How to Become a CRNA

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Written by Kathleen Walder Content Writer, IntelyCare
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Reviewed by Morganne Skinner, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
Nurse anesthetist on the job

If you’re looking for a nursing career with one of the top salaries and more autonomy than most other nursing positions, you should take a look at how to become a CRNA (certified registered nurse anesthetist). Let’s explore what a person in this role does, what education you need, the job outlook, and the average CRNA salary, plus the highest-paying states for this profession.

What Is a CRNA and What Does a CRNA Do?

The basic definition of a nurse anesthetist is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) trained and certified to administer anesthesia to patients who are undergoing medical procedures, surgery, labor and delivery, and emergency care.

CRNAs can also work with a multidisciplinary healthcare team to treat patients who are in chronic pain to help them improve and maintain their quality of life.

So, what is a CRNA expected to do for a patient? When working on a case, a CRNA might:

  • Take a patient’s medical history
  • Review charts to formulate an anesthesia plan
  • Educate patients before and after a procedure
  • Administer anesthesia during surgery or other procedures
  • Monitor the patient’s vital signs
  • Manage ventilators
  • Assist the surgical team during an emergency
  • Observe the patient after a procedure and assist in their recovery

What Are the Steps to Become a CRNA?

There are many educational requirements for this role, beginning with completing a graduate degree from an accredited nursing program and ending with passing a national exam. This is the typical process to learn how to become a CRNA.

1. Complete the steps to a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) at an accredited four-year college or university. If you hold an associate degree in nursing (ADN), you can enroll in a bridge program to earn your BSN. There are also some master of science in nursing (MSN) programs that offer an option for nurses with their ADN.

2. Pass the NCLEX exam to earn your RN license.

3. Gain 1 to 3 years of clinical experience in a critical care setting such as an intensive care unit, emergency department, or operating room.

4. Then you’ll need to apply to a nurse anesthesia program to work toward a doctoral degree — either a DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) or a DNAP (Doctor of Nursing Anesthesia Practice).

5. The final step is passing the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA). Many states also require you to hold an unencumbered APRN license.

You’ll need to complete continuing education regularly, though the exact requirements differ by state.

Understanding how to become a CRNA also involves honing your soft skills. The anesthetist usually sits by the patient’s head during surgery and other procedures, so they often are the one to comfort the patient and help calm their nerves.

How Many Years Does It Take to Become a Nurse Anesthetist?

Depending on the state where you practice, becoming a nurse anesthetist takes from 7 to 10 years to complete the education, licensing, and certification.

What Is a Nurse Anesthetist Skill Set?

Along with the technical skills taught in classes and experience, a CRNA resume should also feature:

  • Problem-solving skills
  • Ability to measure, calculate, reason, and analyze
  • Strong communication and interpersonal skills
  • Ability to work under pressure

How Much Do Nurse Anesthetists Make?

CRNAs have one of the top salaries in nursing. The average CRNA salary is $214,200 annually. Your anesthesiologist nurse salary will depend on where you work in the U.S. and what type of facility you work for. The states with the highest salaries for CRNA jobs are:

CRNA Job Outlook

The profession is one of the fastest-growing in nursing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for this position will grow 9% in the next 10 years — faster than the average for all other occupations. So, if you want to know how to become a CRNA, now is a great time to investigate.

The states with the highest employment numbers for nurse anesthetists are:

Where Do CRNAs Work?

You’ll find CRNAs working in medical and surgical hospitals, outpatient facilities, and in private practice offices with pain management specialists, dentists, plastic surgeons, and other medical professionals.

Opt-Out States for CRNAs

Depending on the state, CRNAs may have their own practice and work independently. There are 22 states that have opted out of the requirement for physician supervision:

What Is the Difference Between a Nurse Anesthetist and an Anesthesiologist?

You may have heard the term anesthesiologist. That title refers to a physician trained in anesthesia. A nurse anesthetist and an anesthesiologist perform the same tasks, but an anesthesiologist tends to work with more complicated cases in larger hospitals and supervise anesthetists on staff. Learn more about the differences between a nurse practitioner vs. a doctor.

Find Career Opportunities

Now that you know how to become a CRNA, you may be interested in advancing your career. Learn how IntelyCare can keep you informed on the latest nursing jobs in a variety of specialty areas.