Nurse Anesthetist Programs

Their title may be a mouthful to say, but certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) have many of the same duties in administering anesthesia as anesthesiologists do. CRNAs have a background in nursing whereas anesthesiologists attend medical school, but this can take substantially longer to complete and cost students more. However, the care they provide is similar, coming from either a nursing or medical perspective depending on their background. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) even reports that “all” anesthesia professionals give anesthesia in the same way and that numerous studies “have demonstrated that there is no difference in the quality of care provided by CRNAs and their physician counterparts.” Like anesthesiologists, CRNAs are responsible:

  • For providing care before a surgery or procedure
  • For monitoring and maintaining anesthesia levels during surgery
  • For assisting in recovery from anesthesia afterward

More specifically, CRNAs play additional roles such as interviewing and assessing patient needs, formulating a plan, collaborating with other healthcare professionals to minimize pain, optimizing recovery and serving as a patient advocate.Unlike anesthesiologists, they do not make a mean annual pay somewhere in the $230,000s. However, their pay is still substantially high, possibly the highest of all types of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) at $157,690, according to May 2013 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1956, the credential for the CRNA came into existence. (In fact, the first nurse anesthesia program in the U.S. became available in 1909.) National certification is granted to RNs who have at least one year of experience in an acute care setting, who have graduated from one of the accredited nurse anesthetist schools and who have passed the certification exam given through the National Board of Certification & Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA).

Nurse Anesthetist Programs Prerequisites and Specializations

Students interested in one of the nurse anesthetist programs will find options for the Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, the post-master’s certificate, the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and possibly other doctoral degrees. Generally, admission requirements for an MSN necessitate nurses to already have a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) degree and a minimum level of experience, such as one year in critical care, like the University of Pittsburgh requires. Other admission requirements might include:

  • Academic transcripts
  • An essay
  • A phone interview
  • GRE scores
  • Personal statement
  • Professional references
  • Scholarly papers

Students who do not have a BSN may be able to complete an alternative, more comprehensive bridge program, such as an RN-to-MSN. Students will find they have some 113 accredited nurse anesthetist programs to choose from, according to the AANA. These include 16 programs available at the doctoral level. These programs are typically two to three years of full-time length, depending on the requirements of the college or university. The programs have arrangements with more than 2,220 clinical sites, including at community or university-based hospitals, to give students training in the field of anesthesia.

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Courses and Curriculum for Nurse Anesthetist Programs

Like other nurses studying to be an APRN, students in nurse anesthetic schools take fundamental classes to advance their core knowledge. These may include Advanced Health Assessment, Advanced Pathophysiology and Advanced Physiology. As they advance in their learning, students in a nurse anesthetic program will learn more about anesthesia, including it use in treating different patients types, and regional application. Students could take classes such as:

  • Basic Principles of Anesthesia
  • Chemistry and Physics of Anesthesia
  • Pharmacology of Anesthetics
  • Pediatric Anesthesia
  • Regional Anesthesia

Clinical hours are also required as part of these programs. The AANA reports that student nurse anesthetists complete approximately 2,500 clinical hours and give about 850 anesthetics on the path to becoming a CRNA. Many schools prepare students to sit for the certifying exam offered through the NBCRNA. On a yearly basis, more than 2,000 student nurse anesthetists graduate from an accredited institution successfully pass this exam, the AANA reports. Certification is on a national level and graduates will need to check with their state board of nursing, or similar, to find out details for state licensing.

The AANA reports that nurse anesthetists were among the first required to complete continuing education. As a matter of fact, they must be recertified every two years and need to complete an approved 40 minimum continuing education credits and meet other practice requirements. These providers of health care are important since they give approximately 70 million rural Americans access to anesthesia, and are the sole providers of anesthesia in about 66 percent of all U.S. rural hospitals.


Nurse anesthetist programs are accredited through the Council on Accreditation (COA) of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs, which started overseeing nurse anesthetist program accreditation as far back as 1975. The COA grants accreditation to nurse anesthesia programs and institutions awarding master’s degrees, post-masters certificates and doctoral degrees.

The COA has a mission of helping these programs and schools improve even more in providing quality education. This can be done through its goals of encouraging innovation in program design, growing student achievement and supporting responsiveness and communication within related communities. Students can search through the 113 accredited nurse anesthetist programs available in the U.S. using the COA’s web tool. Students can also look to the COA website for details about what schools will have onsite accreditation visits in upcoming school semesters and to see when accreditation has been initially granted or continued, as, for example, for the program at Duke University in North Carolina, which was given continued accreditation approval for another 10 years, effective January 2014.

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