient’s vital signs throughout surgery
  • Assisting with patient positioning
  • Providing support to physicians during surgery
  • Performing other tasks as required by medical, surgical, or anesthetic protocol

Summary of Steps

How to Become a Nurse Anesthetist

Becoming a Nurse Anesthetist is a journey marked by dedication and academic achievement. It’s a profession that demands precision and expertise. From obtaining your initial nursing education to achieving certification as a nurse anesthetist, each step is crucial in building the knowledge and experience needed to excel in this specialized role.


Earn a BSN Degree

Begin by earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to lay the foundation for your nursing career.


Pass the NCLEX Exam

Qualify for RN licensure by successfully passing the NCLEX-RN exam after completing your nursing degree.


Obtain RN Licensure

Attain your Registered Nurse (RN) licensure by passing the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN).


Gain Critical Care Nursing Experience

Acquire at least one year of full-time experience as an RN in a critical care setting.


Earn a Master's Degree or Doctorate in Nursing

Complete a master's or doctoral degree from an accredited nurse anesthesia program.


Pass the National Certification Exam

Obtain certification from the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA) to practice as a nurse anesthetist.

Steps in Detail

1. Earn a BSN Degree

The journey to becoming a Nurse Anesthetist begins with a strong educational foundation. To embark on this path, you must first earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Typically, this is a four-year undergraduate program that combines classroom learning with hands-on clinical experiences. During your BSN program, you’ll study a wide range of subjects including anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, nursing ethics, and patient care.

Your BSN education is vital as it lays the groundwork for advanced nursing practice and provides the essential knowledge and skills required in critical care situations. Aspiring Nurse Anesthetists often choose to focus on courses related to anesthesia and critical care during their BSN program, but the degree also includes general nursing education. Upon graduation, you’ll be eligible to take the next crucial step in your journey.

2. Pass the NCLEX Exam

After successfully completing your BSN program, you’ll need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). This standardized exam is a significant milestone on your path to becoming a Nurse Anesthetist. It’s designed to test your knowledge and competencies in areas like safe and effective patient care, health promotion, and risk reduction.

Passing the NCLEX-RN is a requirement for obtaining your RN (Registered Nurse) licensure. This license is your ticket to practice nursing legally in your state or jurisdiction. It’s crucial to dedicate adequate time to study and preparation for this exam, as your performance here determines your ability to move forward in your nursing career.

3. Obtain RN Licensure

Once you’ve passed the NCLEX-RN exam, you’ll be eligible to apply for your RN licensure from your state’s nursing board. This licensure is essential, as it officially recognizes you as a Registered Nurse, granting you the legal authority to provide nursing care. Each state may have its specific requirements and application process, so it’s important to check with your state’s nursing board for precise details.

With your RN license in hand, you’re ready to gain the practical experience necessary for becoming a Nurse Anesthetist.

4. Gain Critical Care Nursing Experience

Becoming a Nurse Anesthetist requires a solid foundation in critical care nursing. You’ll typically need at least one year of full-time work experience (or the equivalent in part-time hours) as a registered nurse in a critical care setting. This experience is invaluable as it exposes you to the complexities and challenges of high-acuity patient care.

Critical care nursing settings can include intensive care units (ICUs), emergency departments, cardiac care units (CCUs), and surgical intensive care units (SICUs). During this period, you’ll develop essential skills in monitoring patients, administering medications, and responding to medical emergencies.

Your critical care nursing experience is the bridge to advanced practice as a Nurse Anesthetist. It prepares you for the rigors of nurse anesthesia education and hones your ability to make critical decisions in high-stress situations.

5. Earn a Master's Degree or Doctorate in Nursing

To advance further in your career and become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), you’ll need to pursue an advanced degree in nursing. Most CRNA programs require candidates to have at least a master’s degree in nursing. However, many programs now offer Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degrees, which are becoming the new standard.

These graduate-level programs are highly specialized and focus on nurse anesthesia. They typically take two to three years to complete and include coursework in anesthesia principles, pharmacology, advanced physiology, and clinical practicum experiences.

Your choice between a master’s or doctoral program depends on your career goals and the program offerings available in your region. Both pathways lead to the same certification, enabling you to practice as a Nurse Anesthetist.

6. Pass the National Certification Exam

The final step in your journey to becoming a Nurse Anesthetist is passing the National Certification Exam administered by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA). This comprehensive exam evaluates your knowledge and clinical competence in nurse anesthesia.

Upon successful completion of the certification exam, you’ll earn the title of Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA). With this certification, you’ll have the qualifications and skills needed to provide anesthesia care during medical procedures, making you an indispensable part of surgical and medical teams.

$ 98 +
Per Hour
$ 205 K+
Mean Annual Wage
38 %
Job Growth

Nurse Anesthetist Salary 

Nurse anesthetists are the highest-paid health care professionals in the field of nursing. According to the most recent data published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), CRNAs earn a mean annual salary of $205,770 which is the equivalent of $98.93 per hour. Nurse anesthetists in the top-10 percent of all earners reported annual salaries over $239,200, the equivalent of over $115 per hour.

This salary represents a 15.33 percent increase in the average annual salary of CRNAs from the fiscal year 2020. These changes are largely attributed to rising demand for healthcare, increased use of team-based models of care, and the cost-efficiency of utilizing CRNAs as anesthesia providers in areas where healthcare resources are limited.

Highest Paying States for Nurse Anesthetists

Nurse anesthetist salaries vary considerably by state, with some CRNAs earning substantially more than their colleagues in other states with similar job descriptions. CRNAs in the following states earn the highest average annual salaries.
StateHourly Mean WageAnnual Mean Wage
New Jersey$126.85$263,850
West Virginia$119.06$247,650
New Hampshire$109.20$227,130

Additional Resources for CRNAs

Nurse Anesthetist FAQ

How long does it take to become a nurse anesthetist?

The educational, training, and clinical experience requirements needed to become a nurse anesthetist are substantial. According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology, it takes a minimum of eight to ten calendar years of education and experience, after high school, to prepare for the role of a CRNA.

What is the difference between a nurse anesthetist and anesthesiologist?

Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) and Anesthesiologists both specialize in anesthesia administration, but their paths and scopes differ. CRNAs are advanced practice nurses with nursing backgrounds, typically holding a Master’s or Doctoral degree in Nurse Anesthesia. They work in anesthesia administration and pain management, often with autonomy.

Anesthesiologists are medical doctors who complete medical school and residency in anesthesiology, allowing them to oversee perioperative care, manage critical patients, and specialize further.

Can you go from RN to CRNA?

Yes! If you are already a registered nurse (RN), you can go back to school to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA). In fact, it is a requirement that you become a licensed registered nurse and have a minimum of one to two years of full-time RN experience working with critically ill patients to enter a CRNA program. So, if you have your RN license, you have already completed one major step towards becoming a CRNA.

Is CRNA a stressful job?

CRNAs are responsible for the delivery of anesthesia and for ensuring the safety of patients throughout a medical procedure. All procedures carry risks, so CRNAs must be prepared to diagnose and treat potentially life-threatening medical issues that may arise suddenly. These demands make the job stressful for many CRNAs.

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