Before we explain how to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist we’ll first talk about what a nurse anesthetist does in order to provide an understanding of what their duties are and why they are important to the healthcare field.
A certified registered nurse anesthetist or CRNA (not to be confused with an anesthesiologist) is a highly trained advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) that has achieved post-graduate education in anesthesia and has earned certification through the National Boards of Certification and Re-certification of Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA).
Nurse anesthesia is a specialized field within the nursing profession which focuses on administering anesthesia medication to patients undergoing surgery and/or suffering from an injury or illness that is causing chronic pain.
Because anesthesia requires very careful administration, a good understanding of human physiology, excellent interpersonal skills and proper patient care those who enter into this profession have acquired years of training and experience in the registered nursing field prior to becoming a nurse anesthetist.
In addition to administering anesthesia to patients who are in chronic pain or undergoing surgery nurse anesthetists conduct patient/family interviews, research their patients medical records and background, monitor patient vial signs during and after anesthesia and gather other information before providing anesthesia to their patients in order to ensure that the patient doesn’t suffer from potential harmful side effects due to the treatment.
Nurse anesthetists will use the data they collect to tailor each treatment to the individual patients specific medical needs since each individuals body may react differently to anesthesia treatment.
The amount and type of anesthesia that is given in a particular medical or surgical procedure must be based on the patients medical history and personal needs.
During treatment nurse anesthetists will:
- Use monitoring equipment to keep track of their patient’s vital signs
- Observe blood pressure fluctuations
- Monitor and maintain appropriate body temperature levels
- Observe the patients breathing patterns to ensure that the patient is receiving proper oxygen
- Decide if the patient needs additional airway management due to lung or respiratory complications
Nurse anesthetist are experts at monitoring their patients pain response and adjusting pain medications to ensure that the patient is comfortable and safe during treatment while supporting the doctors, physicians and registered nurses throughout the course of the patients treatment.
The Path to becoming a nurse anesthetist (overview)
The path to becoming a nurse anesthetist begins with earning your bachelors of science in nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited college or university that either offers a BSN program or allows you to transfer your credits to a school with a four year program.
After you complete the BSN program and pass the licensure exam so that you can earn your registered nursing license you’ll need to work as a registered nurse for at least 1 year in critical care or a related field in order gain adequate work experience before applying for a nurse anesthetist program.
If you don’t not have a BSN degree it may also be possible to become a nurse anesthetist with an associates of science in nursing (ADN) degree through a bridge program, however you’ll have to check with the anesthetist program you’re interested in to find out if they offer such a program and what their rules and restrictions are.
As you begin working and gaining experience as a registered nurse you’ll want to gear your work experience towards working in the acute medical care field where you’ll learn how to attend to patients who are suffering from acute injuries and/or illnesses.
Once you’ve acquired a year or more of emergency/acute care experience and gained sufficient training you’ll want to begin researching nurse anesthetist programs that will allow you to earn your MSN or DNP in anesthesia.
The nurse anesthetist program will require an additional 2 – 3 years of education to complete and will teach students about the field of anesthesia including pharmacology, pathophysiology, biochemistry and pain management as well as how to use and manage the various pieces of medical equipment you’ll need to be successful at work.
Upon successful completion of the 2 – 3 year nurse anesthetist program students will be required to take and pass a nurse anesthetist certification exam in order to begin working as a nurse anesthetist.
The nurse anesthetist certification exam is provided by the National Boards of Certification and Recertification of Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA).
While working a a nurse anesthetist you must maintain both your registered nursing license and nurse anesthetist certification through continuing education courses, work experience and required health assessments to continue working as a nurse anesthetist.
Undergraduate / BSN program
Becoming a nurse anesthetist starts with earning a G.E.D. or Diploma and applying to a four year BSN program at an accredited college or university.
Before gaining acceptance into a nursing program applicants must first pass the required prerequisites and GPA requirements set by the school they are attending.
The prerequisite requirements may include taking courses in English 101, Introduction to Psychology, Psychology 101, Introduction to Sociology, Sociology 101 and Anatomy & Physiology I & II.
Once the prerequisites are complete students may be able to gain entrance into a qualified nursing program.
However, it is important to understand that passing the prerequisites does not automatically guarantee acceptance into the program.
Many colleges or universities may have additional requirements such as GPA average, interview processes, a points system and recommendation considerations that you have to pass in order to be accepted as they may have limited availability in their program and might not be able to accommodate everyone who applies.
Because of this it is extremely important to speak with a guidance counselor and the individuals responsible for choosing qualified nursing student candidates to help you understand what is necessary to maximize your chances of getting accepted into the program.
Upon gaining acceptance into the nursing program you’ll spend the next three to four years learning about the field of nursing and how to provide adequate care to patients in need of medical assistance.
Coursework will include classroom lectures, books, videos, science labs and real world training to help prepare you for work as a registered nurse.
Once you’ve successfully completed the RN program you’ll be required to the NCLEX-RN exam offered by your state before you can get your licensed and start working as a registered nurse.
Gaining RN experience
Many nurse anesthetist programs require or encourage potential candidates to work as registered nurses before applying for their nurse anesthetist program.
The amount of time that you must work as a registered nurse can vary from 1 – 3 years depending on the program and is recommended as a way to help familiarize you with the nursing field and gain vital experience that will help prepare you for your role as an anesthetist.
As you gain experience in the nursing field it is important to focus your training and education on working in the acute care field with patients who are suffering from acute injuries and/or illnesses.
As a registered nurse this could mean working in a medical environment such as the ER (emergency room) or ICU (intensive care unit).
This direct training will help you understand the ins and outs of patient care and what you’ll be facing when you become a nurse anesthetist.
Once you’ve gathered a year or more of nursing experience in the acute care field you’ll want to start looking into colleges or universities that offers a nurse anesthesia (NA) program.
Nurse anesthetist program
As mentioned earlier most nurse anesthetist programs require candidates to hold a Bachelors of science in nursing (BSN) degree before entering the anesthetist program, therefore your best bet for becoming a nurse anesthetist is to attend an RN program that offers a four year bachelors of science in nursing degree.
Some nurse anesthetist programs also offer a bridge program that will allow students with an associates of science in nursing (ADN) degree to apply their existing education towards a masters of science in nursing (MSN) degree so that they can become a nurse anesthetist, however you should check with the anesthetist program you’re interested in for more information on whether or not they offer a bridge program and what their requirements, expectations and rules are.
Depending on the school you apply to you may be able to choose from either a MSN or Doctorate in nursing practice (DNP) degree, which will offer different opportunities as a nurse anesthetist depending on your personal interests and motivations.
In either case the MSN or DNP degree will take an additional 2 – 3 years of education in order to earn certification as a nurse anesthetist.
During anesthetist training registered nurses will learn about important topics such as pharmacology, pathophysiology, biochemistry and pain management as well as how to operate and manage various medical equipment.
Students will also learn how to provide proper patient care and will receive adequate training in surgical and critical care anesthesia application and management.
Upon successful completion of the 2 – 3 year nurse anesthetist program students be required to take a anesthetist certification exam, which is provided by the National Boards of Certification and Recertification of Nurse Anesthetists in order to earn their certification and begin working as a nurse anesthetist.