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What is a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)?

What is a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)?

Being a nurse is a fulfilling and fantastic career. That being said, some nurses want to go above and beyond to pursue a specialty. For these nurses, specialization opportunities are plentiful and can lead to an extensive range of different careers. A nurse anesthetist is just one specialization available.

What is a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)?

A certified registered nurse anesthetist, or CRNA, is a nurse that works to help administer safe amounts of anesthesia during various medical procedures. They work closely with doctors and anesthesiologists to help administer the appropriate amount of anesthesia for each patient during different medical procedures. In most states, a nurse anesthetist is going to have to work under the supervision of an anesthesiologist or a doctor.

Key Roles and Tasks

A CRNA might perform tasks like working to manage the pain of a patient, stabilizing a patient during or after a medical procedure, and working to monitor patients after their procedure. This is a very important role as anesthesiologists can’t be on hand at all hours or may need to leave to help other patients. At this point the CRNA can take over and make sure that the current patient is still safe.

These vital nurses may work in hospitals, dental offices, skilled nursing facilities, and some may even make home visits to help patients manage pain.

A nurse anesthetist can expect to work with patients in all phases of life. They work with patients during diagnostic procedures, obstetrical procedures, and even therapeutic procedures that may require medication to be administered. CRNAs may also perform epidurals or spinal blocks during birth, provide care before and after anesthesia, examine the medical history of patients to point out any potential allergies, monitor the vital signs of the patient, and help to explain the side effects of anesthesia with patients.

Why are CRNAs Important?

As mentioned before, it may not be possible for an anesthesiologist to be on hand at all times. When this happens the CRNA can take over, which is especially helpful during an anesthesiologist’s break or when shifts overlap and anesthesiologists need to transfer information. Nurse anesthetists can not only provide IV medication and anesthesia as needed, but also any regular nursing duties that need to be done. In the armed forces, for instance, an anesthesiologist is often not on hand and a CRNA can help to administer the necessary anesthesia to get the procedure done.

How to Become a Nurse Anesthetist

Becoming a nurse anesthetist is not an easy process. It takes time, dedication and sacrifice. The process starts with attaining a bachelor’s degree in nursing and subsequently becoming a licensed registered nurse by taking the RN-NCLEX test and getting certified in your state. After becoming an RN you will need to get at least a year of experience in an acute care setting like an ICU or an ER. Subsequently, you’ll need to attend an accredited (by the Council on Accreditation for Nurse Anesthesia Education Programs) graduate-level anesthesia program. This can take anywhere from 24 to 36 months to complete.

After you have gotten your nurse anesthesia degree you will then need to take the certification exam, called the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists or the NBCRNA. You will need to recertify every four years with at least 100 hours of continuing education in four different content areas: airway management, applied pharmacology, human physiology and pathophysiology, and anesthesia technology. Many of these credits will be fulfilled in your everyday work.

Prerequisites for CRNA Programs

There are some prerequisites that must be met before being accepted into a CRNA program. The first is at least 2 years of experience as an RN, one full year of ICU experience and proof of a valid RN license. On top of that, you also need a bachelor’s degree, with coursework in chemistry, human anatomy, physiology, microbiology, and statistics. You will also need a 3.0 GPA, graduate-level writing skills, experience shadowing a CRNA, three references, college transcripts and more. This is a very lucrative and competitive career path and it is important that you take the time to be fully prepared for the application process.

Nurse Anesthetist Career Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), certified registered nurse anesthetists have a job growth rate of 31% in the years 2016-2026, a much higher than average rate. Needless to say, this is a great career to choose merely because of the demand. Health professionals are not going away anytime soon.

Career Crossover

Because being a CRNA is a specialty, their duties don’t often cross over with other professionals. Any crossover that could happen would be with anesthesiologists and nurse practitioners.

Necessary Skills

As with normal nursing, you are going to need to be able to communicate well with patients, simplifying things where necessary. You will also need to be able to think critically and make split-second decisions without second-guessing what you have done. Compassion is another skill that is highly valued. Your patients are going through some of the scariest and toughest times of their lives and compassion goes a long way to assuage the fears of someone that is about to be sedated. You will also need to have attention to detail and be able to multi-task and recall things well. You must also be able to pay attention to small changes that other people may not even notice such as changes in breathing or blood pressure when a patient is coming out of anesthesia. Lastly, you will also need to be able to have leadership skills. You may have to hold a place of authority and being able to take charge is going to make a big difference in how successful you are overall.

Salary and Employment

In the United States, the role of a nurse anesthetist is a fairly well-paid profession. They do have a great deal of responsibility and as such, they are going to have a larger salary than your typical nurse. On average, a nurse anesthetist is going to make around $78 per hour or $164,000 per year. Depending on what industry you ultimately become a part of, you may make more or less. For those in outpatient centers, the average is $180,000 while the average for those in physicians offices is $159,000.

The place with the most need for CRNAs is doctor’s offices followed by hospitals, outpatient care centers, health practitioners, and federal jobs rounding out the top five. Rural areas do not have a large concentration of anesthesiologists and are going to have a much higher need and pay for CRNAs.

Nurse Anesthetist Resources

Nurse Anesthetist FAQS

Q. Can a nurse anesthetist practice without a doctor or anesthesiologist?
A. For the most part, federal law requires that a nurse anesthetist practice under the direct supervision of a doctor or an anesthesiologist. In some states, however, a CRNA can practice on their own. The states include Alaska, California, Colorado, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Q. Can a CRNA write medical orders?
A. Though a CRNA has extensive medical training and they are working with medicines every day, they are not allowed to write medical orders without the supervision of an anesthesiologist or doctor unless they are practicing in a state that allows them to practice independently.

Q. Does it cost more to have an anesthesiologist care for you than a CRNA?
A. Since the services that are rendered by a CRNA are not billed the same as those that are billed by an anesthesiologist, it does cost more to have an anesthesiologist administer anesthesia, even if it is the exact same kind and dosage that a CRNA would administer.

Q. Does a CRNA have to be a nurse first?
A. Yes, a CRNA has to have experience as and be a registered nurse before they can become a CRNA. This means that if you are looking to become a CRNA you will need to be an RN for a few years first.

Q. Does a CRNA have to have a master’s degree?
A. Yes, to work as a CRNA you must achieve the required master’s degree.

Helpful Organizations

As with any career, it is always helpful to have a few resources that you can refer to for more information. Here are a few that can either help you on your way to becoming a CRNA or that can help you to further your current CRNA career.

American Association of Nurse Anesthetists

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists Fact Sheet

American Nurses Association

American Association of Colleges of Nursing  

CRNA Scholarship Opportunities

List of CRNA Programs

Nursing is a career that many people love and though they may love it, there are just as many people that want to further their career and find a new path that allows them to do more for patients. Becoming a CRNA is a fantastic opportunity that can truly change the lives of those that you care for. For more information, contact us today!

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