Medical professional in an operating room

How to Become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

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

Medical professional in an operating room

It goes without saying that nurses provide their communities with an invaluable service. Not only do they champion the health of their patients, but they often shape a great deal of our healthcare experience. In their role as comforters, caretakers, and medical specialists, nurses perform a variety of tasks daily.

A career in healthcare can be both personally and financially rewarding. This is especially true when it comes to nursing. Although financial compensation may not be the most important factor when choosing a nursing career, you should be familiar with the highest-paid nursing categories before making your decision.

(See our full list to learn more about the highest-paid nursing jobs).

If you’re wondering what nurse practitioner specialty boasts the highest paying jobs, then look no further—the number one job on our list of highest paid nurses is a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA).

For aspiring nurses interested in the science of anesthesia, becoming a Nurse Anesthetist could be the perfect opportunity to enrich your career (and your paycheck) through specialized training and expertise.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist Definition

What Is a Nurse Anesthetist?

CRNAs are skilled professionals who prepare and administer anesthesia to patients alongside other members of the healthcare team.

Continue reading our comprehensive career guide to learn more about the requirements, responsibilities, training, and average salaries of Nurse Anesthetists in the United States.

Nurse Anesthetist Requirements

How to Become a CRNA

As stated by the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA), Nurse Anesthetists are master’s and doctorate prepared advanced practice nurses. Due to their high level of responsibility, aspiring CRNAs must seek an advanced degree to practice in this specialized field. They must also earn their degree from an accredited nurse anesthesia educational program and pass the National Certification Exam.

Becoming a Nurse Anesthetist Might Be a Good Fit for You If…

  • You enjoy helping others
  • You aren’t bothered by surgical procedures
  • You are comfortable administering anesthesia
  • You are a naturally compassionate person
  • You are meticulous and detail oriented

Nurse Anesthetist Duties & Responsibilities

What Does a Nurse Anesthetist Do?

CRNAs provide anesthetics to patients in every healthcare practice setting and for every type of surgery or medical procedure. According to the AANA, “They are the sole anesthesia providers in nearly all rural hospitals, and the main provider of anesthesia to the men and women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.”

A Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist’s job description typically includes five primary roles:

  • Care in the operating room
  • Services for outpatient procedures
  • Care in the emergency room
  • Manage pain
  • Administration of epidurals

It’s important to note that the duties of a CRNA are structured. This ensures the safety of the patient as well as the CRNA. In addition, their tasks often require a high degree of autonomy and responsibility.

Nurse Anesthetist monitoring a patient

Where Do Nurse Anesthetists Work?

Nurse Anesthetists can work in a variety of healthcare settings, including:

  • Hospital surgical suites
  • Ambulatory surgery centers
  • Obstetrical delivery rooms
  • Critical access hospitals
  • Prisons
  • Facilities of the Public Health Service, Veterans Affairs, and military bases
  • Offices of specialists like plastic surgeons, podiatrists, and more

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist Hours

The hours of a CRNA largely depend on their employer and shift schedule. For instance, CRNAs who work in trauma centers or obstetrical units might work 24-hour shifts. In these cases, they may only work two shifts per week. Other nurses might choose three 12-hour shifts. In the field of nursing, you’ll find that there is often a certain degree of scheduling flexibility.

Nurse Anesthetist Uniform

Exact uniform requirements might vary, but in general, most CRNAs wear scrubs for work. This is evident when you consider their main job responsibilities, which often include care in operating rooms or outpatient procedures.

Nurse Anesthetist Education

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Nurse Anesthetist?

According to the AANA, the minimum education requirements to become a Certified Nurse Anesthetist are as follows:

  • A bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing, such as a BSN degree, or other appropriate major.
  • A Registered Nursing (RN) license and/or qualified as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN).
  • A one-year minimum of full-time work experience, or its part-time equivalent, as an RN in a critical-care setting. The average experience of RNs entering nurse anesthesia educational programs is 2.9 years.
  • Graduation with a minimum of a master’s degree from a nurse anesthesia educational program accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA).

Nurse holding an oxygen mask over a patient

CRNA Programs

According to the AANA, nurse anesthesia programs can range from 24 to 51 months. These programs include instructional training as well as hands-on clinical experience to prepare you for the field. On average, CRNA students will receive 9,369 hours of clinical experience.

In terms of training curriculum, CRNA programs typically include the following Nurse Anesthesia courses:

  • Advanced Pathophysiology for Nurse Anesthetist
  • Nurse Anesthesia Residency
  • Scientific Components of Nurse Anesthesia
  • Advanced Pharmacology for Nurse Anesthesia
  • Anesthesia Techniques, Procedures, and Simulation Lab
  • Advanced Health Assessment and Principles of Nurse Anesthesia

CRNA School Cost

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Nurse Anesthetist?

As with most specializations, the cost of a Nurse Anesthetist training program can vary from school to school. These programs might range anywhere between $30,000 to $100,000. When researching schools or colleges, aspiring CRNAs should contemplate the following considerations:

  • Make sure your desired program is accredited by the Council on Accreditation (COA).
  • Many schools offer some form of financial aid.
  • While you will likely accumulate student debt, the average CRNA earns around $ 195,610 per year (BLS). 

