What Is a Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)?

What Is a Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)?

A Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) is a highly-trained nurse who specializes in administering anesthesia for surgeries or when a patient needs to be under general anesthesia for surgery. CRNAs play a vital role in the entire surgical process from before surgery to recovery and are considered an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).

As one of the highest-paid nurse specialties, becoming a CRNA takes detailed training and certification, as their responsibilities need to be executed with exact precision. This means CRNAs are in high demand, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimating 25% growth in this occupation by 2028. This is a great specialty to pursue if you’re interested in working in a team environment helping patients manage pain before and after surgery, or any other procedure that requires anesthesia.

Want to join the nearly 54,000 practicing CRNAs in the United States? Here’s what you should know about this career path, including job duties, career outlook, and job requirements to obtain licensure.

Responsibilities of a CRNA

As a CRNA, your main responsibility is to take care of your patients for the entire anesthesia process including creating their plan, ordering the drugs, discussing the process with your patient, and administering and monitoring the anesthesia during the procedure. The specific of the job vary depending on the surgery or where you’re working, but a few responsibilities include:

  • Assisting anesthesiologists, surgeons, dentists, and other physicians. A CRNA will provide an essential role in the treatment procedure by facilitating emergence and recovery from anesthesia.
  • Selecting the anesthesia plan. The CRNA will select, obtain, and prepare the supplies and the drugs for the anesthesia procedure. Each procedure will have its own plan.
  •  Educating patients before and after administering anesthesia. The CRNA will work with the patient to make sure they understand the procedure and the effect anesthesia has on the body during it, answering any questions they may have.
  • Administering anesthesia. CRNA will initiate the anesthesia process and provide adequate ventilation for the patient.
  • Monitoring the patient’s vital signs. During surgical procedures, CRNAs stay with their patients throughout the entire process to ensure that they’re healthy and comfortable. They will monitor the patient’s vitals and body functions and may modify their anesthetics throughout the procedure as they see fit.
  •  Overseeing patient recovery from anesthesia. Afterward, the CRNA will talk to the patient, provide a follow-up evaluation, and discharge the patient from the post-anesthesia care unit.

Where Do CRNAs Work?

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists work in a variety of medical settings. The majority of CRNA jobs are in hospitals, private surgery centers, as this is where most surgeries take place.

The BLS reports CRNAs make, on average, $181,040 annually, or $87.04 per hour. The highest percentile of CRNAs earns more than $200,00 annually. Your salary will vary depending on your specific employer and job types, according to the BLS: 

Offices of Physicians$171,220
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals$193,380
Outpatient Care Centers$224,630
Offices of Other Health Practitioners$169,140
Colleges, Universities and Professional Schools$184,090

Outpatient care centers provide ambulatory care, which is treatment or testing that does not require hospitalization and an overnight stay. Examples include primary care physicians, community health clinics, urgent care clinics, specialized outpatient clinics, pharmacies, and the emergency department. Because patients are admitted on an immediate basis, sometimes with severe injuries, the salary for these CRNAs is significantly higher.

States with the highest employment level are Texas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio, and Michigan. The metropolitan areas with the highest level of employment are New York City, Houston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Miami-Fort Lauderdale.

How to Become a CRNA

There are many steps and years of training and learning before you can start working as a CRNA. According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA), it takes a minimum of seven calendar years of education and experience. On average, students of nurse anesthesia education programs have more than 9,300 hours of clinical experience under their belts by the time they graduate.

Here’s a brief overview of the minimum requirements:

1. Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing

Before you can train and apply for any nursing specialty, you have to obtain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing or another accredited field degree to become an RN.

2. Obtain your Registered Nurse (RN) Licensure

Once you’ve earned your degree, you must complete your registration by examination. All 50 states use the NCLEX-RN for licensing, and all states have the same standard for passing. After passing the exam, you are able to work as a licensed RN.

3. Work as a Registered Nurse in a Critical Care Setting for at Least a Year

A minimum of one year of full-time or equivalent part-time experience as an RN in a critical care setting is required to begin the next stage of your CRNA career preparation. However, it doesn’t hurt to take a few more years to really understand the critical care work environment and discover what specialty is best for you.

4. Attend and Graduate from an Accredited Nurse Anesthetist Program (Earning a Master’s Degree at Minimum)

The Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Education Programs has 121 accredited nurse programs in the United States and Puerto Rico. The length of the program varies, typically from 24 to 51 months. This is determined by how much clinical experience and didactic classroom hours you’ve acquired.

5. Pass the National Certification Examination for Nurse Anesthetists

After you complete your nurse anesthesia program, you will become certified to work as a CRNA after passing a nationally-recognized examination. Every year, more than 2,400 nursing students go on to pass this examination and become CRNAs.

To maintain your license and continue practicing as a CRNA, you will need to participate in the Continued Professional Certification (CPC) program. This requires completion of continuing education credits, Core Modules in specific content areas, and a comprehensive examination every eight years.

Justine Nelson

Justine Nelson RN, BSN, has been a registered nurse for over 11 years with experience in home health, community health, school based nursing and healthcare based tech startups. Justine is passionate about developing new and innovative roles for nurses outside of traditional nursing roles. She currently serves as an RN content Specialist for Clipboard Health.

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