Nurse anesthetists are licensed professional advanced practice nurses who provide the same basic anesthesia services as an anesthesiologist, who is a medical doctor. These nurses must complete rigorous and high-level education in order to practice and also become nationally certified so they may work in any state in the U.S.
A bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) will be the first step in achieving your nurse anesthetist career goal, after which you will pursue a master’s degree. You should note that many master’s programs require their nurse anesthetist candidates to hold both an RN and a BSN, which is why the smartest thing you can do if you choose this career field is earn your RN-to-BSN first.
CRNAs either work alone or in tandem with anesthesiologists. They provide anesthesia before, during and after surgeries, and other types of routine procedures, such as diagnostic tests that require regional or local anesthesia, and births. Nurse anesthetists interact with patients to learn about medical allergies, medications, existing illnesses and pre-conditions the patient may have so that the correct dosage and type of anesthesia is used. These nurse specialists remain with the patient before and during the procedure, and continually monitor vital signs and make adjustments to the anesthesia if needed.
Nurse anesthetists may choose a specialty, or be a self-employed contractor. Some of the most common specializations CRNAs choose to work in include the following:
- Trauma and injury
- Critical care
The most common places that CRNAs work, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)—either as a contractor or on staff—include these types of healthcare facilities:
Outpatient care centers
Offices of other types of health practitioner
These professionals also work with a variety of equipment, such as CO monitors, electronic stethoscopes, ventilators, and respiratory, intubation and extubating machines. They may be responsible for tracheotomy sets, airway kits and inhaler units. During more extreme heart surgeries, they work with cardiac monitoring units and accessories.
CRNAs are highly-skilled, highly-qualified advance practice nurses. They have undergone rigorous training and must be alert, proactive and aware during all phases of a procedure, as a patient’s life may depend upon them if something goes awry during surgery or a diagnostic test. As such, there are some important skills that will help make nurse anesthetists successful in their chosen nursing specialization, and which the best CRNAs have:
- Critical thinking skills – You should use logic and reason to solve problems.
- Active listening – What patients tell you is critical. You must give your full attention to what patients, physicians and other medical personnel tell you.
- Problem sensitivity – You’ll need to intuit when something may go wrong. In some cases, you might be the first person to sense a potential issue.
- Compassionate and empathic – You’ll be working with patients who may be undergoing a major surgery, and who are frightened or in pain. You’ll need to reassure them and talk them through the anesthetic preparation.
- Detail-oriented – You’ll provide professional services and medication that impact lives so you’ll need to note even a small change in a patient’s condition or readiness.
There’s no better time than now to become a CRNA. The BLS predicts an extraordinary 31 percent job growth rate for nurse anesthetists over the next decade. When you consider the average for all other occupations is seven percent for the same time period, you can understand just how phenomenal this projected growth rate is. In the number of jobs, this equates to an additional 64,000 CRNA careers through 2026 which, considering the advanced skill set needed to perform CRNAs duties, is an excellent outlook.
CRNAs will be especially needed in underserved areas, such as inner cities and in rural populations.
The BLS says states with the current highest employment of nurse anesthetists includes the following:
NUMBER OF CNRAs
NUMBER OF CNRAs
NUMBER OF CNRAs
NUMBER OF CNRAs
NUMBER OF CNRAs
Metropolitan areas and cities that employed the most nurse anesthetists include the following:
Houston | The Woodlands | Sugar Land
Tampa | St. Petersburg | Clearwater
NEW YORK – NEW JERSEY
New York | White Plains | Jersey City
You’ll be well-paid in your CRNA career, with the BLS citing a median annual wage of $160,270. The highest 10 percent of CRNAs working in the field earned more than $175,170. Those who work in hospitals should earn the highest salary, and you may be able to work flexible hours as a self-employed CRNA. Those who work on staff may be required to work nights or weekends, depending upon surgery schedules, though most diagnostic tests and surgeries are performed during regular normal business hours.
Let’s take a look at top-paying states for nurse anesthetists:
|State||Annual Mean Salary|
Top paying metro areas and cities include:
|Metro||Annual Mean Salary|
|San Diego, CA||$241,670|
|San Jose, CA||$238,860|
|San Francisco, CA||$224,310|
Upon completion of a nurse anesthetist education program, you’ll be granted a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), which assumes you have already completed your BSN or RN-to-BSN degree program. MSN programs generally take two years to complete. You’ll also need to hold a valid RN license to get accepted into a nurse anesthetist training program.
Here are some of the requirements for acceptance into the MSN program for nurse anesthetists:
- At least one year of experience in acute care nursing
- An acceptable GPA as an undergraduate student
- Pass the GRE
- Have professional and academic letters of recommendation
- Have completed required courses in statistics, research, chemistry, anatomy or physiology
- A statement of purpose as to why you want to become a nurse anesthetist
- A pre-admission interview with the school of nursing department
If you are currently an RN without a BSN, you should do one of the following:
- Complete an RN-to-BSN program with pertinent coursework and clinical experience
- Non-nursing students who hold a bachelor’s degree can choose a “second BSN” program to fulfill undergraduate nursing requirements at an accelerated pace and then prepare for licensure as an RN
After fulfilling the requirements based upon your circumstance, you can then apply for nurse anesthetist programs and earn your MSN with a Nurse Anesthetist specialization.
Some of the subjects you’ll study in your MSN program will include these:
- Nurse anesthesia
- Principles of anesthesia practice
- Health assessment for advanced practice nursing
- Chemistry of anesthesia
- Integrative physiology
- Research methods and methodology
- Clinical pharmacology
You must also complete a clinical practicum where you gain hands-on experience administering anesthesia in a number of situations. You may need a minimum number of hours of clinical practice to graduate from your program.
Certification and Licensing
Requirements for becoming a certified registered nurse anesthetist are more in-depth and include the following:
24 to 36 months of graduate training
Experience working as an acute care nurse
You must receive a passing score on the national certification exam
The National Certification Exam
The National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA) administers the National Certification Examination, which consists of four sections:
Physiology and Pathophysiology
Anesthesia Equipment and Technology
The cost of the exam is around $300. The exam is performance based and you will need to be certified and recertified based upon an eight-year period, comprised of two four-year cycles.
CRNAs must complete a set number of continuing education units—usually 60 Class A credits (Assessed Continuing Education) and 40 Class B credits (Professional Development), as well as four core modules, which cover current best practices and changes within the field, in each cycle, with your meeting the performance standard on the CPC exam at the end of the second four-year cycle.
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