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How to Become a Nurse Anesthetist

Learn how to become a nurse anesthetist and enter the ER

A nurse anesthetist, also known as a CRNA, is one of the most important professions in the medical industry. Helping to ease pain and make complex surgeries possible, CRNAs hold an essential role in healthcare. But it’s complex, challenging, and extremely detailed, which means a master’s degree is required for this position. If you make it through the education, you’ll be one of the best-paid nurses in the country.

Want to know how to become a nurse anesthetist? In this article, we will provide answers to questions like:

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What Does a Nurse Anesthetist Do?

CRNA vs Nurse Anesthetist: Is there a difference?

First of all, let’s address terminology. Throughout this article, you will find both “CRNA” and “nurse anesthetist” use interchangeable. These are simply two terms used to describe the same thing. CRNA stands for “Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist,” and it’s the more official, legal, and professional term used in the industry. You can’t work as a nurse anesthetist without being certified, so it’s fair to say that all nurse anesthetists (at least the ones actually working) are CRNAs and vice-versa.

What is a CRNA?

In theory, a CRNA has a fairly simple job: reduce pain and discomfort. But this task can become extremely complicated, which is why a thorough education is so critical to this profession. Understanding what is a CRNA is fairly complex, but we’ll help you understand nurse anesthetist jobs.

The primary role of a nurse anesthetist is to administer anesthesia and other pain-reducing medication before, during, and after medical procedures, including surgery, therapy, and diagnostic exams. They provide pain management, and in some cases may be involved with emergency situations.

Part of their role is a pre-procedure meeting with the patient. Before care is given, a nurse anesthetist talks with a patient about medications and the procedure itself, helping to reduce concerns by increasing a patient’s understanding of their care. The nurse will then give patients anesthesia so they feel no pain during the procedure or, if needed, they may administer a regional or local anesthesia to numb an area of the body.

Throughout a procedure, a certified registered nurse anesthetist will also monitor a patient’s vital signs and make sure they are healthy throughout the process.

Part of a nurse anesthetist job is not just physical pain reduction, but also mental, emotional, and spiritual support. They are not therapists or psychologists, but the very nature of their work, which has them meeting with patients in high-stress situations, means they may need to provide emotional support.

From managing or reducing physical pain to reducing concerns about a procedure, a nurse anesthetist makes health care easier, less scary, and far more comfortable. This is why CRNAs are some of the best-paid professionals in the healthcare industry.

CRNA vs Anesthesiologist

If you want to know what does a nurse anesthetist do, it helps to understand the role of an anesthesiologist. An anesthesiologist is a similar profession, but there are different requirements that make it distinct from an anesthetist. The main difference from a CRNA vs anesthesiologist is that an anesthesiologist is a doctor, which means they have completed a doctorate-level education beyond the master’s degree of an anesthetist. They are, essentially, physicians who administer pain-reducing or pain-eliminating drugs.

One of their main roles is to oversee anesthetists, which is an important difference for anesthetist vs anesthesiologist. They are also more heavily involved in the decisions of care, and they often approve general, sedative, regional, and local anesthetics, which is then administered by an anesthetist.

There are differences between a CRNA vs anesthesiologist for where they usually work (anesthetists in smaller clinics, anesthesiologists in large hospitals) as well as pay, but the main difference is educational level. Anesthetist vs anesthesiologist is fairly clear, and it mostly revolves around responsibilities and level of education.

How to Become a Nurse Anesthetist: Step by Step

The path to becoming a nurse anesthetist is fairly straightforward, and it includes a master’s degree and proper certification through national and state organizations. If you want to know how to become a CRNA, the first step is to complete your high school education, then move into nurse anesthetist schooling. If you want to know how long does it take to become a nurse anesthetist and what steps are involved, this section will answer your questions.

These are the simple steps for how to become a nurse anesthetist. But each step can have its own complexities and challenges.

  1. Bachelor’s in Nursing (BSN)
  2. Nursing Experience in Critical Care
  3. Master’s Degree in Anesthesia OR BSN to DNP Anesthesia program
  4. Become Certified

Step 1: BSN Degree (Bachelor's of Science in Nursing)
To be eligible for nurse anesthetist jobs the first step, after graduating from high school, is to complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing. There are many different focuses you can pursue, but virtually any accredited nursing program should create the foundation of knowledge you need for your career. Nursing programs help you understand biology, physiology, chemistry, and many other sciences that are critical to healthcare.

