Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) Degrees, Program Requirements & Coursework

nurse anesthetist with patient in operating room

If you’re looking to advance your nursing career, pursuing your degree in nurse anesthesia can be a rewarding choice. With a master’s degree in the field, you’ll be eligible to sit for the national exam that leads to earning your title as a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA). CRNAs play a critical role in the healthcare field and need advanced-level education to meet the demands of the job.

Though CRNAs are required to earn much more education than a traditional nurse, the extra time and effort can pay off. According to the U.S. News and World Report, the job market, salary, and future growth contribute to the career’s rank of #3 in the Best Healthcare Jobs of 2019. Not only do CRNAs report some of the greatest job satisfaction in the nursing field, but on average earn a highly competitive salary of $169,450 per year.

If you’re considering pursuing a career as a CRNA, read on to learn what it takes to enter a degree program and what you can expect to study while you’re there.

What Degree Do I Need?

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To legally work as a CRNA, you’ll need to hold at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in nurse anesthesia, though some students opt to pursue a doctoral degree.

No matter which degree level you choose, your program must be accredited by the Council on Accreditation (COA) of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs. Graduating from an accredited program is a requirement for taking the national certification exam that leads to getting your state license. 


Typical Program Requirements

Nurse anesthetist programs are competitive and academically rigorous. The first major requirement for admission is that you have an active RN license in good standing—a possibly a license that’s valid specifically in the state where your school is located. While it’s currently possible to become an RN with only an associate’s degree in nursing, the majority of CRNA programs require that you enter with a bachelor’s.

Beyond that, the specific application requirements will vary depending on the program you choose, but you can expect to need the following:

  • Official transcripts from previous college-level coursework
  • 3 or more letters of recommendation
  • An essay describing your career goals
  • A resume detailing your work experience
  • Current cardiopulmonary resuscitation, basic life support, and advanced life support certifications
  • A completed background check

Prerequisites

Before you can enter into any CRNA program, you’ll need to gain experience as an RN in a critical care setting for at least 1 year, though your school may require more. According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA), aspiring CRNAs enter graduate programs with an average of 2.9 years of experience.

It can also be beneficial to earn your certification as a critical care registered nurse (CCRNC) while you’re gaining your experience. Having your CCRN credential isn’t required but can make your application stand out and possibly increase your chance of being accepted.

You’ll also need to meet specific academic prerequisites for admission. If you’re applying with a recent bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN), you’ll likely already have taken the courses that are required. However, you earned your BSN more than 5 years prior or in a non-nursing field, you might need to take additional classes before applying. Common prerequisites include:

  • Chemistry
  • Physiology
  • Microbiology
  • Statistics
  • Human anatomy

Is there a GPA requirement?

Most programs require a GPA of at least 3.0, with some requiring as high as a 3.5. It’s especially important that you’ve earned a GPA of at least 3.0 in your health- and science-related courses for admission into most programs.

Do I need to take the GRE?

Most programs require the GRE, though there are exceptions to the rule. In some cases, such as if you hold a recent BSN with a high enough GPA, this requirement might be waived. Other programs may ask you to take an exam specific to their school, while others might not require testing at all.


Coursework

Your coursework in your CRNA program will prepare you to administer anesthesia prior to procedures and monitor patient progress during and after surgery. You’ll study advanced pharmacology and physiology to help you understand the components of anesthesia and how to safely deliver it. Your classes will include subjects such as:

  • Healthcare ethics
  • Technology use in advanced nursing practice
  • Best nursing practices
  • Advanced pharmacology
  • Biostatistics       
  • Principles of nurse anesthesia
  • Advanced physiology
  • Advanced pathophysiology

You’ll also need to take classes in core subjects such as chemistry and statistics and meet any of the general MSN requirements at your school. You may also opt to specialize with coursework tailored toward a particular patient population, condition, or other subfield, such as neurosurgery, obstetrics, pediatrics, or dental surgery, among others.

