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How to Become a Nurse Anesthetist

What is a nurse anesthetist?

A nurse anesthetist (also known as a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA)) is a type of registered nurse that specializes in administering anesthesia for surgery and other minor procedures. They provide medication for patients before, during, and after surgery to manage pain symptoms. Nurse anesthetists commonly use sedatives to keep a patient asleep while they’re in surgery, which involves monitoring patient vitals as well. 

Nurse anesthetists work with other doctors, surgeons, and anesthesiologists to provide the best treatment plan for their patients. This involves looking at your patient’s background and history such as age, weight, allergies, and prior illnesses and surgeries. This will help determine what medication to use and the dosage for each patient. Nurse anesthetists will go through years of schooling to understand the power and effects of anesthesia and other pain medications on different patients to properly help them on their road to recovery.

Qualifications and eligibility

Each state has different licensing requirements for becoming a nurse anesthetist, however, there will be common regulations across all states. Some of those include:  

  • You must earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing
  • You must pass the NCLEX-RN examination 
  • You must get your master’s or doctoral degree from an accredited CRNA program
  • You must gain certification through the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetist (NBCRNA) by passing their national exam
  • You must complete the required clinical hours and experience needed to be licensed in your state
  • You must pass a criminal background check and drug screening prior to working as a nurse anesthetist 

A nurse anesthetist must have sharp critical thinking and problem solving skills. They should be able to act quickly in response to life-threatening changes in a patient’s vital signs. Nurse anesthetists should also have good judgment. The life of the patient is in their hands, so nurse anesthetists should use their knowledge and experience to administer the right dosage of anesthesia.

Work environment

Nurse anesthetists can work in a variety of locations and settings, but they’re typically found in healthcare environments making pain management plans for different patients. Examples include:    

  • Nurse anesthetists are most commonly found in hospital operating rooms to monitor patients while they’re put asleep. 
  • Emergency rooms need nurse anesthetists to help with airway and cardiovascular management for patients in critical need. 
  • You’ll also run into nurse anesthetists in intensive care units (ICUs) to watch over patient vitals. 

A nurse anesthetist can deliver anesthesia independently or under the supervision of a doctor or anesthesiologist. Most of the time nurse anesthetists will administer anesthesia for healthy patients during smaller medical procedures. They commonly perform epidurals and spinal blocks while providing patient care before and after anesthesia. Nurse anesthetists are also needed in dental and plastic surgery offices to assist with local anesthesia for more invasive procedures.

Typical work hours

As you might expect, the typical work hours for a nurse anesthetist can vary. Nurse anesthetists that work at doctor, dental, or specialty offices normally work during the traditional business hours on a 40-hour week basis. 

However, nurse anesthetists that work in hospitals have a much different schedule than those who work in private practices. They may be required to work anywhere from 8 to 24 hour shifts depending on the hospital’s needs. Nurse anesthetists that work longer hours typically work less shifts throughout the week to avoid working more than 40 to 50 hours a week.

Types of nurse anesthetists

Nurse anesthetists can choose to specialize in different areas of practice in their field. A nurse anesthetist will typically focus on providing services in their specialty rather than switching between departments. Here are the most popular specialties amongst nurse anesthetists: 

  • Pediatrics – A pediatric nurse anesthetist is responsible for providing anesthesia to children 17 and younger who are going into surgery. They are experts on dosage amounts based on a child’s age, weight, and background. This nurse anesthetist will also handle care and pain management for children after their procedure. 
  • Obstetric – This nurse anesthetist provides pain relief during labor and anesthesia for cesarean deliveries. They are trained to give epidurals in the patient’s lower back for deliveries as well as regional anesthesia for C-sections. 
  • Cardiovascular – Cardiovascular nurse anesthetists are trained to provide anesthesia during heart surgery. This specialty may require advanced airway and post-resuscitation management. 
  • Plastic – Every cosmetic procedure requires some sort of local or general anesthesia. Plastic nurse anesthetists become familiar with these cosmetic operations to provide the right medication and anesthesia to their patient.
  • Dental – Some dental procedures require local, sedation, or general anesthesia. This type of nurse anesthetists will be trained to administer the correct anesthesia dosage for various dental work. 

