How to Become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

Aug 06, 2019

Learn how to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist. Research the education and career requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career in nurse anesthesia.

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Nurse Anesthetist

The steps to becoming a nurse anesthetist include:

  1. Earn a bachelor's degree
  2. Obtain state licensure
  3. Get experience
  4. Earn a master's degree
  5. Become a CRNA
  6. Gain experience

So you think you might like to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist? A certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) is an advanced practice nurse specialist who administers anesthetics to patients, monitors patients' vital signs, and provides post-surgical care. She spends much of her time standing and may need to help lift and move patients. Nurse anesthetists can work in hospitals, clinics, and outpatient settings. Those who work in hospitals may work in shifts that include nighttime hours. Emergency situations that require anesthesia may be stressful, and this job can be emotionally demanding.

Nurse Anesthetist Requirements

Degree Level Master's
Degree Field Nurse anesthesia
Licensure and Certification Must first become licensed as a registered nurse (RN), then become a CRNA; voluntary specialty certification as a Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN) is often required
Experience Nurse anesthesia master's degree programs require at least one year of critical care nursing experience to enroll; employers often require at least two years of experience
Key Skills Clear spoken communication with patients and families; effective written communication and problem solving skills; experience with documenting and charting software; knowledge of conscious sedation, general anesthesia, IV insertion, and fluid therapy
Median Salary (May 2018) $167,950 (all nurse anesthetists)*

Sources: National Board of Certification & Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA), nurse anesthetist college degree programs, *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, online job postings from September 2012

How to Become a Nurse Anesthetist

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

To become a CRNA, aspiring nurse anesthetists must first earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). They may have to finish two years of prerequisites before applying to a bachelor's-level nursing program. Some students become nurses through diploma or associate's degree programs and gain some experience before completing an RN-to-BSN program. Coursework topics include basic nursing skills, health assessment fundamentals, human anatomy, biology, psychology, pharmacology, and pathophysiology. Students complete clinical rotations in major health departments, like women's health, pediatrics, mental health, and surgery.

Success Tip:

Get good grades. Nurse anesthetist programs often require applicants to have maintained an overall GPA and science GPA of 3.0 or better.

Step 2: Obtain State Licensure

All states require nurses to pass the National Council Licensing Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) and obtain licensure before being allowed to practice. Individual states might have additional requirements. One's RN license must be in good standing to apply to a nurse anesthesia program.

Step 3: Get Experience

Nurse anesthesia master's degree programs require applicants to have a minimum of one year of professional, hands-on experience in critical care nursing. RNs can acquire experience by working in an intensive care unit, cardiac care unit, or surgical intensive care unit.

Success Tips:

Earn Critical Care Registered Nurse certification. Many nurse anesthesia master's degree programs suggest that applicants earn certification in this specialty area. Having this certification proves that nurses are knowledgeable and competent in critical care. Eligibility requirements include a valid RN license and at least 1,750 hours of direct critical care within the past two years.

Job shadow a nurse anesthetist. Nurse anesthesia programs stress that it's important to have a genuine interest in an anesthesia career. Programs suggest that prospective students shadow CRNAs before applying.

Step 4: Earn a Master's Degree

A master's degree program in nurse anesthesia requires a minimum of 27 months of full-time attendance. Students learn to operate anesthesia equipment and manage surgical and emergency situations that require anesthesia. Course topics commonly include anesthesia pharmacology, anesthesia pathophysiology, anesthesia biochemistry, geriatric anesthesia, obstetric anesthesia, and pain management. Students complete numerous supervised clinical experiences involving diverse anesthesia situations, from eye surgery to plastic surgery and open-heart surgery.

Step 5: Become a CRNA

Attaining the CRNA credential is necessary to practice. Individuals with master's degrees in nurse anesthesia from accredited schools and unrestricted RN licenses are eligible to take the National Certification Exam, which is administered by the National Board of Certification & Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists. Some states also require CRNAs to obtain specialty licensure status.

Success Tip:

Maintain credentials. Nurse anesthetists must keep their RN licenses valid, which requires periodic completion of professional development. Regulations are set by individual states. Additionally, every two years, they must complete 40 hours of approved continuing education and submit documentation of valid licensure and employment history to maintain the CRNA designation.

Step 6: Gain Experience

A CRNA is an advanced RN position, but further advancement is an option for enterprising CRNAs. With leadership acumen and formal business education, CRNAs may move into managerial or high-level administrative positions within hospitals or medical facilities. Alternatively, more academic-focused CRNAs may wish to obtain a doctorate and conduct research or be part of a research team.

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