What Is a Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)?

CRNAs oversee the anesthesia process during medical procedures. Find out what credentials nurse anesthetists need and how the process is changing.
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  • Nurse anesthetists work in hospitals and other medical facilities administering anesthesia.
  • Depending on their graduation date, nurse anesthetists must have an accredited master's or doctoral degree.
  • Nurse anesthetists also need to pass the certification exam and apply for state licensure.

Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) need to know how to assess patients, safely administer anesthesia, and monitor patients during various medical procedures.

Accredited CRNA programs include a master's in nursing anesthesia, a doctor of nurse practice, or a doctor of nurse anesthesia practice.

Nurse anesthetist jobs require certification and state licensure. Explore the education, certification, and licensure requirements for CRNAs below, along with some of the career opportunities available.

What Does a Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) Do?

Nurse anesthetists provide anesthesia and pain management services to patients during surgery and other procedures under the supervision of a physician.

As a nurse anesthetist, you'll discuss pain management needs and options with the patient and provide pre-op and aftercare services as needed. You'll also monitor the patient's vital signs during the procedure and make any needed adjustments to the anesthesia.

Where Do Nurse Anesthetists Work?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 32% of nurse anesthetists work in general medical and surgical hospitals. Health practitioner offices, outpatient care centers, and postsecondary schools also employ these professionals.

Nurse Anesthetist vs. Anesthesiologist

CRNA vs. anesthesiologist differences depend on the state, but there are some general distinctions between the two professions and the requirements. Anesthesiologists are medical doctors who earned a mean annual wage of $331,190 in May 2021, as per the BLS.

Nurse anesthetists are advanced practice registered nurses. Currently, they must have a master's degree at minimum and RN licensure. Starting in 2025, CRNAs must have a doctorate to practice. Their mean annual wage was $202,470 in May 2021.

In many states, CRNAs need supervision from a physician like an anesthesiologist.

How Much Does a Nurse Anesthetist Make?

According to the BLS, nurse anesthetists made a median annual salary of $195,610 as of 2021. The highest-paid nurse anesthetists work in hospital settings as opposed to in private clinics or outpatient care centers.

Most CRNAs in this role work full time, with some on-call and weekend hours required — for example, for childbirth and emergency surgical procedures.

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What Degree Do You Need to Be a Nurse Anesthetist?

In the past, CRNAs needed a master's degree at minimum, but the requirements for future nurse anesthetists have changed. According to the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs, professionals entering the field in 2025 or beyond must have a doctorate.

CRNAs can pursue different types of doctorate in nurse anesthetist programs, including a doctor of nurse practice (DNP), a doctor of nurse anesthesia practice (DNAP), or a Ph.D. After completing your doctoral program, you need to pass the National Certification Examination and apply for state licensure.

Nurse Anesthetist Schooling and Certification Requirements

To become a nurse anesthetist, you need a combination of education, experience, and examination. Below, we outline the typical steps required for CRNA schooling and certification.

Education Requirements

  • Obtain a BSN degree.
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN exam for RN licensure.
  • Earn at least one year of critical care experience.
  • Obtain an MSN degree (prior to 2025) or a CRNA doctorate (2025 and beyond).
  • Pass the National Certification Examination.

Certification Process

To practice as a CRNA, you need valid certification and state licensure. Certification runs through the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists. To qualify for the national exam, you need to complete an accredited CRNA program.

Once certified, you can apply for licensure within your state.

Frequently Asked Questions About Nurse Anesthetists

How long does it take to become a nurse anesthetist?

The length of time it takes to become a nurse anesthetist varies, but it often takes up to nine years in total. Typically, you need to spend four years on your BSN and one year acquiring RN experience.

Then you spend 2-3 years in a master's in anesthesia program or 3-4 years in a doctoral program. Competitive CRNA programs may require or prefer more than one year of nursing experience, so you may need to commit to more than 10 years after high school.

Is a nurse anesthetist a doctor?

No. While after 2025, nurse anesthetists must have doctorates, they are still advanced practice registered nurses. Anesthesiologists are medical doctors.

CRNAs provide very similar services to anesthesiologists. They administer anesthesia and support patients during this process. In some states, nurse anesthetists can even provide this care without supervision.

How hard is it to become a nurse anesthetist?

It can be challenging to become a nurse anesthetist because of the time, education, and certifications required.

BSN and RN licensure requires a solid science and medical foundation. CRNA programs cover advanced pharmacology and pathophysiology, plus organic chemistry and healthcare policy. CRNA students also need to complete an extensive clinical component.

Despite the rigorous studies required to become a CRNA, you can find success in your nurse anesthetist schooling by dedicating yourself to the process and committing the appropriate amount of time.

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