Income potential

A nurse anesthetist salary range can fluctuate based on the state you live in, your education, your speciality, and the amount of experience you have:

  • The average annual salary for a nurse anesthetist is $200,800 and can range anywhere from $173,672 to $231,940. 
  • A nurse anesthetist’s salary can vary greatly depending on the state you live in, so it is wise to check your specific state’s data. For instance, Arizona, Montana, Wyoming, and New Jersey pay nurse anesthetists the most at $196,000 – $199,000. Meanwhile, Louisiana, Texas, and North Carolina offer the lowest salaries between $137,000 – $148,000.  
  • The median income for this occupation is $185,099 per year. 

Keep in mind that nurse anesthetists can also work part-time, so their wage may be determined by the number of hours they clock in. The average pay for nurse anesthetists in the United States is $90 an hour. Considering a part-time position as a nurse anesthetist would allow you to earn around  $5,400 – $7,200 a month, which adds up to be  $64,800 – $86,400 a year. 

Most nurse anesthetists choose to specialize in a specific area, which gives them an opportunity to grow in the workplace. This can be financially rewarding as well. Plastic and cardiovascular nurse anesthetists typically make the most money in the field at $174,000 – $188,000.

Position trends

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the job market to grow by 45% over the next ten years for nurse anesthetists. This increased demand for nurse anesthetists is a result of needing to replace workers that leave the field to retire.

Career path

As a certified nurse anesthetist, you will have different opportunities to work in different health care positions. Many people who go to school to become a nurse anesthetist can continue on to become an anesthesiologist, dentist, or another medical doctor. The knowledge and skills you gain from becoming a nurse anesthetist will prepare you for more advanced positions in the field. 

Below is a list of positions that are organic career paths for nurse anesthetists:

  • Registered Nurse
  • Nurse Practitioner 
  • Anesthesiologist
  • Physician Assistant
  • Dental Assistant
  • Emergency Medical Technician
  • Respiratory Therapist
  • Escrow Officer
  • Medical Laboratory Technologist
  • Home Health Aide
  • Pharmacy Technician
  • Dental Assistant
  • Emergency Medical Technician
  • Respiratory Therapist
  • Surgical Technologist
  • Health Educator
  • Gynecologist
  • Nurse Midwife
  • Title Processor

Steps to become a nurse anesthetist

The career path steps to becoming a nurse anesthetist include:

1. Earn your bachelor’s degree in nursing 

Anyone looking to become a nurse anesthetist must first earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing. This will provide you with the knowledge and skills needed to properly care for your patients by learning about good bedside manner, measuring and recording vitals, and helping patients understand aftercare and medication instructions. Some classes you’ll need to take as prerequisites for your master’s degree include: 

  • Anatomy and physiology – Anatomy and physiology focus on the structures and functions of the human body. These courses allow aspiring nurse anesthetists to learn how they can stabilize a patient’s body when homeostasis is disrupted. 
  • Chemistry – You will most likely take two chemistry classes during your undergraduate degree: general and organic chemistry. Chemistry is essential for nurse anesthetists to learn since it teaches them how bodies metabolize certain medications and foods.   
  •  Biology – Biology helps us understand how living things function, evolve, and interact. Biology is critical for health care workers to learn to understand the function and interactions of the  ten major systems in our body.
  • Pharmacology – Introductory pharmacology courses will teach students how different medications and drugs affect our biological systems.

2. Pass the NCLEX-RN examination

Once you graduate with your bachelor’s degree in nursing, you’ll need to pass the NCLEX-RN examination to become a registered nurse. You must take the NCLEX-RN exam through the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) to become legally certified in your state. The test is divided into the following four sections:  

  • Safe and Effective Care Environment
  • Health Promotion and Maintenance
  • Psychosocial Integrity
  • Physiological Integrity

The passing standard for NCLEX-RN is 0.00 logits, which is determined by the difficulty of questions and the candidate’s estimated ability to answer them.

