What is A Nurse Anesthetist?

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By Rachel Schneider
Medically Reviewed by Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA




Table of Contents
Frequently Asked Questions About Nurse Anesthetists
Career and Salary Overview for Nurse Anesthetists
Education and Experience Requirements for Nurse Anesthetists

Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) work as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who administer anesthesia to patients, typically during surgical, diagnostic, or obstetric procedures. CRNAs must hold a minimum of a master's degree, although more employers prefer candidates who hold doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degrees. In addition to their advanced nursing degrees, CRNA candidates must obtain national certification in their field.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 26% job growth for these professionals between 2018 and 2028 -- much faster than the average for all occupations in the state. On this page, readers can explore what CRNAs do, career and salary information for the occupation, and the education and experience requirements. Readers can review this page for additional information about becoming a certified registered nurse anesthetist.


Frequently Asked Questions About Nurse Anesthetists

What Does a CRNA Do?

Certified registered nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia to patients. These professionals often work within teams alongside anesthesiologists. Before administering anesthesia, CRNAs conduct patient evaluations to decide the type and amount of anesthesia they need to use. They also discuss any existing allergies, health conditions, or medications to ensure proper administration.

Are Nurse Anesthetists Medical Doctors?

No. They are APRNs. CRNAs complete advanced nursing degrees either at the master's or doctoral levels. While anesthesiologists share some responsibilities with medical doctors, the scope of their practice differs.

Are Nurse Anesthetists in High Demand?

BLS data indicates a projected 26% job growth rate from 2018-2028 for CRNAs, which is much faster than the average for all occupations in the nation. The anticipated growth results from an increase in the demand for healthcare services.

Can Nurse Anesthetists Write Prescriptions?

Prescriptive authority differs depending on the state. In some states, CRNAs enjoy full prescriptive authority with the ability to prescribe medications to patients without supervision. Other states require a collaborative agreement or direct supervision of a practicing physician.

Can Nurse Anesthetists Work Independently?

The ability for nurse anesthetists to work independently depends on the state they practice in. While most states allow CRNAs to conduct their work independently, some states require supervision or collaborative agreements. Professionals can refer to their state's nursing board to learn more about the restrictions.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Nurse Anesthetist?

The length of time it takes individuals to become certified registered nurse anesthetists depends on the degree path they follow. Earning a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) and registered nurse (RN) license usually takes students about four years. Learners who complete a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree take around two more years and can then pursue their national certification to practice as CRNAs. DNP candidates take longer to fulfill their educational requirements.


Career and Salary Overview for Nurse Anesthetists

Nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia and provide care to patients before, during, and after therapeutic, surgical, obstetrical, and diagnostic procedures. These professionals can also provide emergency services and pain management. CRNAs communicate with patients before procedures to discuss any medications they are taking and any allergies they might have to ensure they safely and appropriately administer anesthesia.

These professionals enjoy high median annual wages of $167,950, experiencing the highest salary opportunities in state, local, and private hospitals.

During patient procedures, CRNAs monitor their vital signs, making adjustments to the anesthesia as needed. These professionals enjoy high median annual wages of $167,950, experiencing the highest salary opportunities in state, local, and private hospitals. Other high-paying industries for the occupation include outpatient care centers, offices of other health practitioners, physician's offices, and educational services.

CRNAs should possess critical thinking skills to assess changes in their patients' conditions and quickly decide on the most appropriate plan of action. These professionals should also maintain adept communication skills to collaborate with other healthcare professionals during procedures and interact with patients.


Education and Experience Requirements for Nurse Anesthetists

Before nurses can pursue careers as CRNAs, they must satisfy the necessary eligibility requirements, starting with earning a BSN and obtaining an RN license. Earning a BSN typically takes students about four years of full-time enrollment.

Earning a BSN typically takes students about four years of full-time enrollment.

Once degree-seekers complete their bachelor's program, they must complete and pass the NCLEX-RN exam to obtain their RN license. After earning their RN licenses, candidates must complete at least one year of full-time work experience, or its part-time equivalent, as a registered nurse in a critical care setting before they can enroll in an MSN. However, the average work experience of RNs entering nurse anesthesia educational programs is 2.9 years.

It should be noted that all anesthesia master's programs will transition into doctoral programs, most known as doctor of nurse anesthesia practice (DNAP), by the year 2025.

At the master's level, a degree-seeker can often pursue a specialization in nurse anesthesia, preparing them with the specific competencies they need to prepare for their postgraduate careers. It should be noted that all anesthesia master's programs will transition into doctoral programs, most known as doctor of nurse anesthesia practice (DNAP), by the year 2025.

Some nursing students continue their education further, enrolling in a DNP, or DNAP program. Once learners complete their graduate degree, they can seek national certification from the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists.

Some nursing students continue their education further, enrolling in a DNP, or DNAP program.

The certification process requires each candidate to complete and pass a national certification exam, answering between 100-170 questions covering comprehensive topics. Professionals interested in advanced practice nursing in the nurse anesthetist specialty must earn licensure specific to their state. Candidates can reach out to their state's nursing board to determine the requirements.


Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA

Medically Reviewed by Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA

Dr. Deborah Weatherspoon is an advanced practice nurse. She graduated with a PhD from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. She is currently a university nursing educator and has authored multiple publications. She has also presented at national and international levels about medical and leadership issues. She enjoys walking, reading, traveling to new places, and spending time with her family.


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