What Does a Nurse Anesthetist Do?

nurse anesthetist monitors anesthesia on patient

Since the Civil War, nurse anesthetists have been using anesthesia to allow patients to undergo pain-free surgery and other procedures. Today, these professionals continue to be a vital part of the American healthcare system, administering over 45 million anesthetics each year. Licensed as certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), they hold the responsibility of not only overseeing anesthesia during a procedure but monitoring recovery once it’s over.  

Whether you’re just starting a nursing career or you’re an experienced RN looking to advance, working towards becoming a CRNA can be an incredibly rewarding choice. Not only do CRNAs report having some of the highest job satisfaction in the nursing field but they’re also one of the top earners. Read on to learn the basics of a CRNA career, including job description and potential salary.


Roles and Responsibilities

CRNAs are a type of advanced practice registered nurse whose primary responsibilities are to work with patients before, during, and after medical procedures to ensure they’re free of pain. To do so, they determine the amount and type of anesthesia needed—general, local, or regional—as well as the method for administering anesthesia, which may include options like injections, inhalants, or oral medication. Some CRNAs work within a broader scope, while others specialize in particular subfields such as obstetrics, pediatrics, cardiovascular, neurosurgery, and more.

Since there are many risks that can come along with anesthesia, CRNAs require more education and have greater accountability than traditional RNs. Going under anesthesia can be unnerving for some patients, so you’ll not only need to be highly responsible but incredibly compassionate.      

Daily job duties

Your role as CRNA might vary depending on the setting where you work, but all CRNAs work directly with patients, their families, and other medical staff. CRNAs can work as part of a team under the supervision of doctors though some can work independently depending on the laws of the state. Daily responsibilities you’ll have as a CRNA include:

  • Completing patient assessments
  • Providing the patient with education about the surgery and their recovery
  • Preparing the proper dose of anesthetic to meet the patient’s needs
  • Administering medication through a variety of methods
  • Monitoring the patient’s vitals and anesthesia dose during surgery
  • Making changes as needed to anesthesia levels during the procedure
  • Overseeing the patient’s safety during anesthesia recovery
  • Working to other medical staff to develop pain management programs

Along with these job responsibilities, some CRNAs take on administrative duties like ordering the anesthesia, training new staff, and overseeing department finances. Others work in roles that influence the field of anesthesia as a whole, such as teaching the next generation of CRNAs, serving on a state board of nursing, or working with organizations that set medical standards.

Nurse anesthetist vs anesthesiologist

Both CRNAs and anesthesiologists administer anesthesia to patients. However, a CRNA is a nursing specialist who requires a master’s degree, while an anesthesiologist is a medical specialist with a doctorate. Anesthesiologists might work as the heads of anesthesiology departments in some hospitals and lead teams that include CRNAs. In some states, nurse anesthetists are required to work under the supervision of anesthesiologists.

Where Do CRNAs Work?

CRNAs can find work in a variety of medical settings. Some common employers include:

  • Traditional hospitals
  • Physicians’ offices
  • Surgical centers
  • Dental offices
  • Pain management specialists
  • U.S. military facilities
  • Public health centers
  • Universities and colleges

There are job boards specifically designed for CRNAs and other APRNs. Some helpful resources to find work include:

The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists’ (AANA) Career Center
The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) Job Center
CRNAJobs.com


Nurse Anesthetist Salary & Job Outlook

Working directly with patients to ensure their comfort and safety can be incredibly fulfilling, but what’s more, CRNAs earn some of the highest salaries of any APRN. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), CRNAs make an average annual wage of $169,450, with the top 10% earning more than $200,000 per year.

APRN PositionAverage Annual Salary
Nurse anesthetist$169,450
Nurse practitioner$107,480
Nurse midwife$103,640

Furthermore, job opportunities for nurse anesthetists are on the rise across the country. Compared to the national average of 7% for all occupations, CRNAs are expected to see a growth of 16% through 2026.

Salaries also vary depending on the setting and state in which you work. The top 3-paying employers include outpatient care centers, general medical/surgical hospitals, and specialty hospitals. States where you might earn the highest annual pay include Montana, Wyoming, California, Oregon, and Iowa. Rural settings, in particular, have high demand, as many depend on CRNAs solely to administer anesthesia instead of working under anesthesiologists.


Advancing Your Career

Though CRNAs only need a master’s degree, those looking to advance their careers might consider pursuing a doctorate. CRNAs with a doctoral degree can have greater earning potential—in some cases, close to $300,000 a year—and find leadership, administrative, or university-level teaching roles.  


Ready to Get Started?

The field of nurse anesthesia is a fast-respected and respected profession with high demand across the country, along with great potential for job satisfaction and salary. If you think a CRNA career is right for you, use the Find Schools button to explore accredited programs that meet your needs.

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