How to Become a Nurse Anesthetist

Nurse anesthetists earn the highest salary in nursing. Learn how to become a nurse anesthetist with our step-by-step walkthrough.
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  • Nurse anesthetists are the highest paid nurses.
  • With no prior nursing experience, you can expect to spend around 7-10 years training for nurse anesthesia roles.
  • In addition to a graduate degree, nurse anesthetists complete over 9,000 hours of clinical training.

Today, nursing careers report strong demand. Advanced practice registered nurses provide primary and specialty care for patients. And among these well-paid nurses, nurse anesthetists report the highest salary.

Becoming a nurse anesthetist takes several years. These highly trained nurses complete a focused graduate program of nurse anesthetist schooling. And the average graduate from a nurse anesthesia program brings over 9,300 hours of clinical experience, according to the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology (AANA). Discover how to become a nurse anesthetist in our following guide.

7 Steps to Become a Nurse Anesthetist

Nurse anesthetists must hold a graduate degree in nursing and pass a specialized exam. However, RN licensure is the first step in the multi-year process of becoming a nurse anesthetist. This section walks through the steps required to work as a nurse anesthetist.

Step 1: Earn a BSN

Before applying to nurse anesthetist schooling programs, you need a bachelor's degree. In most cases, it's best to earn a BSN degree. However, if you're interested in choosing a non-nursing major, you may still qualify for admission to some graduate programs. RNs can also meet this requirement in a RN-to-BSN program.

During an undergraduate nursing program, you gain hands-on training while strengthening key soft skills. If you're planning to become a nurse anesthetist, you can benefit from clinical rotations in acute and emergency care settings. Clinical rotations are also a great time to choose a career path. If you attend a public college for your BSN degree, you can expect to spend around $10,000 per year on tuition and fees, according to NurseJournal.

Step 2: Pass the NCLEX Exam

After earning a nursing degree, you must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to qualify for a registered nursing license. The exam, administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), includes 75-145 questions. You have up to five hours to complete the computer adaptive test.

If you demonstrate proficiency in less time, you pass before completing the full exam. You can expect to begin preparing for the NCLEX-RN exam during your program. You can also take practice tests to study for the exam.

Step 3: Obtain RN Licensure

Before you can receive an advanced practice RN license, you need your RN license. Each state sets its own requirements and process for earning an RN license. The fees for an RN license also vary by state.

However, in every state, you must meet educational requirements and pass the NCLEX-RN exam. For example, California requires a nursing diploma or degree from a state-approved program. Check the RN license requirements in your state to learn more.

Step 4: Work in an Acute Care Setting

As a nurse, you can find jobs that help advance your specific career goals. You can also start career planning during your RN program. Many nurse anesthetist programs require 1-3 years of experience in an acute care setting.

Working in an ICU, emergency room, or other critical care setting meets this requirement. These roles strengthen your decision-making and critical thinking skills. In acute care settings, you can also learn how to work under pressure. ICU nurses can expect to make around $35 per hour for entry-level positions, according to May 2024 data from Payscale.

Step 5: Earn Your DNP

Nurse anesthetists need a graduate degree. Unlike other fields with alternatives to grad school, nurse anesthetists must complete a doctoral program.

Previously, nurse anesthetists could earn a master's degree in nursing to practice. However, starting in 2025, nurse anesthetists will need a doctorate to practice.

DNP programs typically take three years to complete. During your graduate program, you complete over 2,500 clinical hours. According to NurseJournal, the average annual tuition cost for DNP programs at public institutions is about $55,000. As a nurse, you can benefit from many grad school and nursing-specific scholarships, as well as other funding opportunities.

Step 6: Get Certified from the NBCRNA

In every state, nurse anesthetists must hold certification from the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA). For certification, you must pass an exam that measures your nurse anesthesia knowledge and skills. The test topics include basic sciences, equipment and instrumentation, and general anesthesia principles. It also covers anesthesia for surgical procedures and special populations.

The variable-length test uses a computer adaptive format. You answer 100-170 questions to assess your qualifications, and have up to three hours to pass.

Step 7: Earn Advanced Practice RN Licensure

Once you become a certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), you can apply for an advanced practice RN license through your state. The licensure process varies by state. Some states offer a nurse anesthetist license, while others offer a more general APRN license.

You must provide information about your educational program and NBCRNA credential. You may also need to complete a background check. Once complete, you can then practice in your state.

Nurse Anesthetist Degrees for You

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

What Does a Nurse Anesthetist Do?

