Becoming a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
Nurse anesthetists aid in medical procedures by administering anesthesia to patients. An individual interested in learning how to become a nurse anesthetist can review our guide to learn more about the process, including what nurse anesthetists do, where they work, credentials for the occupation, and licensing and certification information.
Nurse anesthetists experience high salary opportunities, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reporting a median pay for the profession at $113,930. The BLS also projects a 26% job growth from 2018-28 for nurse-midwives, nurse anesthetists, and nurse practitioners (NPs), which is much faster than the average rate for all other occupations in the country.
What Is a Nurse Anesthetist?
Nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia to patients and work with other healthcare professionals, including surgeons and anesthesiologists. Before they administer anesthesia, nurse anesthetists perform patient evaluations to determine how much and what type of anesthesia to use, considering any prior health conditions during their evaluations. Nurse anesthetists must complete specific training and certification in the discipline to work in clinics, hospitals, and private practices.
What Do Nurse Anesthetists Do?
Responsible for providing anesthesia and related care before, during, and after therapeutic, surgical, obstetrical, and diagnostic procedures, nurse anesthetists also provide emergency services and pain management. Before the start of procedures, nurse anesthetists work with patients to discuss their medications and medical history, and explain the type of anesthesia, its risks, and benefits, to obtain consent.
Nurse anesthetists provide patients with general anesthesia, relieving pain or discomfort during surgery and other medical procedures. They also administer local and regional anesthesia to numb areas of the body, staying with patients during procedures, monitoring their vital signs, and making adjustments to the anesthesia as needed. CRNAs may also act as support for the post anesthesia care team by making a postoperative visit to the patient to assess for any complications, and provide medication to alleviate pain, nausea, or other complications.
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Where Do Nurse Anesthetists Work?
Nurse anesthetists work in many different healthcare settings, including hospitals, private practices, and clinics. Practicing as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), nurse anesthetists collaborate with other healthcare professionals to provide safe, effective healthcare.
Nurse anesthetists most commonly work in hospital operating rooms, free standing surgical centers, emergency department trauma stabilization, pain clinics, and labor and delivery units. They may also work in physician offices providing anesthesia for podiatry, dentistry, or other minor procedures.
Steps to Becoming a Nurse Anesthetist
Before becoming a nurse anesthetist, each professional must satisfy certain eligibility requirements, including earning a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), obtaining a registered nurse (RN) license, pursuing specializations, gaining admission to an accredited nurse anesthesia program, earning certification, and obtaining licensure.
1. Earn a BSN Degree
Before professionals can become licensed to work as nurse anesthetists, they must earn a BSN or other appropriate major and complete a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctor of nursing practice. Students should complete bachelor’s programs at regionally accredited colleges or universities. Earning a BSN allows each degree-seeker to enroll in an advanced degree and qualifies them for RN licensure.
2. Obtain RN Licensure
To obtain RN licensure, each student must first complete a BSN. In addition to the educational requirements needed for licensure, professionals must complete and pass the NCLEX-RN.
3. Pursue Specializations While Working as an RN in an Acute Care Setting
While working as an RN, professionals can consider pursuing critical-care registered nurse (CCRN) certification if they possess the required amount of clinical practice hours. A CCRN is a specialty certification for nurses who provide direct care to acutely/critically ill adult patients regardless of their physical location. According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, a minimum of one year full-time work experience, or its part-time equivalent, as a registered nurse in a critical care setting is required.
4. Gain Admission to an Accredited Nurse Anesthesia Program
Before individuals can pursue licensure as nurse anesthetists, they must gain admission to an accredited graduate nurse anesthesia program. Students can explore opportunities across 121 different accredited nurse anesthesia programs, along with nearly 1,800 active clinical sites. Program requirements vary depending on the college or university but typically require an applicant to hold valid RN licensure, a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and minimum GPA requirements. Many programs may require an MSN.A minimum of one year full-time work experience, or its part-time equivalent, as a registered nurse in a critical care setting is required. The average experience of RNs entering nurse anesthesia educational programs is 2.9 years (AANA, 2019).
5. Earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice in Anesthesia (DNAP) Degree
At this time, some nurse anesthesia programs offer a master’s degree that qualifies the graduate for the certification exam. However, that is changing. In 2025, all CRNAs will need a doctorate in nurse anesthesia to enter the field. A few programs may still offer a master’s degree that meets criteria for certification until 2022.While CRNAs with a master’s degree will be grandfathered in, many degree-seekers choose to enroll in doctoral programs, which equip them with the most advanced skills and knowledge in the field and allow them to consider more career opportunities with higher salary options. Coursework in DNAP programs includes additional depth in topics such as anesthesia pharmacology, obstetric anesthesia, anesthesia pathophysiology, anesthesia biology, and geriatric anesthesia.
6. Obtain Certification from the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetist (NBCRNA)
To obtain certification from the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists, professionals must pass the national certification examination. Once professionals complete their degree from an accredited program, they can satisfy the exam requirements, answering between 100 and 170 questions of comprehensive topics.
7. Obtain Nurse Practitioner State Licensure
Professionals who want to practice advanced practice nursing in the nurse anesthetist specialty must earn licensure specific to their state. Licensing requirements vary by state.
8. Find Employment
Once certified nurse anesthetists graduate from an accredited program and pass the certification exam for the specialty, they become eligible for entry-level employment in the field. During their job search, professionals can look for opportunities in specialized areas.