Internship requirements

Your CRNA program will require you to complete clinical fieldwork or an internship. The internship will include working alongside a practicing CRNA and gaining hands-on knowledge and experience. You’ll be able to practice anesthesia in a supervised and controlled environment and have the chance to practice in specialty areas like cardiac care or pediatrics. Most programs require that you complete at least 2,000 clinical practice hours over the course of at least 2 years.


Can I Find Programs Online?

Many universities offer online CRNAprograms that can help you earn your degree faster and can offer more flexible scheduling. However, keep in mind that internship hours are required, so while your standard coursework could be online, you’ll still need to spend significant time at clinical sites in person.


How Long Does It Take to Earn a Degree?

CRNA programs take between 24 and 51 months to complete, often depending on whether you attend full- or part-time. That said, the total time it takes to earn the education you need to sit for the certification exam is a minimum of 7 years. This timeline includes:

  • Completing a bachelor’s degree: Average 4 years
  • Earning your RN certification: Eligible upon graduation
  • Gaining critical care experience: At least 1 year
  • Earning a master’s degree in nurse anesthesia: Minimum of 2 years

How to Choose the Right School

Choosing the right nurse anesthetist program is necessary to help you start your career with a solid foundation. You’ll need to find a program that aligns with your goals, lifestyle, and learning style, as well as one that meets the requirements for certification. Some important questions to ask include:

  • Is this program accredited by COA?
  • Can I attend this program part-time?
  • Are online classes available?
  • What clinical sites are available for my internship?
  • What kind of experience does the faculty have?
  • What jobs do graduates of this program hold?
  • What is the structure of internships in this program?
  • Do I need to take prerequisites for this program?
  • Do I need to take the GRE for this program?

Nurse Anesthetist Certification

After successful completion of your nurse anesthetist program, you’ll be ready to take the national certification exam administered by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA)[. Each candidate for the exam will answer a minimum of 100 computerized questions related to advanced nursing and anesthesia, though the test may ask up to 170 as it determines with certainty whether you’ve passed or failed.

You’ll receive preliminary results of your pass/fail status once the exam is completed, and official results will be mailed to you within 4 weeks. If you’ve passed, verification of your certification will be sent to your state board of nursing, and you can then complete any additional criteria for becoming licensed.

Continuing education

The NBCRNA oversees continuing education and recertification for CRNAs under the Continued Professional Certification (CPC) program.[ The rules of this program state the number of continuing education credits needed by nurse anesthetists every 4 years, along with testing requirements every 8 years.

Credits are divided by the CPC into Class A, Class B, and Core Module credits. You’ll need to earn some of each every 4 years to maintain your certification. The CPC requires that you take:

  • 60 Class A credits (60 each 4-year cycle): Class A credits apply to continuing education coursework that’s directly related to administering or improvement of anesthesia care. These credits must be from board-approved providers and must be documented appropriately in order to count for recertification.
  • 40 Class B credits (40 each 4-year cycle): Class B credits include all professional development a CRNA might undertake. For example, taking a life support renewal course, attending a conference, or serving on a hospital board can all count towards these credits. Class B credits don’t need to be approved by the board in order to be counted.
  • Core Modules (4 each 4-year cycle): Core Modules address the key topics that apply to all areas of nurse anesthesia, including airway management, applied clinical pharmacology, human physiology and pathophysiology, and anesthesia equipment and technology. This requirement is optional in a CRNAs first 4-year cycle.

At the end of every 8 years, you’ll need to take a comprehensive exam that incorporates the latest developments in nurse anesthesia to ensure that CRNAs are practicing at the highest level. The exam isn’t pass/fail, however you’ll need to take additional continuing education if it’s decided that you don’t meet the standards in particular area. 


Ready to Get Started?

Working as a CRNA can advance your nursing career and provide you with many professional opportunities. CRNAs are in high demand with job growth projected at 16% through 2026. If you’re interested in joining this fast-paced and rewarding field, use the Find Schools button to begin your search for a program that fits your goals.

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