How Long Does It Take to Become a Nurse Anesthetist?

It typically takes around 6 to 9 years of combined education and work experience to become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist.

Your bachelor’s degree in nursing and subsequent RN licensure could take anywhere from three to four years, and depending on your graduate school’s requirements, nurse anesthesia programs usually range from two to four years.

CRNAs must also possess at least one year of acute-care experience.

Finally, to fulfill your required credentials, CRNA candidates must pass the National Certification Exam.

NCE Certification

The Nurse Anesthetist Certification Exam

The NBCRNA administers this National Certification Exam (NCE) to measure the knowledge and skillset necessary for entry-level nurse anesthesia practitioners. The NCE is a computerized, adaptive test for entry into the specialization of nursing anesthesia.

To take the exam, you must complete a series of steps that include the following:

  1. Possess a current RN license.
  2. Obtain at least one year of acute-care experience.
  3. Earn a master’s degree from an accredited nurse anesthesia school with clinical training.

As of January 2019, fees were raised for the NCE exam to adjust for the growing cost of creating the exam. This new fee is $995 (also applies to the repeat fee).

To learn more about eligibility, preparing for the exam, and exam tutorials, be sure to visit the NBCRNA website here.

Team of surgeons in an operating room

Continuing Education Requirements

All CRNAs must periodically complete a recertification process. In 2016, the NBCRNA replaced the former recertification program with the Continued Professional Certification (CPC) Program. According to the NBCRNA, it was developed to address changing accreditation requirements, the changing healthcare landscape, and the growing role of CRNAs in healthcare.

The primary purpose of the program is to help you maintain your credential throughout your career. Check out this up-to-date information—as of February 2020—taken directly from the NBCRNA website:

  • The program is based on 8-year periods comprised of two 4-year cycles.
  • You must earn Class A (assessed CE) and Class B credits (professional development).
  • You need to take Four Core Modules.
  • The next step is the two-year check-in. Find out more on the 2-year Check-In page, which includes a helpful deadline chart.

Nurse Anesthetist Skills

Aside from the educational and certification requirements, the ideal Nurse Anesthetist should also possess the following qualities:

+ Communication skills. CRNAs must be able to communicate with patients and other healthcare professionals.

+ Critical-thinking skills. CRNAs, and other APRNs, must be able to assess changes in a patient’s health and quickly determine the most appropriate course of action.

+ Compassion. Like most nurses, the ideal CRNA is caring and sympathetic, especially when assisting patients who are in distress or in pain.

+ Detail oriented. CRNAs hold their patients’ lives in their hands. They must be careful and meticulous while tending to their responsibilities.

+ Interpersonal skills. All APRNs must work with patients and families as well as with other healthcare providers and staff.

+ Resourcefulness. As their jobs are highly time sensitive, CRNAs must know where to find the answers they need in a timely fashion.

Nurse Anesthetist Salary

How Much Does a Nurse Anesthetist Make?

The average salary for a Nurse Anesthetist is $195,610 per year, or $97.81 per hour (BLS). Of course, it’s important to remember that a CRNA’s pay will likely be influenced by their employer, experience, and location.

To give you some perspective, check out the average salary of other healthcare professions.

Medical team smiling in a hallway

Highest Paying Industries for Nurse Anesthetists

Here is a list of occupational settings where some Nurse Anesthetists might work, ranked in order of average salary:

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

Your city or state of residence might also affect your salary as a CRNA.

Highest Paying States for Nurse Anesthetists

State Average Hourly Wage Average Salary
Connecticut $132.95 $276,540
New Jersey $126.85 $263,850
Illinois $120.33 $250,280
West Virginia $119.06 $247,650
Alaska $110.00+ $208,000+

Highest Paying Cities for CRNAs

City Average Hourly Wage 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 City, NY $119.16 $247,850

Nurse Anesthetist Job Outlook

CRNA Jobs in the Years Ahead

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of Nurse Anesthetists is expected to increase 40% by 2031. This growth is rising faster than the average for all occupations. The BLS has identified several factors for this likely growth, including an increased emphasis on preventive care and a greater demand for healthcare services from the aging population.

In fact, APRNs can perform many of the same services as physicians:

“APRNs will be increasingly used in team-based models of care, particularly in hospitals, offices of physicians, clinics, and other ambulatory care settings, where they will be needed to provide preventive and primary care… As states change their laws governing APRN practice authority, APRNs are being allowed to perform more services. APRNs also are being recognized more widely by the public as a source for primary healthcare.”

Close up of a masked medical professional

Why You Should Pursue a Career as a CRNA

Nurse Anesthesiology is an excellent career in the nursing field. Not only is it one of the top-paying careers, but a specialization like this can typically offer more career and networking opportunities. They can also offer an improved sense of fulfillment. When you pursue your interests in the nursing field, you are likely to become a better nurse and have greater job satisfaction too.

If you’re not a nurse but you’re interested in the profession, you can find several nursing programs at Unitek College. Jobs for both nurses and CRNAs are in high demand, and employers are constantly looking for driven, intelligent, and compassionate professionals for their teams. Take that first step toward your nursing career in healthcare.