How to Become a Nurse Anesthetist

Learn how to become a nurse anesthetist with these 10 career tips.

nurse anesthetist in operating room

Nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia services in a wide range of health care facilities, from the hospital emergency room to the dentist's office. On the surface, the steps you need to take to learn how to become a nurse anesthetist would seem fairly self-evident: complete master's-level training in nurse anesthesia and pass a certification exam. Beyond those essential requirements, however, a few other steps are involved. Read on to learn the top 10 steps to take to become a nurse anesthetist.

Programs and Education

1. Start with a bachelor's in nursing (BSN) and a registered nursing license (RN). Many nurse anesthesia master's programs stipulate that applicants hold a BSN and an RN. With that in mind, nursing schools have devised RN-to-BSN programs for current RNs and "second degree bachelor's" programs for non-nursing students with a bachelor's in another field to help them earn a BSN at an accelerated pace.

2. Get experience. As an RN or BSN student, gear your hands-on practice toward acute care, which is usually the type of experience nurse anesthesia master's programs require. Add that to a year or so of experience after you graduate, and you are well on your way to entry in a nurse anesthesia master's program.

3. Take pride in working long hours. Nurse anesthetists start their work with a patient before the procedure ever begins, doing a preoperative screen to determine anesthesia needs. Of course, they observe patients throughout the course of recovery from anesthesia and must be ready to react and respond to ongoing patient needs.

4. Enjoy people. Although they do not see a regular set of patients for health care exams, nurse anesthetists still maintain direct contact with patients, often at some of the most critical times in their lives. The bedside manner, compassion and the sense of skill they render to patients can make a world of difference to surgical outcomes.

5. Feel comfortable around needles and machines. Anesthesia comes in several forms—some inhaled, some given through injection, some taken orally. Along with knowing your way around needles, part of learning how to become a nurse anesthetist means understanding the pharmacology and highly technical machinery used to monitor patients from the beginning of anesthesia administration through recovery.

6. Choose a nurse anesthetist school you like. It might have the best reputation in the history of academic nursing programs, but if the location is bad for you, the cost is too much or you simply don't feel right when you walk around campus, keep looking for another school to teach you how to become a nurse anesthetist. The school you choose should fit your professional interests and goals, not the other way around.

7. Complete your master's degree. It's obvious, but crucial—to become a nurse anesthetist, you must complete a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program. Then you will have to pass a certification exam to call yourself a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA).

8. Prepare to work alone. CRNAs can work in teams with an anesthesiologist but more often than not, you'll work as a sole anesthesia administrator.

9. Get used to opportunities. Advanced practice nurses such as CRNAs have the advantage of providing high quality, cost-effective care at hospitals and other health care facilities. After you learn how to become a nurse anesthetist, you will have to get used to seeing extraordinary job opportunities that suit your credentials just about everywhere you look.

10. Stop worrying about money. Of course, nurses choose their profession for far better reasons than money. But according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for CRNAs is $148,160. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth. Without a doubt, CRNAs belong to a profession that pays accordingly for the responsibility and expertise the job requires.


Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook; Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners; American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA).