Nurse Anesthetist Advancement Opportunities

Jul 30, 2019

Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) are certified to administer anesthesia, as well as to provide pain management services to patients. CRNAs are in high demand, and career advancement opportunities are great. A few options include choosing an area of CRNA specialization, moving up into the role of chief nurse anesthetist, stepping into the classroom as a nursing instructor, or attending medical school to become an anesthesiologist.

Career Advancement Options for Nurse Anesthetists

A CRNA is certified to administer both general and local anesthesia as needed to patients, enabling them to provide pain management as well as anesthesia for surgical procedures or other health services. The nurse anesthesia field has a projected job growth of 16% from 2016-2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). One way this in-demand healthcare provider can advance up the CRNA career ladder is to specialize in an area such as pediatrics or cardiology. CRNAs can also apply for chief nurse anesthetist positions, move into the education field as postsecondary nurse anesthetist instructors, or continue their education and training to become anesthesiologists. Details about each of these career options are provided below.

Job Title Median Annual Salary Job Growth (2016-26)* Qualifications
CRNA with Specialization $156,669 (pediatric CRNA; 2019)** 16% (all CRNAs) Experience in area of specialization, ACLS and/or PALS certification
Chief Nurse Anesthetist $174,963 (2019)** 20% (medical and health service managers) 5-10 years as a CRNA, administrative experience, ACLS and/or PALS certification
Nurse Anesthetist Instructor $73,490 (all postsecondary nursing instructors; 2018)* 24% (all postsecondary nursing instructors) Terminal degree in nurse anesthesia, active state CRNA license, teaching experience
Anesthesiologist $267,020 (mean wage; 2018)* 15% MD or DO degree, 1-year internship, 3-year anesthesiology residency, board certification

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **

Career Information

CRNA with Specialization

CRNAs may choose to focus their expertise on a specific patient group. There are several specialty areas to chose from, including cardiology, dentistry, and pediatrics. Achieving specialization can enable a CRNA to work in specialty medical groups, such as pediatric hospitals and cardiac-care centers. Qualifications for this role often include 2-5 years of experience with the chosen patient group as well as gaining the appropriate additional certifications, such as ACLS or PALS.

Chief Nurse Anesthetist

Experienced nurse anesthetists with strong administrative skills may take on the role of chief nurse anesthetist, or chief CRNA. A chief CRNA manages a medical center's anesthesiology team by coordinating clinical care, providing training and staff development, and managing an array of other anesthesia department needs. Requirements for chief nurse anesthetists can include 5-10 years as a CRNA, proven management experience, and ACLS and/or PALS certification.

Nurse Anesthetist Instructor

A qualified CRNA looking for an alternative career move may enjoy all that the postsecondary education field provides, including flexible part-time (adjunct) and full-time (faculty) schedules, recognition through research and publication, and tenure-track opportunities. Nurse anesthetist instructors teach patient care in clinical and classroom settings. They are also responsible for advising students, submitting grades, and serving on college/university committees. Requirements vary by employer, but a terminal degree in nurse anesthesia, current state certification, and several years of CRNA experience are common qualifications. Previous teaching experience is also an advantage.


While the roles of CRNA and anesthesiologist are similar - both are certified to provide pain management and anesthesia services to patients - the salary for an anesthesiologist is significantly higher. Anesthesiology may feel like a natural next move for experienced CRNAs who want to increase their salaries. It's important to note that to achieve this significant jump in salary, the CRNA must make a significant commitment to his or her education. Since a CRNA already has a bachelor's degree, the first step to becoming an anesthesiologist would be to earn an MD or DO degree from an accredited medical college, a process that takes an average of four years. After that comes licensing exams, a 1-year internship followed by 3 years of residency, and finally board certification exams.

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