What Does a Nurse Anesthetist Do?

In this highly paid field, your focus will be on patients from the beginning of surgery through recovery.

nurse anesthetist in operating room checking patient
nurse anesthetist in operating room checking patient

Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) practice in a growing field of healthcare, and many work independently. CRNAs collaborate with physicians, anesthesiologists, surgeons, dentists, and other professionals while overseeing the use of anesthesia in medical procedures.  

Whether you’re just starting a nursing career or you’re an experienced registered nurse (RN) looking to advance, working to become a CRNA can be a rewarding choice. Not only do CRNAs have a high degree of autonomy, but they’re also highly paid.

Roles and Responsibilities

CRNAs are a type of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) whose primary responsibilities are to administer anesthesia during medical procedures and monitor patients during recovery. They determine the amount and type of anesthesia needed—general, local, or regional—as well as the method for administering anesthesia, including injections, inhalants, and oral medication. Since there are many risks that can come with anesthesia, CRNAs require more education and have greater accountability than traditional registered nurses (RNs).

Because anesthesia can come with risks, CRNAs require more education and have greater accountability than registered nurses.

Some CRNAs work with a broad range of patients, while others specialize in subfields such as obstetrics, pediatrics, cardiovascular, neurosurgery, and more. Going under anesthesia can be unnerving for some patients, so as a nurse anesthetist, you’ll not only need to be highly trained but also compassionate.

Daily Duties Put the Focus on Patients

Your role as a CRNA can vary depending on where you work, but all certified registered nurse anesthetists work directly with patients, their families, and other medical staff. Nurse anesthetists can work as part of a team under the supervision of doctors, or independently, depending on state laws. Your daily responsibilities may include:

  • Conducting patient assessments
  • Educating patients about their surgery and recovery
  • Preparing anesthetic for patients
  • Administering medication
  • Monitoring a patient’s vitals and adjusting anesthesia levels during surgery
  • Overseeing the patient’s safety as they recover from anesthesia
  • Working with other medical staff to develop pain management plans

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

Is a Nurse Anesthetist the Same as an Anesthesiologist?

Both CRNAs and anesthesiologists administer anesthesia to patients, but there are differences in their roles and education. An anesthesiologist is a medical doctor (MD) with at least eight years of postgraduate training and education, including four years of medical school and four years of residency. CRNAs must have at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), but that will change in 2025, when future nurse anesthetists will need a doctoral degree to enter the field.

Another difference is that anesthesiologists might work as the heads of anesthesiology departments in hospitals and lead teams that include CRNAs. In some states, nurse anesthetists are required to work under the supervision of anesthesiologists. In others, they can work on their own and without supervision.

Where Do CRNAs Work?

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

  • Physicians’ offices
  • General medical and surgical hospitals
  • Outpatient care centers
  • Offices of other health practitioners
  • Specialty hospitals
  • Surgical centers
  • Dental offices
  • Pain management specialists
  • Public health centers
  • U.S. military facilities
  • Universities and colleges

Physicians’ and dental offices are two examples of workplaces where a nurse anesthetist might work alone, without the supervision of an anesthesiologist.

Nurse Anesthetist Salary and Job Outlook

Working directly with patients to ensure their comfort and safety can be deeply fulfilling. 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 salary of $181,040, with the top 10% earning more than $200,000 per year.

CRNAs are expected to see job growth of an impressive 14% through 2029.

Compared to the national average of 4% job growth for all occupations, CRNAs are expected to see an impressive 14% growth through 2029, according to the BLS. Demand for CRNAs is particularly high in rural areas, where hospitals many not have anesthesiologists and instead rely on CRNAs to administer anesthesia.

Advancing Your Career

If you want to advance your career beyond the OR, earning a doctoral degree could open a path to leadership, administrative, and university-level teaching roles. Plus, you can also expect a higher salary.


malia jacobson

Written and reported by:

Malia Jacobson

Contributing Writer

john preston

With professional insight from:

John C. Preston, DNSc, CRNA, FNAP, APRN

Chief credentialing officer for the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA)