What is a CRNA? | Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

A Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) is an advanced practice registered nurse specializing in anesthesia.

These experts administer anesthesia during surgeries or when patients require anesthetics due to pain or illness.

CRNAs work alongside registered nurses, physicians, surgeons, and other medical professionals to ensure patients receive optimal medical care.

Becoming a certified registered nurse anesthetist is a rewarding career.

It’s perfect for nurses pursuing a discipline with prestige, responsibilities, and a broad scope of practice. 

Career Responsibilities

Certified registered nurse anesthetists have numerous responsibilities and duties they perform daily.

Firstly, they’re responsible for administering anesthesia during surgical operations or emergencies.

As a result, they must be highly trained, well-educated, and organized.

Any mistakes or misuse of medications can significantly negatively impact patients’ lives.

Before treatment, CRNAs discuss the procedure with their patients and answer patients’ or family members’ questions.

They also examine patients’ medical histories, conduct interviews, and gather valuable data.

It ensures patients receive the appropriate anesthesia and don’t have adverse effects during treatment.

Nurse anesthetists monitor patients’ condition during surgery to ensure they are stable and healthy.

They check the patient’s vitals, temperature, blood pressure, and other essential data.

After surgery, they may provide follow-up monitoring and answer additional questions.

Depending on state laws, some CRNAs work independently and do not require supervision.

Others have to be supervised by an anesthesiologist or qualified physician for specific procedures.

CRNAs have the broadest scope of practice and most medical liberties in full-practice states.

Contrarily, they have a lesser scope of practice when operating in reduced and restricted practice states.

CRNA Responsibilities

  • Review medical histories
  • Answer questions and discuss procedures
  • Prepare patients for anesthetics
  • Administer anesthesia as needed
  • Monitoring vitals during procedures
  • Provide follow-up monitoring after surgery

Education

Becoming a CRNA requires nurses to possess a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree.

Previously certified registered nurse anesthetists were able to work professionally with an MSN.

However, the education requirements changed, requiring aspiring CRNAs to possess a DNP degree by 2025.

To apply to nursing school, students who want to become CRNA must complete the required prerequisite courses.

It can take 1 – 1 1/2 years to complete the necessary prerequisites.

After that, students pursue four years of nursing school and must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to become licensed registered nurses.

Registered nurses must obtain at least one year of nursing experience, preferably in critical care.

Once the necessary experience is acquired, they can apply to an accredited graduate school of nurse anesthesia.

It takes four years to complete the CRNA program and become licensed as a certified registered nurse anesthetist.

CRNAs must also complete around 2,500 clinical hours and administer around 850 anesthetics before taking the national certification examination.

Becoming a CRNA takes approximately eight to nine years from start to finish, depending on various factors.

All CRNAs must take continuing education courses throughout their careers.

In addition, they must recertify their license every two years by retaking the examination.

It involves obtaining a minimum of 40 educational credits.

Note: Some aspiring CRNAs will pursue work after obtaining their two-year ADN degree. As a result, they can start working in critical care while earning their BSN. It’s an excellent way to minimize the time needed to become a CRNA for those who can handle the workload.

Income Potential

CRNAs earn approximately $199,602 on average in the United States.

As a result, they earn more than some doctors, including primary care physicians.

CRNAs also receive excellent benefits, perks, and competitive compensation from employers to keep them hired.

Excellent wages help prevent CRNAs from working for other institutions, especially when locating qualified CRNAs is difficult.

Hospitals, dentists, and emergency departments hire more CRNAs than anesthesiologists since they’re more cost-effective.

Accordingly, it’s a win-win for nurse anesthetists and the companies that employ them.

Career Outlook

Careers for certified registered nurse anesthetists are in high demand and continuing to expand.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, APRN careers (including CRNAs) will grow by 45% over the next decade.

That’s incredibly faster than most other careers in the United States, providing numerous options for healthcare workers.

It’s perfect for nurses interested in career stability, high pay, good benefits, and excellent employment opportunities. 

Nevertheless, it’s improbable that CRNAs will replace physician anesthesiologists’ jobs.

Steps to Become a Nurse Anesthetist

Work Environment

Nurse anesthetists are commonly known for working in hospitals and emergency departments.

However, many environments require anesthetics due to injuries, illnesses, and surgery.

It includes dentist offices, emergency care units, trauma centers, military divisions, and other healthcare-focused settings.

  • Hospitals
  • Surgical departments
  • Dentist offices
  • Doctors offices
  • Podiatrist offices
  • The military
  • Respiratory therapy facilities
  • Emergency units
  • Trauma units

How to Become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

Becoming a certified registered nurse anesthetist is a lengthy and demanding process.

It requires earning a BSN, getting licensed, gaining experience, satisfying a nurse anesthetist program, and board certification.

Nevertheless, those who become certified registered nurse anesthetists play a significant and specialized role in patient care.

These experts ensure patients remain safe, healthy, and unaffected by procedures, painful ailments, and other circumstances.

The following section provides a thorough overview of the steps registered nurses must complete to become CRNAs.

Steps to Become a CRNA:

  • Enter nursing school
  • Obtain a BSN
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN exam
  • Gain work experience
  • Complete a CRNA/nurse anesthetist program
  • Pass the NBCRNA exam

1. Enter Nursing School

The first step to becoming a certified registered nurse anesthetist is to enter nursing school.

Most students must complete multiple nursing school prerequisites to enter the program.

They must also maintain a suitable GPA established by the various nursing programs the student wants to enter.

The prerequisite courses ensure nursing school applicants have a reliable academic foundation before taking more complete courses.

It also enables nursing schools to determine which candidates are most likely to succeed based on their GPA.

Many nursing schools have limited seating availability, so they use metrics like GPA to determine which students to accept.