Becoming a Nurse Anesthetist FAQs
What is the Difference Between a Nurse Anesthetist and an Anesthesiologist?
Anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists both administer anesthesia to patients in medical procedures. The primary difference is the educational track that prepares them. Nurse anesthetists complete a BSN (4 years), an MSN (2 years), and with the new mandate a DNAP (4 years). Including an average of 2.6 years of critical care experience, this amounts to an estimated 11 years to achieve certification.
Anesthesiologists are licensed medical doctors who specialize in anesthesia. They complete an undergraduate degree (4 years), medical school (4 years), an internship (1 year), and an anesthesia residency (3 years).
Can I Get Licensed if My Degree is From an Unaccredited Program?
To obtain licensure as a nurse anesthetist, individuals must complete all degree requirements from accredited programs at regionally accredited colleges or universities. Nurse anesthesia programs should feature accreditation from the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Education Programs, with 121 accredited programs in the discipline across the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
Can You Get a DNAP Without a Master's?
Degree-seekers do not necessarily need to earn an MSN before enrolling in a DNAP program. Students can explore opportunities to enroll in MSN-to-DNAP programs, which allow students to advance into a doctoral program and complete the requirements of a master’s degree in one convenient program.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Doctorate in Nurse Anesthesia?
Nurse anesthesia doctoral programs can vary in terms of program length, depending on several factors. Enrollment type directly affects program length, with students who enroll part time taking longer to earn their degrees. Educational and experience backgrounds also affect the length of doctoral degrees. These programs often take 4-6 years to complete.Degree-seekers do not necessarily need to earn an MSN before enrolling in a DNAP program. Students can explore opportunities to enroll in MSN-to-DNAP programs, which allow students to advance into a doctoral program and complete the requirements of a master’s degree in one convenient program.
What Happens if I Don't Renew My APRN License?
Renewal requirements for APRN licenses vary depending on the state and particular nursing specialty. Across the U.S., professionals who do not maintain their APRN licenses can not practice as an APRN professionally. CRNAs must practice a minimum number of hours and complete continuing education in the specialty of anesthesia each year to maintain certification.
Nurse Anesthetist Credentials
To become a nurse anesthetist, professionals must complete certification and licensing requirements. In the sections below, readers can learn more about nurse anesthetist licensing and how the requirements vary depending on the state, along with the nursing specialty professionals want to pursue. Additionally, readers can learn about national certification opportunities. Nurse anesthetists must obtain RN licensure and APRN licensure. In the sections below, degree-seekers can learn more about the specific requirements needed to pursue successful careers as nurse anesthetists.
Nurse Anesthetist Licensing
RN and APRN licensing requirements can vary depending on the state. During RN licensure, all states consider applicants’ legal and professional histories. Most states include a fingerprint-based criminal history check. Before applying for an RN license, each professional must complete specific educational requirements, including earning a BSN. To gain licensure, professionals must complete and pass the NCLEX-RN examination.
APRNs encounter different licensing requirements, depending on the specialty and the specific requirements of the state. The first step to earning APRN licensure is to earn RN licensure. An APRN candidate must hold an MSN or DNP and meet certification requirements specific to the certification agency that offers the specialization.
The National Council of State Boards of Nursing functions as an independent, nonprofit organization that enables nursing regulatory bodies to counsel and act together on matters of safety, welfare, and public health. The organization includes the development of nursing licensure examinations.
Nurse Anesthetist Certification
Nurse anesthetist certification requires each professional to obtain a BSN, along with completing courses in pharmacology, physiology, anatomy, and health assessment. After earning their bachelor’s degree, an individual can obtain their RN license and gain a minimum of one year of experience working as an RN in an acute care setting.
The next step on the pathway to certification is enrolling in an accredited nurse anesthesia program and graduating with a master’s degree. Upon completing their educational requirements, professionals must pass the National Certification Examination offered through the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists. Individuals must pay the NCE fee of $995 to complete the exam.
Nurse Anesthetist Resources
- American Association of Nurse Anesthetists As a professional association of nurse anesthetists, the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists serves more than 53,000 members, including student, certified, and recertified members.
- Nurseanesthetist.org Nurse anesthetists can access this site to learn more about the history of the profession, access clinical documents, and review its online library.
- AANA Clinical Practice Resources AANA’s clinical practice resources provide professionals with information and tools relevant to clinical practice, including the code of ethics for certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) and information about pain management.
- National Board of Certification & Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists The NBCRNA administers the national certification exam that measures the skills, knowledge, and abilities needed to pursue entry-level nurse anesthesia practitioner careers.
- CRNA Careers As the official career center of the AANA, CRNA Careers allows professionals to search for job opportunities. Additionally, professionals can access career resources and learn more about AANA membership.
Learn More About Nurse Anesthetists and Related Careers
Individuals interested in learning more about nurse anesthetists careers and related occupations can review the internal resources below to gain a better understanding of the occupation. The resources below outline different types of nursing professions, along with information about how to attain different specialized nursing careers and other important resources relevant to professionals in the field.
Medically Reviewed by Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA
Dr. Deborah Weatherspoon is an advanced practice nurse with a Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. She currently works as a university nursing educator. Dr. Weatherspoon has contributed to multiple publications and has presented at national and international levels about medical and leadership issues.
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