Nurse anesthetists specialize in pain management. They administer anesthesia during a surgical or obstetric procedure. Nurse anesthetists administer general anesthesia and local anesthesia, depending on the medical procedure.

If you're a current RN seeking a career change, you can become a nurse anesthetist with 1-3 years of critical care experience and a graduate degree from a nurse anesthesia program. This route typically takes 2-3 years if you don't yet have a BSN or 3-4 years if you're an RN without your BSN. If you have no prior healthcare experience, it can take about 7-10 years to become a nurse anesthetist.

Nurse Anesthetist Responsibilities

  • Meet with patients before a procedure to discuss allergies, illnesses, and other factors that might influence pain management options.
  • Administer anesthesia before a surgical or diagnostic procedure that requires general or local anesthesia.
  • Administer anesthesia in labor and delivery settings, including for c-sections.
  • Monitor patients during medical procedures to adjust their anesthesia.
  • Meet with patients after a procedure to recommend pain management strategies.

Nurse Anesthetist Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

What to Know Before Becoming a Nurse Anesthetist

Accreditation

You must attend an accredited nursing school to earn your certification. As a result, it's especially important to pay attention to accreditation status. In addition to programmatic accreditation, you should also look for accredited schools. You can also earn your degree from an accredited online nursing program.

Cost

The total cost of an online program to become a nurse anesthetist can easily exceed $100,000. First, you need a BSN degree, which costs about $10,000 in tuition and fees per year, on average, if you attend a public school.

Then, you must earn your DNP degree, which costs about $61,000 per year, on average. This figure includes tuition, housing, and fees. You can save by comparing online and on-campus programs and paying attention to the hidden costs of education.

Salary

Nurse anesthetists reported a median salary of $212,650 per year in May 2023, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. That makes nurse anesthetists the highest paid nurses. But salaries vary by location, industry, and education. For example, the states with the highest nurse anesthetist salaries include Connecticut, New Jersey, Illinois, and West Virginia.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Nurse Anesthetist

What qualifications do you need to become a nurse anesthetist?

To become a nurse anesthetist, you need a graduate degree from an accredited nurse anesthesia program. However, before applying to graduate programs, you typically need a registered nursing license, a bachelor's degree in nursing, and 1-3 years of experience in a critical care setting.

After meeting these requirements, you can apply to a DNP program in nurse anesthesiology. These programs often include a heavy clinical component. At the end of these programs, you apply for certification through the NBCRNA, which requires passing scores on a national certification exam. Once you pass the exam, you can officially become a certified registered nurse anesthetist.

How many years does it take to become a nurse anesthetist?

Most nurse anesthetists spend around 7-10 years in training. First, you need a bachelor's in nursing and a registered nursing license. This typically takes four years. Then, you gain 1-3 years of experience as an RN in a critical care setting, such as an ICU or emergency room.

After gaining professional experience, you can apply to nurse anesthesia programs. These programs typically take 2-3 years, depending on the degree level and nursing school. At the end of a nurse anesthesia program, you take a national certification exam to become a CRNA.

Is it hard to become a nurse anesthetist?

Yes, it is challenging to become a nurse anesthetist. These highly trained nurses bring years of specialized training. First, you need an RN license and experience in an acute care setting. Most nurses meet this requirement by working in an ICU, ER, or medical-surgical role.

Then, you apply to an accredited doctoral program. These programs generally include over 2,500 hours of clinical training, according to the AANA. After graduating with a doctorate degree, you study for a national certification exam. In 2023, around 83% of test-takers passed the exam, according to the NBCRNA.

Can I become a nurse anesthetist with an online degree?

Yes, there are a many online nurse anesthesia programs. In these programs, you complete coursework in a virtual format while meeting clinical requirements locally. Most nurse anesthetist schooling operates in a traditional format where you attend classes in person.

Online programs appeal most to working nurses, and you can often meet clinical requirements at your current workplace.

How much money can I make as a nurse anesthetist?

According to BLS data from May 2023, the median nurse anesthetist salary exceeded $200,000. Salaries vary by location and industry. Nurse anesthetists in outpatient care centers, specialty hospitals, and medical and surgical hospitals report salaries above the median.

The top-paying states for nurse anesthetists include Connecticut, New Jersey, and Illinois. All of these states report average nurse anesthetist salaries of over $250,000 per year. Nurse anesthetists also see salary increases with experience, like other healthcare professionals.

Note: The insights on this page — excluding school descriptions — were reviewed by an independent third party compensated for their time by BestColleges. Page last reviewed 2023.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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