Nurse Anesthetist Overview:
Education Requirements, Job Duties & Salary

Learn what it takes to become a CRNA.

nurse surgery assistant at work

Learn what it takes to become a CRNA.

Providing critical care at some of the most significant times in their patients’ lives, a nurse anesthetist—or certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA)—is responsible for safely administering anesthesia prior to procedures and overseeing recovery once surgeries are over. With much of the comfort and safety of their patients at stake, a nurse anesthetist requires extensive education and experience in order to earn their license.

While becoming a nurse anesthetist takes time and dedication, the work you put in can most certainly pay off. Not only do CRNAs report the highest satisfaction of any advanced-level nurse but they also earn the most money overall. If you’re interested in joining this rewarding and high-paying field, read on to learn the steps you need to take, as well as detailed information on job duties, certification requirements, and advancement.

What is a CRNA?

A CRNA is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who administers anesthesia to patients leading up to surgical, obstetrical, and trauma care procedures. Working long hours in settings such as hospitals, surgery centers, medical offices, and dental clinics, they oversee the delivery of general, local, and regional anesthesia. The methods for administering this medication might vary, but could include injections, inhalants, and oral anesthetics. CRNAs also monitor their patients throughout their surgery and during recovery, collaborating with doctors and other nurses to develop pain management programs.

How to Become a CRNA

You must be legally licensed in your state to work as a nurse anesthetist, which requires having at least a master’s degree. You must also earn national certification. But to enter into a master’s program, you must first be a registered nurse (RN) with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). You’ll also need to complete at least 1 year of experience in an acute care setting such as an ICU or ER, though you might need more depending on the acceptance requirements of your school.

School requirements

After earning your BSN and completing your acute care experience, you can then apply to master’s programs for nurse anesthetists. Prior to doing so, some nurses choose to pursue specialty certification as a critical care registered nurse (CCRN), which could possibly increase the chance of getting accepted.

When applying to CRNA programs, make sure the schools you choose have been approved by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COACRNA). Graduation from an accredited program is a requirement for taking the certification test.

As for coursework, all accredited nurse anesthesia programs require studies in the following areas:

  • Anesthesia pharmacology
  • Chemistry, biochemistry, and physics
  • Anatomy, physiology, and pathophysiology
  • Anesthesia equipment and technology
  • Pain management
  • Statistics and research
  • Professional and legal aspects of nurse anesthesia practice

In addition, your program will include supervised clinical practice that allows you to apply the theories and techniques you’ve learned in a hands-on way. You’ll work at a university-based or large community hospital and gain experience in a wide variety of procedures, from childbirth to open-heart surgery.

How long does it take to get certified?

The necessary steps to becoming a CRNA take a minimum of 7 years to complete.

StepLength of Time
Bachelor’s degree in nursingAverage 4 years
RN certificationEligible upon graduation
Acute care experienceMinimum 1 year
Master’s degree in nurse anesthesiaAt least 2 years, sometimes as many as 4
CRNA certificationEligible upon graduation
State licensingEligible upon passing the CRNA certification exam
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Certification exam

Upon the successful completion of your master’s program, you’ll be eligible to sit for the certifying exam administered by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA). Each candidate must answer at least 100 computerized questions, though you may be given up to 170 as the test determines with certainty whether you’ve passed.

You’ll receive a preliminary pass/fail report when you check out of the testing center, and your official report will be sent soon after in the mail. If you pass, a verification of your certification will be sent to your state board of nursing, at which time you can complete any additional criteria required by your state.

Certification renewal

To maintain your national certification, you’ll need to pursue continuing education in alignment with the NBCRNA’s Continued Professional Certification (CPC) Program. The NBCRNA evaluates nurse anesthetists on an 8-year cycle consisting of 2 4-year periods. Every 4 years, you must complete:

  • 60 “Class A” credits in activities directly related to the delivery or improvement of anesthesia care
  • 40 “Class B” credits that can cover anesthesia practice or a wide range of professional development topics such as patient safety, public education, or research
  • 4 “Core Modules” that address airway management, applied clinical pharmacology, human physiology and pathophysiology, and anesthesia equipment and technology (requirement doesn’t apply to those in their first 4-year cycle)

Every 2 years, you’ll complete an online check-in to confirm your state license and that you’ve been continuing practice. At the end of each 8-year cycle, you’ll be required to take the CPC Assessment test. This 150-question exam is used to test your knowledge of the 4 Core Modules of nurse anesthesia. The test isn’t pass/fail, but for any area where you’re deemed to not meet the performance standards, you’ll need to complete additional continuing education in those areas to maintain your certification.

What’s it Like to Be a Nurse Anesthetist?

More specific day-to-day job duties of nurse anesthetists include:

  • Requesting diagnostic studies and examining patient medical history
  • Developing an appropriate anesthetic plan
  • Discussing side effects and risks with patients and families
  • Preparing and administering anesthesia in a variety of forms
  • Performing spinal, epidural, or nerve blocks
  • Monitoring vital signs during and after surgery to prevent and manage complications
  • Responding to emergency situations with medication, airway management, or life support techniques

Many CRNAs also take on administrative duties such as ordering medications, managing finances, and training new staff. They might act as instructors for development courses, hold positions with state boards of nursing, or be involved in organizations that set standards for the medical field.

Nurse anesthetist vs anesthesiologist

Nurse anesthetists and anesthesiologists are both medical professionals who are trained to administer anesthesia in a safe and effective way. While their job duties are essentially the same, the primary difference between the roles is that the former is a nurse and the latter is a doctor. Anesthesiologists need more education than CRNAs, but they also earn higher salaries. While both roles work in a wide variety of settings, smaller offices tend to employ CRNAs over anesthesiologists. In some states, a CRNA is required by law to work under the supervision of a board-certified physician, so only anesthesiologists can practice independently.

Salary & Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average nurse anesthetist salary is listed at $181,040, with the top 10% percent earning more than $200,000 per year. Compare that to the average wages for other APRNs and it’s clear that nurse anesthetists have by far the highest earning potential in the field.

APRN PositionAverage Annual Salary
Nurse anesthetist$181,040
Nurse practitioner$109,820
Nurse midwife$105,030

What’s more, CRNAs can expect to see above average job growth—a 45% increase through 2029.

How to Get Ahead in Your Career

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There are several ways to move up or increase your earning potential as a CRNA. The first is to consider tailoring your education toward a particular patient population, condition, or surgical subfield. Specializing can open the door for greater opportunities, with popular concentrations including obstetrics, pediatrics, neurosurgery, cardiovascular, and dental surgery, among others. Professional organizations designed for these specialties can also be beneficial when it comes to networking and applying for jobs.

Another option for advancement is to find work in the settings that report the highest salaries for their CRNAs. Of the top employers, both general medical/surgical hospitals and outpatient care centers list salaries that are greater than the national average. The state where you work can affect what you make as well, with Montana, Wyoming, California, and Oregon all noting average annual wages of more than $200,000.

To advance even further, you might also consider earning your doctoral degree in anesthesia to become an anesthesiologist. Though these roles aren’t as common as nurse anesthetists, they have the potential to earn significantly more money—in some cases, close to $300,000 a year. Holding your doctoral degree is also an excellent option if you wish to work in academia, either conducting research or teaching anesthesia students at the graduate level.

Ready to Get Started?

If you’re ready to embark on a career in the fast-paced, in-demand, and fulfilling field of nurse anesthesia, your first step is getting the right education. For those just starting out, use the Find Schools button to explore bachelor’s degree programs that can set you on the path to becoming a registered nurse. Already have your RN license? Research master’s degree programs that will help you take that next big step in your career.

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