Nurse Anesthetist CRNA Guide

Debra Riley


Complete CRNA guide covering all you need to know about Nurse Anesthetists in the United States. This guide covers everything – what is a CRNA, how to become a Nurse Anesthetist, job description, training and more.

The nursing field provides attractive career options for those who are interested in helping others. It also includes a wide variety of specializations, including nurse anesthetist. This career path is highly sought after partly due to the exciting nature of the job – but mainly because it is one of the best paid nursing careers.

Whether you are a registered nurse wanting to further your career or a student considering career paths, you should learn what it takes to become a Nurse Anesthetist.

What Is a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist CRNA?

Nurse anesthetists are advanced practice nurses who are certified to give anesthesia. These nurses work in many of the same settings as regular registered nurses, including hospitals and public health facilities.

A certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) is not the same as an anesthesiologist. Anesthesiologists are medical doctors who practice anesthesia. They are typically physicians who specialize in delivering anesthesia.

They are one of four types of registered nurses that are called Advanced Practice Nurses (APRNs). To become a CRNA, you must first become a Registered Nurse (RN) and then obtain a Doctoral degree focusing on anesthesia, Doctor of Nursing Practice.

Recent changes to how CRNA’s are trained have come into practice due to new legislation.

The Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA) requires that all students matriculating into a nurse anesthesia educational program on January 1, 2022 or thereafter be enrolled in a program approved by the COA to award a practice doctoral degree.”

These changes are necessary because The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists(AANA) has stated that,

By 2025 all CRNA programs change from the current Master of Science in Nurse Anesthesia degree to a Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice. All nurse anesthetists qualified before 2025 will not have to go back and study as they will be “grandfathered” in.

CRNAs may also perform many of the same duties as a registered nurse, depending on the healthcare setting. However, they may have specific duties related to their specialization, such as preparing patients for anesthesia and ensuring that other medications do not interact with the anesthesia.

What Is the Role of a Nurse Anesthetist – Job Description?

Nurse anesthetists give people anesthesia. However, there is much more to the role of CRNAs in a typical healthcare setting. As a CRNA, you may need to perform the following tasks:

  • Perform detailed health assessments
  • Explain the use of anesthesia to patients
  • Obtain consent from patients to deliver anesthesia
  • Administer the anesthesia to patients
  • Monitor patients while under anesthesia

Nurse anesthetists also often coordinate patient care with multiple departments. In fact, they may be required to work in various departments, depending on the setting. Some of the healthcare facilities where CRNAs may find employment include:

  • Hospitals
  • Children’s hospitals
  • Trauma and critical care units
  • Plastic surgery facilities
  • Dental offices

The exact details vary from setting to setting. Keep in mind that working as a CRNA can include both negative and positive aspects. It is often a very stressful yet rewarding job.

nurse anesthetist crna guide

How Do You Become a CRNA – Training Outline?

If you are interested in a career as a CRNA, there are a series of steps that you need to complete. However, you should first ensure that you have the traits and skills needed to work in the healthcare field, such as:

  1. Ability to multitask
  2. Detail orientation
  3. Ability to work under pressure
  4. Empathy and patience
  5. Critical thinking skills

The path to becoming a nurse anesthetist also includes specific educational requirements. CRNAs are RNs who have earned Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degrees. 

However due to the changes in how CRNA’s are trained many CRNA schools are implementing new doctoral programs  (DNP). Nurse Practitioners are alos APRN’s with different specializations.

While completing your MDNP, you get to choose a specialty track that requires additional certification. The nurse anesthetist is one of the specialty tracks that is occasionally offered at DNP programs at nursing schools.

Unfortunately, the nurse anesthetist track is not available at all nursing schools. For those wanting to become a CRNA, it is important to review the details of the DNP program at the university you apply to. Make sure that the nursing school you choose includes this specialty!

How Long Does it Take to Become a CRNA?

If you are a high school graduate, it may take six to seven years to become a fully qualified CRNA.

Before getting accepted into an DNP in Anesthesia program, you typically need to earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) – Registered Nurse training. You also need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam to receive your RN licensure.

There are a few exceptions to this typical path to becoming a CRNA. Some nurses start their education and careers with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). Some universities offer ADN to BSN or ADN to MSN programs or MSN-DNP programs.

Students who already have bachelor’s degrees in a non-nursing field may also qualify for an accelerated BSN or MSN program.

Earning a BSN typically takes four years unless you qualify for one of the accelerated programs for RNs and those with existing baccalaureate degrees. The accelerated programs often take two years to complete with some nursing schools offering fast-paced 15-month programs.