A good nursing program will also develop your overall understanding of the healthcare industry. By helping you navigate the complexities of hospitals and clinics, as well as insurance, patient rights, and many other aspect, nursing programs build you into a well-rounded healthcare professional.

Step 2: Nursing Experience
Although this step may not be necessary, some anesthesia programs require that you have previous nursing experience. Even if if is not required, it’s good to have real-world experience in a healthcare setting so you understand whether this is the right profession for you. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists recommends getting a minimum of one year full-time work experience in a critical care nursing setting.

Step 3: A Master's Degree in Nursing OR BSN to DNAP (Doctor of Nursing Practice in Anesthesia) 
The entering class of 2022 will be the last class that will be grandfathered into the Nurse Anesthetist profession with a master’s level education. Beginning in 2025, a doctor of nursing practice in anesthesia will be required for licensing. Those still earning their bachelor’s in nursing will want to consider BSN to DNAP programs to speed their entry into the profession. Whichever path you choose, this education will fully develop your understanding of anesthesia and other pain-reducing medications while preparing you for certification exams.

Step 4: Certify as a CRNA
Finally, you’ll need to become certified as a CRNA. Certification can vary by state, but nationally it is administered by the The National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA), which offers the National Certification Examination (NCE).

How Long Does it Take to Become a Nurse Anesthetist?

From the point that you enter your first college course to certifying as a CRNA, it usually takes about six years to complete your education, plus time dedicated to preparing for and passing certification exams.

CRNA Education

Prerequisite: Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing & Professional Experience

To become a nurse anesthetist, the basic requirement is a bachelor’s degree in nursing. This is one of the most fundamental CRNA school requirements. Depending on the program, there may be a GPA requirement from your previous studies, and many programs also require that you have previous experience in the nursing practice. In most cases, the requirement is about a year.

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A Master’s Degree with a Focus on Anesthetist

CRNA education is long, tough, fast-paced, and rigorous. If you make it through this challenging education, you’ll be a highly-trained professional who is ready to deliver pain-reduction, care, and medical support in virtually any medical setting.

Courses in nurse anesthetist schooling cover a wide range of medical and scientific topics, but overall you will learn the basic skills and knowledge needed to earn your certification and become a CRNA.

Nurse anesthetist schooling classes will address various topics, and many will cover general issues related to healthcare. For example, you may take classes related to health systems, strategic planning for health and wellbeing, and ethics in health.

Of course, CRNA education will eventually focus on your specific concentration. These classes will address the role of anesthetists, clinical anatomy, which is critical to the profession, and the scientific foundations of anesthesia. Advanced pharmacology, pathology, and anatomy are all important to this profession and will be addressed during your master’s degree.

Most master’s degrees last about two years. For a CRNA education, it’s typical for the first year to focus on the core of nursing, with basic principles of anesthesia included. During the second year, the training becomes more rigorous and focused, and it will begin to include advanced coursework and clinical seminars.

These programs will also encompass your residency, which is typically part of all CRNA requirements. This will allow you to integrate your theoretical studies into a clinical setting, helping you gain real-world experience. By the end of your residency, you will have the skills to make decisions in pain management and care, and will be able to confidently collaborate with doctors, patients, and other staff members.

BSN to DNP Nurse Anesthetist

Beginning in 2025, a doctorate in nursing anesthesia will be required for entry into this profession and to qualify for licensing.

Currently, a master’s degree is required. All master’s level nurse anesthesia programs will be required to transition to a doctorate level education by 2022 to meet requirements for their 2025 graduates.

However, if you already have your BSN, you don’t need to wait for the program adjustments to be made to take the next step in your nurse anesthesia education. Consider BSN to DNP programs to ensure you’ll be ready for licensing as soon as you graduate.

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CRNA Licensing & Certifications

Licensing and certification are vital parts of CRNA requirements. Like almost every medical profession, if you want to work in this career you need to be properly certified through the appropriate organization. CRNA education will prepare you for testing, and you may find help and resources through organizations like American Association of Nurse Anesthetists.

For nurse anesthetists, this means becoming licensed through the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA). This organization administers the National Certification Examination to ensure all CRNAs have the skills and knowledge required to deliver outstanding care. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists may also help with testing or preparation.

The National Certification Examination is a three-hour test that is completed on a computer. Assuming you pass the exam, you can then receive certification and begin your important work as a CRNA.

This testing is rigorous, long, and difficult, but with the right training you can confidently expect to pass. According to the NBCRNA, first-time test takers have a pass rate of 85%. So don’t worry, if you study hard, dedicate yourself to the coursework, and prep for the exam, you are likely to pass.

If you complete the CRNA school requirements and CRNA requirements, you’ll be ready to enjoy one of the best careers in the healthcare industry. Once complete, you could choose to join the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists.

The Life of a Nurse Anesthetist: Work, Salary & Job Security

Pros of This Career

This career, like any other, has its positives and negatives. One of the biggest advantages to this career is the high salary (which we address below), but money can’t be the only driving factor when you are selecting a career. The chance to help others, to ease their pain, reduce stress, and care for patients is one of the driving forces for these professionals. They get to know patients, often better than many other healthcare professionals.

There is also a bit of independence behind this profession. CRNAs make their own decisions (with input, of course) on the proper care and pain management for a patient. They often have more control and influence over a patient’s decisions, which can be a burden but is also highly rewarding when everything goes right.

Cons of This Career

Long hours are part of the job, but that can be said for virtually any healthcare career. There are also times when an anesthetist has little to do, so there are long stretches when there is less excitement, such as time between scheduled surgeries.

CRNAs also carry a large burden. They have a responsibility to maintain the health and comfort of a patient, and things can go wrong, leading to stress, doubt, and worry for many nurse anesthetists.

Nurse Anesthetist Salary

After completing your CRNA education, you’ll be ready to earn an excellent salary. Nurse anesthetists are some of the best-paid professionals in the healthcare industry. A nurse anesthetist salary compares with some of the highest-paid professionals, not only in the health care industry, but in the entire job market.

Nationally: $174,790
Nurse anesthetists have to go through some of the most rigorous training and complex certifications. They are also some of the most important professionals in the healthcare industry. As such, they are extremely well paid.

The median salary for nurse anesthetist is $174,790 as of May 2019. This is clearly a massive salary that demonstrates their value to healthcare and society as a whole. This is a tremendous salary that more than quadruples the median salary for all professions.

Even some doctors, who typically go through six more years of schooling, have comparable salaries. A general physician, for example, has a median salary of $184,410, only about $10,000 more than a CRNA. Dentists also need a doctorate-level degree, yet they “only” have a median salary of $159,200. Podiatrists, optometrists, and veterinarians all require a doctorate degree and earn less than an anesthetist!

As you can see, the profession earns an outstanding median salary. But how does a certified registered nurse anesthetist fare in specifics states?

CRNA Salary Texas: $167,020
Texas employs the highest total number of anesthetists, but the median salary is actually slightly lower than the national median. At $167,020, the median CRNA salary Texas is about $7,000 less than the national median for this profession. While many CRNAs work in Texas, the quotient is actually low, with only .38 anesthetists per 1,000 jobs. (Many states have well over .5 anesthetists per 1,000.)

CRNA salary Florida : $160,030
A nurse anesthetist salary in Florida is very strong, although not as high as some other states. The CRNA salary Florida is around $160,000, which shows that even in lower-paying states CRNAs enjoy tremendous salaries.

CRNA Salary California: $227,290
Although California does not employ a lot of anesthetists, the ones who do work in the state are very well paid. The median CRNA salary California is $227,290, placing this state in the top five for median salaries by anesthetists.

Job Outlook for Nurse Anesthetists

If you are researching how to become a CRNA , you should understand the excellent job growth for this rewarding career.

Not only is the pay for this career excellent, the expected job growth is exciting as well. Anyone completing a nurse anesthetist program will enjoy a thriving, growing career. According to the BLS, the expected career growth for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners between 2019 and 2029 is 45%! For comparison, the national average is expected to be 4%, which means this profession (combined with others) is expected to grow at a rate over 11 times faster than the national average.

However, the growth for an anesthetist will be less, although still high. This specific profession will grow by 14%, still outpacing the national average. Between 2019 and 2029, there will be an expected 6,200 new jobs for nurse anesthetists, making this one of the best professions, not only in healthcare, but in the entire job market.

This growth will be driven largely by the increased demand for healthcare services. An increased emphasis on preventative care, as well as new diagnostics, could increase operations and surgeries. This all means an anesthetist will be very busy!

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