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Anesthesia Degree Program Overviews by Level

Oct 14, 2019

Anesthesia professionals oversee the administration of drugs to keep the patient unconscious during surgical procedures. Programs are available for nurse anesthetists and anesthesia assistants as well as anesthesiologists.

Essential Information

There are several paths to working in the field of anesthesia. All programs offer instruction in relevant anatomy, pharmaceuticals used to sedate patients, safety procedures, and equipment operation. Registered nurses (RNs) who want to become nurse anesthetists must complete a master's degree program in the field, gain clinical experience, and pass a certification exam.

A relatively new field of study, anesthesia assistant, trains students through a master's program that requires classroom work and extensive hands-on training. Certification is required for this profession as well. Both master's degree programs last two to three years of full time study. Individuals who want to become anesthesiologists must earn a medical doctor degree. Most seek board certification in the field.

In order to enroll in a master's degree program in nursing, students will need a bachelor's degree in nursing or similar biological science, as well as a year of critical care nursing experience and RN status. A master's degree in health science will require a bachelor's in a science field. Doctoral degrees require students to have completed a master's program with a solid academic record and prior anesthesiology experience.


Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) - Nurse Anesthetist

These programs are designed to train nurse specialists in the didactic and clinical knowledge and experience needed to become certified registered nurse anesthesiologists (CRNA). The curriculum is split between classroom instruction and hands-on clinical training. Most programs include an externship, in which degree candidates work at an affiliated healthcare facility.

The curriculum of these programs is medically focused and features no elective requirements outside the anesthesiology framework. Below are listed some sample core course topics.

  • Pathophysiology
  • Physics of anesthesiology
  • Health diagnostics
  • Cardiothoracic anesthesiology
  • Global healthcare

Master of Health Science in Anesthesiologist Assistant

Graduate-level anesthesiologist assistant programs are a relatively new occurrence within the healthcare educational industry. These types of programs were first offered in the latter part of the 20th century as a response to the critical lack of CRNAs.

A master's degree program for an aspiring anesthesiologist assistant is designed to equip students with a thorough clinical and educational understanding of anesthesia. The programs are similar to the CRNA programs in depth and breadth of study as well as educational objectives.

The curriculum features traditional classroom instruction along with clinical lab work. Some programs feature an operating room simulator and all programs require degree candidates to work up to 2,000 hours in an affiliated healthcare facility prior to completing the program.

The main difference in the curriculum between the two master's degree programs discussed here is that the anesthesiologist assistant program features more general science courses in the first year. Some sample core course titles are included below.

  • Anesthesiologist assistant ethics
  • Physiological simulation
  • Patient instrumentation
  • Pharmacology
  • Physiology for anesthesiologist assistants

Doctor of Medicine - Anesthetist

Anesthesiologists, also known as anesthetists, are required to first complete medical school. After med school, an anesthesia residency, which typically lasts three years, is required. Anesthesia residencies consist of an introductory course, which covers the basic pedagogical principles of anesthesia. Following the introductory course, residents participate in structured and closely supervised clinical rotations. The clinical experience begins with basic anesthesia practices and culminates in the third year with anesthesia subspecialties.

Medical doctor degree candidates interested in becoming anesthesiologists participate in a wide array of clinical rotations, each designed to familiarize the individual with a particular anesthesia specialty. Listed below are several of the areas.

  • Gynecological surgery
  • Orthopedic surgery
  • Cardiac anesthesia
  • Neuroanesthesia
  • Obstetrical surgery

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Nearly all graduates of the MSN program will find themselves pursuing employment as CRNAs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurse anesthetists made a median annual wage of $167,950 in 2018. Specialty hospitals offer the most generous remuneration for this profession.

According to the BLS, the median salary for anesthesiologists was greater than $208,000 as of May 2018 (www.bls.gov). The BLS also reports that outpatient care centers offered the highest salaries. Texas and California employed the greatest number of anesthesiologists in that year.

According to the American Academy of Anesthesiologist Assistants (www.anesthetist.org), when employed in similar capacities at similarly sized facilities, anesthesiologist assistants receive the same salary and benefits package as a CRNA. The organization reports that employment opportunities should be good over the coming decade, partly owing to the relative newness of the profession.

Continuing Education and Certification Information

After completing an MSN program, graduates must then successfully complete a certification exam before offering CRNA services to the public. This certification exam is offered by the National Board on Certification and Recertification of Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA). In addition to offering the exam in-house and online, NBCRNA also offers study aids and recertification information.

All medical doctors and surgeons operating in the United States are licensed. This licensing process includes passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). In addition, doctors who go on to specialize as anesthesiologists can apply for board certification. This is a voluntary process that indicates a high level of knowledge and experience with a medical specialty. The board certification process is administered by the American Board of Anesthesiologists (www.theaba.org).

Before anesthesiologist assistants can offer their services professionally, they must successfully complete a certification exam. This exam is offered by the National Commission for Certification of Anesthesiologist Assistants (NCCAA). Recertification is required every two years.

Anesthetists can find an education through master's degrees in nursing or health science or through a medical doctorate. Licensure will be required for all practicing doctors, and there are many certifications graduates can earn after graduation.

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