Learn About Being a Nurse Anesthetist

By Indeed Editorial Team

January 18, 2022

A certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) is a type of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), but one who specializes in administering anesthesia. Nurse anesthetists help surgeons, anesthesiologists, dentists and other types of medical professionals ensure that anesthesia is safely administered to patients. In some cases, a nurse anesthetist is the only anesthetist on call at a given medical practice or health care facility. Some CRNAs are independent health care professionals, which means that they work without being supervised by a physician.

A certified registered nurse anesthetist is also responsible for stabilizing the patient throughout certain procedures and overseeing that patient’s recovery. Specific tasks include examining a patient’s medical history and administering anesthesia to the epidural area, the spine or directly to nerves. A nurse anesthetist’s process also has the following duties:

  • Evaluating the patient and determining the best anesthetic plan based on allergies, sensitivities and other relevant healthcare factors

  • Prepping an operating room, making sure the right equipment for surgery and/or any procedure that takes place there

  • Advising the patient of the process before and after anesthesia is administered

  • Administering anesthesia to the patient

  • Monitoring the patient’s vitals during and after the procedure

  • Communicating with physicians, nurses or other medical staff before, during and after procedures to ensure adequate patient care

Average salary

Salaries for nurse anesthetists may vary depending on their level of experience, employer type, specialty, shift and geographic location. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $152,963 per year

  • Salaries range from $49,000 to $414,000 per year.

Nurse anesthetist requirements

Becoming a nurse anesthetist requires a combination of the following:

Education

These professionals typically begin their career by earning a Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) degree or an equivalent. To become a CRNA, they must also earn a master’s degree from a nurse anesthesia education program that is accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA). During the graduate course study, these professionals complete courses in the areas of pharmacology, physiology, pathology and anatomy. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) states that the program the nurse enters can last from 24 to 51 months, depending on the university the nurse in training attends,

Training

While earning their BSN, these professionals complete clinical rounds where they practice patient care techniques in a variety of health care fields. After completing their BSN, many become registered nurses and receive more on-the-job training and experience. This training and experience often include learning how to manage a patient’s airway, administering anesthesia locally and intravenously and maintaining patient files.

While studying in their graduate program, nurse anesthetists complete more specialized training under the supervision of experienced instructors in the classroom as well as current practicing nurse anesthetists and anesthesiologists while in clinicals.

Certifications

Nurse anesthetists are required to be certified and licensed to practice. Some of the required certifications and licensure include:

Registered nurse (RN) license

These professionals can earn this license near the end of their undergraduate nursing studies or after completing their BSN. They take a state-proctored exam that tests medical knowledge, nursing best practices and other relevant healthcare policy and information.

Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) certification

After graduating from a masters-level nurse anesthetist program, these professionals must pass the certification exam hosted by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA). The initial certification exam is 100 to 170 questions that assess general medical science, equipment and operation as well as anesthesia principles. Recertification is required at least every eight years through additional continuing education credits and assessment.

  • An advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) license: Nearly every state in the U.S. requires nurse anesthetists to have an APRN license, except New York and Pennsylvania. To get this licensure, nurse anesthetists must provide proof of their completed masters-level program and certification exam.

Skills

To become a nurse anesthetist, they should have skills in the following areas to be most effective in the workplace:

Communication

Communication allows these medical professionals to talk to patients before and after procedures, explain medical terminology and processes in more universal terms. This skill also enables them to collaborate and provide information to other medical professionals, ensuring patients are safe and well cared for. They must be able to listen to others, give clear instructions and speak clearly about the anesthetic regimen the patient will undergo.

Critical thinking

They use critical thinking skills when analyzing patient medical histories to determine the best anesthesia plan. They also use critical thinking skills like problem-solving when monitoring the patient before, during and after certain procedures, like surgery, to anticipate any potential issues and ensure safe administering of anesthesia.

Leadership

Though many can practice independently, all CRNAs practice leadership skills such as decision-making and collaboration to ensure a patient’s comfort and safety. They may also act with confidence to help patients feel more secure in their care.

Organization

CRNAs must keep patient files organized, prepare equipment for procedures and make sure equipment is properly cleaned and maintained, which requires a level of organization.

Time management

Depending on the number of patients they have, CRNAs must be able to manage their time to serve as many patients as possible on any given day. Keeping track of diverse procedures and patient meetings may require strong time management. Also, time management is often used during procedures where these professionals need to administer anesthesia on a timed basis.

Nurse anesthetist work environment

Many nurse anesthesiologists work directly under anesthesiologists, though some states allow CRNAs to practice independently. Nurse anesthetists can work in a variety of medical facilities, including:

  • Medical and surgical hospitals, usually in operating rooms and delivery rooms

  • Outpatient centers

  • The offices of plastic surgeons, podiatrists, dentists and other medical professionals

  • Pain clinics

  • Trauma centers

Many positions are full-time and work Monday through Friday. Depending on the needs of their employer, they may work different shifts, such as overnight and during the weekend. As with many other medical professions, the nurse anesthetist work environment can be fast-paced, involving long periods of time standing, moving or sitting during certain procedures. 

How to become a nurse anesthetist

Here are the common steps to pursuing this career path:

1. Earn a Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) degree

This degree program provides hands-on clinical training in addition to comprehensive coursework in medical science and patient care. Some graduate-level nurse anesthetist programs prefer a BSN but may accept alternate bachelor’s degrees in related fields.

2. Obtain a registered nurse’s license

After completing your bachelor’s, become a registered nurse, and earn at least one year of nursing experience in a critical care setting. Previous nursing experience is often a requirement for nurse anesthetist programs.

3. Complete an anesthesia education program

The program must be accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Education Programs (COA). Coursework and training include patient care principles, equipment operation and medical science related to anesthesia, in addition to other relevant topics. Upon completion, you earn a specialized medical master’s degree.

4. Pass the National Certification Examination

The National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA) administers the exam, which includes multiple-choice questions, calculations, drag-and-drop items and diagrams. It covers topics on general medical science and patient care as well as specific information on anesthesia best practices.

5. Apply for APRN licensure

With this license, you can begin practice as a nurse anesthetist and may choose to work under an anesthesiologist or practice independently. This step is required in all states except New York and Pennsylvania.

6. Maintain certification

Also, you must take part in a recertification program through the NBCRNA. As part of the program, you must meet practice and license requirements. You must also earn a certain number of continuing education credits and professional development hours, complete additional training and pass the recertification exam. This process is done every eight years in two four-year cycles of education and training.

Nurse anesthetist job description example

A nurse anesthetist assists surgical teams and leads didactic and educational groups in a fast-paced, but supportive environment. The anesthetist will generally work under the supervision of the chief anesthesiologist to safely administer anesthesia to patients of all ages, as well as monitor patient vitals and clear patient pathways when needed. Occasionally, the nurse anesthetist will be required to teach student-registered nurses.

The nurse anesthetist must have good communication skills. Not only will the nurse anesthetist be talking to a team, but they must also inform patients and educate student-registered nurses about certain procedures and post-operative care.

Candidates are required to hold valid licensure as APRNs and have at least three years of experience in nursing healthcare. At least one year of experience as a CRNA, either in independent or supervised practice, is preferred.

Related careers

  • Registered nurse

  • Licensed practical nurse

  • Nurse practitioner

  • Anesthesiologist


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