Surgery assistant operating equipment

How to Become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

Duties, Responsibilities, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

Surgery assistant operating equipment

Registered Nurses (RN) have the unique ability to choose what they’d like to do with their careers after they’ve earned their certification. There are several different nursing specialties to choose from, all with their own job responsibilities, work environments, and perks. Each of these specialties requires different levels of education and certification as well. For some nurses, compensation is key. If that’s the case for you, then you may want to look into becoming a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) or Nurse Anesthetist.

Nurse Anesthetist is one of the highest paid nursing jobs for a reason. They’re responsible for administering anesthesia to patients prior to medical operations as well as handling recovery afterward. Due to the high stakes of working with anesthesia, CRNA’s must complete extensive education requirements in order to earn their license.

(Click here to see our full list of highest paid nursing jobs)

We’ve put together a comprehensive guide for anyone who’s wondering how to become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. Continue reading to find out what you need to do in order to become a CRNA, as well as what makes this career so rewarding.

Nurse Anesthetist Definition

What is a Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)?

A Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist is a Registered Nurse who administers anesthesia to patients that are undergoing surgical or other medical procedures. CRNAs work with Surgeons, Anesthesiologists, and other medical professionals in order to safely administer anesthesia. Nurse Anesthetists can work in hospitals, clinics, and outpatient settings.

What Does a Nurse Anesthetist Do?

Nurse anesthetists are advanced practice Registered Nurses (APRNs). Their primary responsibility is to work with patients throughout their medical procedures to ensure that they are pain-free. In order to do this, CRNAs must determine the exact amount of anesthesia that is needed in order to safely medicate the patient. Going under anesthesia can be a nerve-racking experience to some patients, so as a Nurse Anesthetist you’ll need to be extremely responsible as well as accommodating to the patient’s needs.

Some Nurse Anesthetist duties include:

  • Determining the proper dose of anesthetic to meet the patient’s need
  • Educating patients about the procedure and their recovery
  • Monitoring patient vital signs and dosage throughout the procedure
  • Conducting patient assessments

CRNAs can also take on administrative roles later in their career, such as training new staff or ordering the anesthesia.

Nurse Anesthetist vs. Anesthesiologist

What’s the Difference Between an Anesthesiologist and a Nurse Anesthetist?

Nurse Anesthetists and Anesthesiologists often work together to administer anesthesia to patients. However, the main differences between a Nurse Anesthetist and an Anesthesiologist is their educational background, working environment, and salary.

Anesthesiologists are medical doctors, which means they spend upwards of 11 to 12 years in school before they can begin working. They must first earn their bachelor’s degree, then their medical degree, and finally they must obtain a state and national license. CRNAs are only required to earn their bachelor’s degree, spend a year working in critical care, then complete a CRNA program which takes about 2-3 years.

Nurse Anesthetists work in a variety of medical offices, such as hospitals, outpatient care centers, and doctor’s offices. Anesthesiologists work in operating rooms, as well as intensive care units and delivery units. Anesthesiologists also have the ability to focus on certain sub-specialties of care such as pediatrics, obstetrics, and critical care.

The difference in wages is possibly the most substantial difference between a CRNA and an Anesthesiologist. According to the BLS, the average salary* of a CRNA is $202,470, while the average salary* for Anesthesiologists is $331,190 (BLS). With an annual salary* close to $130K higher than a CRNA, the extended educational requirements of becoming an Anesthesiologist pay off in the end.

Nurse Anesthetist Schooling

How long does it take to become a Nurse Anesthetist?

In order to be a Nurse Anesthetist, you’ll have to spend a longer amount of time in school. You’ll also have to gain work experience and pass a certification exam prior to holding the position. Here’s a step-by-step guide to show you how to become a Nurse Anesthetist:

BSN sign on a stack of books with a stethoscope

1) Earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or similar degree:

The first step in becoming a CRNA is earning your BSN nursing degree. Your BSN will take you about 4 years unless you’ve already earned your associate’s degree in nursing (ADN). Students who’ve already earned their ADN can enroll in an RN-BSN program which can be completed in as little as 20 months. Students enrolled in a BSN program take courses such as anatomy, pharmacology, and physiology. The average cost of a BSN program can range between $40k – $100k depending on which educational institution you decide to attend. Once you’ve earned your BSN, you’ll have to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX) in order to earn your nursing license.

(Click here to learn more about the NCLEX-RN examination)

2) Gain at least one year of experience working as an RN in a clinical setting:

The second step to becoming a Nurse Anesthetist is gaining quality experience working as an RN. It’s standard that RNs looking to apply for a nurse anesthesia program spend at least one year working in a clinical setting such as an emergency room (ER), intensive care unit (ICU), or cardiac care unit (CCU). To further their chances of getting accepted, many RNs earn their Critical Care Registered Nurse Certification (CCRN). In order to earn your CCRN, you’ll need 1,750 hours of direct critical care as well as pass a licensure exam.

3) Get accepted and complete a nurse anesthesia program:

Admission to a nurse anesthesia program can be highly competitive, and you’ll need to meet a set of minimum requirements to be considered for acceptance. These requirements vary depending on the institution offering the program. The AANA reports that as of September 2020, there were 124 CRNA programs in the United States. They also reported that the average experience held by RNs applying to nurse anesthesia programs is about 4.5 years. The average in-state tuition for a nurse anesthesia program is around $93,000. Before you begin applying, it’s important to assess your own qualifications and determine which program best fits you.

4) Graduate from the nurse anesthesia program with your Master’s degree:

The average completion time of a nurse anesthesia program is about 24 to 36 months. Nurse anesthesia programs consist of courses such as anesthesia pharmacology, pain management, anesthesia biology, and anesthesia pathophysiology. Throughout the program, you’ll learn to operate anesthesia equipment as well as manage surgical and emergency situations. On top of coursework, students are required to complete supervised clinical experiences that present an array of different anesthesia situations.

Pass the National Certification Examination from the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA):

Once you’ve successfully completed your CRNA program and earned your master’s degree, you’ll need to pass the NCE. This exam contains between 100 and 170 questions and takes about 3 hours to complete. Upon completion of the exam, you’ll be given a preliminary pass or fail report. Once you pass the exam, there will be a verification of your certification sent to your state board of nursing. From there you are able to complete any state-specific requirements prior to employment.

In order to remain employed as a CRNA, you’ll have to maintain your national certification. The NBCRNA evaluates nurse anesthetists every 8 years as part of their continued professional certification program (CPC), which is broken into two 4-year periods. During each 4-year period you are required to complete:

  • 60 “Class A” Credits in activities related to the delivery or improvement of anesthesia care
  • 40 “Class B” Credits in anesthesia practice as well as a wide range of professional development topics
  • 4 Core Modules that address applied clinical pharmacology, human physiology and pathophysiology, airway management, and anesthesia equipment

At the end of each 8-year period, you’ll be required to take the CPC assessment exam. This exam consists of 150 questions that test how well you know the 4 Core Modules. There’s definitely a lot of work required in order to maintain your CRNA certification, but the hard work pays off when it comes to job outlook and salary.

Nurse Anesthetist Pay

How much does a Nurse Anesthetist make?

Nurse Anesthetists top the list of the highest paid nursing jobs. According to the BLS, the average nurse anesthetist’s salary* is about $202,000.

CRNA’s earning in the lowest 10th percentile make an average salary* of about $131,000, while those in the top 10th percentile can earn up to $250,000 or more.

Highest Paying Industries for Nurse Anesthetists

Industry Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Outpatient Care Centers $122.20 $254,180
Specialty Hospitals $105.55 $219,540
General Hospitals $102.09 $212,340
Colleges and Universities $96.32 $200,340
Offices of Physicians $93.39 $194,240

Highest Paying States for Nurse Anesthetists

State Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Connecticut $132.95 $276,540
New Jersey $126.85 $263,850
Illinois $120.33 $250,280
West Virginia $119.06 $247,650

Highest Paying Cities for Nurse Anesthetists

City Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Springfield, IL $143.70 $298,890
Riverside, CA $136.32 $283,550
Ann Arbor, MI $133.08 $276,810
Hartford, CT $131.28 $273,060
San Antonio, TX $126.23 $262,560
New York, NY $119.16 $247,850

Stethoscope draped over a laptop 

Nurse Anesthetist Jobs

What is the job outlook for a Nurse Anesthetist?

The BLS reports that the overall employment of Nurse Anesthetists is projected to grow 45% from 2020 to 2030, which is much faster than the average of all occupations (8%). Nurse Anesthetists will be increasingly needed to care for the large, aging baby boom population. CRNA’s will be needed to keep patients healthy and to treat the growing number of patients with chronic and acute conditions.

Are you ready to start your career as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist?

Nurse Anesthetists are the highest-paid nurses in the field, but it comes with a cost. You’ll be spending a significant amount of time in school just earning the qualifications and certifications you’ll need in order to get a job as a CRNA. Earning your master’s degree also costs a lot of money, and that financial commitment can turn many people away. However, if you’re willing to commit your time and money to become a Nurse Anesthetist, your efforts will pay off in the end. Working as a CRNA is also very fulfilling for those who thrive under pressure and take pride in handling the lives of their patients. If you’re looking to become a Nurse Anesthetist, you can start by earning your BSN degree at Provo College.

Click here to learn more about our BSN program.