They may also use references, work experience, ACT scores, and application essays to decide which applicants to admit.

The time necessary to complete the prerequisites varies from 6 – 24 months, depending on the student’s prior education.

After satisfying the prerequisite requirements and GPA, students may apply to the nursing program.

2. Obtain a BSN

Successful applicants who enter nursing school can pursue an ADN or BSN degree.

The ADN (associate’s degree in nursing) provides nursing students with a foundational education for entry-level careers.

It enables nursing students to enter the field quickly, earn money, and gain work experience.

This degree also benefits those determining whether nursing is the right career without spending money on a BSN.

Obtaining an ADN takes approximately 18 – 24 months, depending on the program and nursing student.

Nevertheless, those who wish to become CRNAs must acquire a BSN to enter a nurse anesthesia program.

The BSN (bachelor of science in nursing) offers a more comprehensive education enabling nurses to specialize in various roles.

Registered nurses with a BSN generally earn more money, have better career options, and specialize in numerous disciplines.

Acquiring a BSN takes roughly 36 – 48 months, depending on the program and nursing student.

3. Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

At the end of the nursing program, graduates must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to obtain licensure.

Obtaining licensure enables graduates to enter the healthcare field as registered nurses and find employment.

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) develops the NCLE exam.

It tests the competencies of graduates to ensure they have sufficient knowledge/training to enter entry-level nursing jobs.

In addition to passing the NCLEX-RN, graduates must pay all state licensing fees and satisfy a background check. 

4. Gain Work Experience

Many CRNA/nurse anesthesia postgraduate programs require registered nurses to have work experience before applying.

Each postgraduate program varies regarding the necessary work experience registered nurses must acquire.

Nevertheless, 1 – 3 years of experience in an intensive care unit (ICU) or critical/acute care setting is generally acceptable.

It’s essential to determine the nurse anesthesia program’s application requirements before applying.

It ensures you acquire the proper work experience, education, and credentials to gain admission.

5. Complete a Nurse Anesthesia Program

Registered nurses who gain admission into the nurse anesthesia/CRNA program spend about 2 – 3 years in schooling.

This program delivers a comprehensive education to ensure students understand their functions and provide sufficient care. 

In addition to classroom work, nurse anesthesia students must satisfy their clinical practice hours.

At the end of the program, graduates earn their MSN Master of Science in Nurse Anesthesia) degree.

6. Pass the NBCRNA exam

The final step to becoming a certified registered nurse anesthetist is to pass the National Certification Exam.

The National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA) provides details about the exam.

After completing the National Certification Exam, graduates become certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs).

At this point, certified registered nurse anesthetists may apply for entry-level CRNA positions.

Nurse Anesthetists vs. Anesthesiologists

Certified registered nurse anesthetists do obtain Doctor of Nursing Practice degrees.

However, they are not medical doctors and have different educational backgrounds.

A medical doctor is a physician who attends medical school and acquires a medical degree.

It takes approximately four years to complete the MD program.

In addition, students spend one year in an internship, three years in a residency, and another year in a fellowship program.

A nurse anesthetist attends CRNA school to obtain a DNP degree. 

The CRNA program takes about two to three years to complete, and students must pass the national certification exam.

After receiving certification, CRNAs are eligible to work as nurse anesthetists.

That said, most CRNA programs require nurses with prior experience in an acute care setting like the ER or ICU.

CRNA schools may need registered nurses to have at least one year of experience before applying to the program.

The more experience a registered nurse has, the better their chances of getting into CRNA school.

As you can see, there are numerous differences between nurse anesthetists and anesthesiologists.

CRNA Requirements (2022 – 2025)

In previous years nurses could become professional CRNAs with a Master of Science in Nursing degree.

However, the rules have changed, requiring aspiring CRNAs to hold a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree by 2025.

Pursuing a DNP is necessary for those attending a nurse anesthetist program in 2022 and beyond.

It takes three to four years to complete a nurse anesthetist for registered nurses with a BSN.

As a result, most students will not satisfy their education requirements before 2025.

Are CRNA Programs Competitive?

Some CRNA programs are highly competitive if students apply to a top CRNA school.

Various factors determine a nurse anesthetist’s school’s competitiveness.

It includes GPA average, ICU experience, certifications (CCRN, ACLS, PALS, BLS, TNCC), GRE score, application preparation, and other aspects.

Students with lower GPA scores may want additional ICU experience and certifications to build resumes.

It shows the CRNA institution they’re dedicated, hard-working, and willing to do what’s necessary to become a CRNA.

In addition, researching and consulting numerous schools will help understand their requirements.

It’s essential to determine what different nurse anesthetist programs require and how likely it is to get into their school. 

Can a CRNA Prescribe Medication?

CRNAs who are nurse practitioners may prescribe medications to patients independently.

However, CRNAs in reduced or restricted practice states may require a physician or MD to sign off on prescriptive drugs.

Most CRNAs work for hospitals, emergency departments, or healthcare institutions with specific rules and regulations.

As a result, prescribing medications is generally performed by a physician or licensed MD.

Can a CRNA Work Independently?

There are numerous states a CRNA can practice independently.

CRNA operating in full-practice states do not require a written agreement or supervision to practice.

However, reduced and restricted practice states limit a certified registered nurse anesthetist’s medical independence.

As a result, they may require an MD, DO, DDS, podiatrist, or APRNs supervision in these states.

Nurse practitioners, advanced practice registered nurses, and CRNAs in restricted practice states have the most constraints.

Often, these healthcare professionals must maintain continual oversight from a physician or MD.

It prevents them from utilizing many prescriptive authorities and independent practice liberties of full-practice states.

It also restricts certified registered nurse anesthetists from diagnoses and treatments not approved by the physician/MD.