Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) is one of the major advanced practice areas for nurses. Although requirements for becoming a CRNA vary by state, they must graduate from a nurse anesthesia educational program accredited by the Council on Accreditation (COA) and pass the certification examination administered by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA). All nurse anesthesia educational programs require a bachelor’s degree, a registered nursing (RN) license and a minimum of one year experience as a nurse in a critical care setting. Upon completion of the program, aspiring CRNAs must pass the national certifying exam in order to practice as nurse anesthetists.
Certified registered nurse anesthetists administer care in a variety of settings, from medical centers to community hospitals, pain clinics, dentist offices or physicians’ offices, just to name a few. Their practice includes, but is not limited to, general and local anesthesia, sedation, epidural, spinal or peripheral nerve blocks.
Depending on the state in which a CRNA practices, there is a varying degree of supervision or medical direction required by a physician or dentist. It can vary from the requirement of the physician providing in-person direction to simply requiring the consent of a supervising physician.
In some states (17 to date) nurse anesthetists practice without supervision; you can check the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) website for more information. Common roles of the nurse anesthetist may include caring for patients before and after surgery, providing pain control during childbirth, overseeing conscious sedation, teaching students and conducting research. Nurse anesthetists must possess advanced assessment skills and be able to work directly with other members of the patient care team to provide the best possible outcomes.
Nurse Anesthetist Salary
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the median annual salary for nurse anesthetists was $160,270 in May of 2016. CRNAs will find a variety of career opportunities due to high demand and career flexibility, according to the BLS. The bureau projects that Nurse Anesthetist employment will grow 19 percent from 2014 to 2024.
CRNAs can practice in all 50 states, but must complete significant training before graduation. According to the Council on Accreditation, CRNAs must complete more than 2,000 clinical hours and administer more than 600 anesthetics before graduation. Nurse anesthetists must meet specific training criteria, including at least one year of experience in critical care nursing and a passing score on the National Certification Exam (NCE).
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist Education Programs
Curriculum and Core Classes
As of April 2017, there were 116 nurse anesthetist programs in the U.S. Programs are often competitive, with a high number of applicants for a select number of openings. Student selection criteria is based on academic transcripts, references and critical care experience. Face-to-face interviews may also be conducted, and the student’s intelligence, problem-solving abilities, critical thinking and commitment to the profession will be evaluated throughout the admissions process.
Curriculum requirements are formulated to build a scientific, clinical and professional foundation for safe practice. Prerequisite work includes pharmacology of anesthetic drugs and adjuvant drugs, plus additional focus on chemistry and biochemistry. Anatomy, physiology and pathophysiology studies are also required. Students will learn basic and advanced principles of anesthesia practices that go beyond the physical aspects including physics, equipment management, technology, pain management, research and clinical correlation.
The majority of accredited CRNA programs exceed the minimum requirements as set by the Council on Accreditation. Many students also participate in additional studies related to research, statistics and scientific inquiry.
Clinical experiences provide students with supervised real-life experience within the field of anesthesia. During this time, students learn techniques, test theories and apply classroom knowledge to clinical problems. Caring for all types of patients of all ages broadens experience and allows students to provide anesthesia for medical, surgical, obstetrical, dental and pediatric interventions.
Most programs range between 24 and 36 months in length, and some may require students to complete a master's degree in nursing before applying. Both full-time and part-time study is available, although not necessarily for all programs. Applications should be submitted a year before the candidate’s desired enrollment date.
In addition to graduation from an accredited master’s or higher degree program, aspiring CRNAs will need to pass the certification exam administered by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists to become a CRNA. The National Certification Exam tests comprehension of assessment and diagnosis techniques, pharmacology, theory and more. Before applying to a specific program, prospective students can inquire about the school’s pass/fail rate on the NCE. Many schools will have this information posted on their website and will disclose what percentage of their graduates passed on the first or second attempt.