CRNA Career Guide: Education, Responsibilities and Salary

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA) are advanced practice registered nurses who provide anesthesia. This guide explores what they do, how to become one and how much they're paid.

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What is a CRNA?

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) are advanced practice registered nurses who provide anesthesia to patients in a variety of settings.

In a nutshell, CRNAs are nurses who are specially trained in anesthesia and pain management. They can work in hospitals, clinics, private practices, and other healthcare facilities. In rural areas, CRNAs are the primary providers of anesthetic. This allows rural healthcare facilities to offer obstetrical, surgical, pain management, and trauma stabilization services.

What do CRNAs do?

CRNAs manage the delivery of anesthesia. With surgical procedures, for example, CRNAs provide patient care before, during and after the procedure. Before the procedure, they communicate with patients and develop anesthesia care plans. During the procedure, they administer anesthesia and monitor the patient’s response. After the procedure, they help manage the patient’s recovery from anesthesia.

A CRNA’s exact responsibilities depend on the activity or procedure. Nurse anesthetists often specialize in fields such as cardiovascular, obstetrics, pediatrics, or dental or plastic surgery. As a result, they often work with anesthesiologists, surgeons, other physicians or dentists. The practice of CRNAs ranges from labor and delivery to trauma stabilization.

According to a survey by the U.S. Department of Labor, CRNAs listed the the following as the most important responsibilities for a nurse anesthetist:

  • Manage patients' airway or pulmonary status, using techniques such as endotracheal intubation, mechanical ventilation, pharmacological support, respiratory therapy, and extubation
  • Select, prepare, or use equipment, monitors, supplies, or drugs for the administration of anesthetics
  • Select, order, or administer anesthetics, adjuvant drugs, accessory drugs, fluids or blood products as necessary
  • Monitor patients' responses, including skin color, pupil dilation, pulse, heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, ventilation, or urine output, using invasive and noninvasive techniques
  • Perform pre-anesthetic screenings, including physical evaluations and patient interviews, and document results
  • Respond to emergency situations by providing airway management, administering emergency fluids or drugs, or using basic or advanced cardiac life support techniques
  • Develop anesthesia care plans
  • Obtain informed consent from patients for anesthesia procedures
  • Assess patients' medical histories to predict anesthesia response
  • Select, order, or administer pre-anesthetic medications

How to become a nurse anesthetist

According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, it takes seven to eight and a half years to become a nurse anesthetist. If you want to become a CRNA, you must complete the following requirements:

  • BSN: Before enrolling in a master’s degree program, you need to get a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN).
  • RN work experience: After graduating from a BSN program, prospective nurse anesthetists need at least one year of full-time work experience as a registered nurse in a critical care setting. Most, however, have more—the average experience of RNs entering nurse anesthesia educational programs is 2.9 years.
  • Master’s degree: CRNA master’s degrees typically take 24-51 months depending on the university.
  • Graduates of nurse anesthesia master’s programs typically have more than 9,000 hours of clinical experience.
  • CRNA Licensure: Finally, after completing a master’s program, you will take a certification examination offered by the National Board of Certification & Recertification of Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA).

How do you choose a CRNA program or school?

In the United States and Puerto Rico, there are 121 accredited nurse anesthesia programs. All will provide you with the education and training you need to become a CRNA.  

Selecting a CRNA program can be a difficult process. There are many different schools to choose from, each with different strengths and weaknesses. The following are some of the things you should consider when choosing a CRNA program:

  • Location: Some people choose to live in the area where they’re going to school because they’re going to be living there for the next several years. This can help save money on rent and other living expenses.
  • Program length: Some programs are longer than others. In most cases, the longer the program, the more in-depth it will be. However, if you’re interested in finishing quickly and getting into your career as soon as possible, you might want to choose a shorter program
  • Cost: CRNA programs can be expensive. The median cost of CRNA programs is $51,720. Public programs are typically more affordable than private ones, with a median cost of $40,195 versus $60,941
  • Faculty: The quality of your professors can make a big difference in how much you learn during school and how successful you are in the field after graduation. Make sure that you research each professor and check out their credentials before choosing a program so that you can get the most out of your education and make sure that they are qualified to teach the material that they will be teaching.
  • Course content: Choose a school that will help you achieve your career goals.

How much does a CRNA make?

The average CRNA makes $181,040 per year or $87.04 per hour.  Nurse anesthetists in the 75% percentile make $203,730 a year, while those in the 10% percentile make $127,480. A CRNA’s salary will depend on location, experience as well as the type of hospital or facility. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found the the following employer types to be the highest paying:

Industry Percent of industry employment Hourly mean wage
Outpatient Care Centers 0.2 $108.00 $224,630
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals 0.26 $92.97 $193,380
Home Health Care Services 0.01 $92.45 $192,300
Local Government, excluding schools and hospitals (OES Designation) -7 $90.71 $188,680
Specialty (except Psychiatric and Substance Abuse) Hospitals 0.17 $88.56 $184,200

CRNAs are crucial to providing healthcare in rural areas. Here are the states where CRNAs are paid the most.

State Hourly mean wage
Wyoming $116.98 $243,310
Montana $115.09 $239,380
Oregon $112.86 $234,750
Wisconsin $112.31 $233,600
California $109.28 $227,290

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