3. Obtain your master’s degree from an accredited CRNA program

Once you become a certified registered nurse, you will be eligible to start applying to CRNA programs. You must attend a CRNA program that is accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA). Their website provides an abundance of resources on different CRNA schools, including location, program duration, GPA and GRE requirements, full time vs part time, and application deadlines. The most popular CRNA programs in the nation include: 

No matter the program you choose, make sure that they are accredited by:

4. Find your passion through a subspeciality

A nurse anesthetist has the option to subspecialize in areas they’re more passionate about. During your clinical hours as a student, you should have the opportunity to work within different departments to get a feel on where you would best fit. 

Here are some of the areas you can subspecialize in:

  • Critical Care
  • Obstetric
  • Pediatrics
  • Dental
  • Surgery
  • Plastic
  • Pain Management
  • Cardiovascular
  • Neurosurgical 

Sub-specializing in any of these areas open doors to advanced opportunities at work. Becoming an expert in any of the above disciplines can increase clinical confidence, decision making ability, and overall job satisfaction.

5. Gain clinical hours and experience

As your time as a student, you will have the opportunity to earn clinical hours to gain experience as a nurse anesthetist. This involves working alongside a CRNA or anesthesiologist in an operating room. There, you will learn how to use different equipment and techniques to properly administer medications and anesthesia to a patient. 

On average, students earn 733 clinical hours during their undergraduate nursing degree and 2,604 hours during their nurse anesthesia program. Most students also earn around 6,000 hours as a registered clinical care nurse. People looking to attend a nurse anesthesia school should have one or two years of experience in critical care nursing to be considered a competitive applicant for the program. 

6. Study and pass the national certification exam for nurse anesthetists

To become a certified nurse anesthetist, you must pass the National Certification Examination administered by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA). Students have three hours to complete the CRNA board exam that consists of 100 to 175 questions. All of these questions will fall under these four categories: 

  • Basic Sciences (25% of exam)
  • Equipment, Instrumentation, and Technology (15% of exam)
  • General Principles of Anesthesia (30% of exam)
  • Anesthesia for Surgical Procedures and Special Populations (30% of exam)

There is no time limit per question, however, each question must be answered. Once you have answered the question and moved on to the next question, you won’t have the option to go back and change your answers, so it is important to mark the choice that seems like the best fit. The national passing rate is 84.1%, so the majority of graduates are able to pass the examination.

7. Apply for state licensure

Every state has different qualifications for earning your license as a nurse anesthetist, so it is essential to look up your state’s requirements. However, every candidate must provide their state board of nursing with the following to become certified: 

  • Active registered nurse (RN) license
  • Completion of an accredited nurse anesthesia education program
  • The results of your state board exam from the NBCRNA
  • Completed licensing application
  • Application fee

8. Fulfill continuing education requirements

Certified nurse anesthetists must recertify every four years, which involves taking 60 Class A credits and 40 Class B credits. They will also have to take a Continued Professional Certification (CPC) assessment every 8 years. This will evaluate your knowledge on:

  • Airway Management
  • Applied Physiology and Pathophysiology
  • Applied Clinical Pharmacology
  • Anesthesia Equipment, Technology, and Safety

There are both paid and free certification classes offered by AANA.

Tips for becoming a nurse anesthetist

If you are interested in becoming a nurse anesthetist, there are a few things you should do to become successful in your role. Here are some tips for becoming a nurse anesthetist:

  • Research the licensing requirements in your state to legally practice as a nurse anesthetist. This will allow you to prepare ahead and fulfill the prerequisites needed before you pass your state boards exam. 
  • It is important for you to maintain a good GPA to be considered for competitive CRNA programs. Look up the minimum GPA requirement for schools you’re interested in. 
  • Become familiar with associations that offer resources and advocates for nurse anesthetists:
  • Start building personal qualities that will help you work effectively in this position such as: communication skills, compassion, patience, and critical thinking skills.
  • Make time to study throughout your schooling. You will need to know the information you learned during your time at school for the national certification exam. 
  • Gaining experience in a critical care unit will prepare students for the CRNA program by receiving training on invasive lines, ventilator support, hemodynamic monitoring, and vasoactive infusions.
  • Look into different subspecialities you could potentially be interested in. This allows you to work in specialty medical groups and practices such as cardiac-care centers, dental offices, or pediatric hospitals.

Nurse anesthetist FAQs