After earning a BSN, it often takes two years to earn an MSN. Another two years of education are needed to go from an MSN to a DNP.

What Should You Expect From CRNA Courses?

crna course

Many MSN programs are offered online to accommodate working students, such as working RNs seeking their BSN, MSN, or DNP degrees.

While enrolled in an DNP program with a nurse anesthetist concentration, students complete a variety of advanced practice nursing classes along with classes that focus specifically on the role of nurse anesthetist.

Some of the general courses that you may need to take include:

  • Theoretical foundations for health professionals
  • Advanced pharmacology
  • Human anatomy and physiology

Besides these general courses, students need to complete classes related to their specialty tracks. Common nurse anesthetist courses include:

  • Principles of anesthesia
  • Advanced pathophysiology in anesthesia
  • Clinical anesthesia
  • Research methods
  • Analysis of health policy issues
  • Advanced acute and chronic pain management

These courses are typically offered during a nine-semester program, which takes about three years to complete.

Do You Need a Certification to Become a CRNA?

Similar to becoming a registered nurse, you need to obtain a certification after earning your degree. The certifying body responsible for the CRNA credentials is the National Board of Certification & Recertification of Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA).

Students are prepared for this exam throughout their DNP programs. The NBCRNA also provides a detailed handbook that outlines the topics covered on the exam.

Before taking the exam, RNs must meet a few requirements:

  1. You must have an active RN license.
  2. You must have a graduate degree.
  3. You must provide a record of your clinical experiences.

Your RN license needs to be active and unrestricted.  DNP programs fulfill the graduate degree requirement. However, these degrees must come from an accredited DNP  program with a nurse anesthetist specialty track.

You cannot submit the record of clinical experience yourself. It is submitted by the administrator of the nurse anesthetist program that you completed. Both you and the administrator need to sign the record, which shows that you have met the minimum requirements to take the exam.

What Is the Difference Between Certification and Licensure?

After passing the exam, you earn your CRNA certification. However, this is not the same as a license. The CRNA certification simply means that you are competent to give anesthesia to patients in a clinical setting. To work as a CRNA in your state, you also need to obtain your CRNA license.

The CRNA license is obtained through your State Board of Nursing. The details and requirements for obtaining a license vary. However, the required testing comes after you earn your certification.

What Is the Job Outlook for Nurse Anesthetists?

crna job prospects

Nurse anesthetists are advanced practice nurses, which means that they have a specialty and have completed additional education. This often increases the career prospects for those in the nursing field.

The need for skilled registered nurses is expected to increase by 16% to 18% by 2025. The need for CRNAs is expected to increase by about 30% during the same period. CRNAs have additional qualifications that should offer greater job stability compared to a standard RN.

In many healthcare settings, administrators are choosing to hire CRNAs instead of new anesthesiologists. CRNAs are paid less and readily available to fill these positions. However, CRNAs are still among the top-paid nurses in the nursing field.

How Much Can a Nurse Anesthetist Earn?

The average pay for nurse anesthetists is $169,450 per year. Currently, the average salary for an RN is $73,550 – a substantial difference! However, the salary scales vary from state to state.

For example, CRNAs have an average salary of $252,460 in Montana – the highest paid state for a CRNA. Wyoming and California are the next highest paid states both well over $210k.

The state with the lowest average salary for CRNAs is Arizona, where CRNAs make an average of $139,500 per year. However, this is still much higher than the $52,000 median household income in the state.

Have a look at our main CRNA Salary page for a very detailed breakdown of salaries in all states.

What Is the Next Step for Learning More About CRNAs?

If you want to pursue a career as a CRNA, the next step is to evaluate the educational requirements. If you have a high school diploma or a GED, you may need to start by enrolling in a BSN program.

For RNs with BSNs, the next step is earning an MSN or DNP with a focus on nurse anesthetist. If you have an undergraduate degree in a field other than nursing, there are accelerated BSN and MSN programs.

No matter which type of nursing program you need to complete, you should compare your options. There are hundreds of nursing schools across the country. Some schools offer access to dozens of healthcare sites for your clinical experiences or hands-on training at state-of-the-art simulation labs.

When comparing these options, consider the tuition, the reputation of the school, the accreditation, and the pass rate for the nursing exams.

This is one of the best nursing careers in terms of earning potential – which explains the long term nature of the training and certification required. It is a high prestige and high pressure career – but also a very rewarding one.

CRNA Resources:

AANA American Association of Nurse Anesthetists
National Board of Certification & Recertification of Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA).
American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine