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Nurse Anesthetist Career Guide

How to Become a Nurse Anesthetist

If you’re looking for a high-paying, in-demand career in healthcare that comes with a great deal of autonomy, you might consider becoming a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA). Their job is to manage a patient’s pain during surgery through anesthesia and medicine. And with 29,000 CRNA job openings expected each year over the next decade, it’s a great time to get into this fast-growing career field. 

Learn more in this guide about what it takes to become a nurse anesthetist. 

Perioperative nurse in surgery

What Is a Nurse Anesthetist?

Nurse anesthetists are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who are specially trained to administer pain medication to patients during surgery. They also provide care before and after an operation, ensuring a patient’s pain and stress are effectively managed.   
 
Nurse anesthetists work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, surgical centers, outpatient care centers, offices of dentists or plastic surgeons, military medical facilities, and more.

What Does a Nurse Anesthetist Do?

The job of a nurse anesthetist is to keep patients asleep and pain-free during surgery. Some nurse anesthetists assist doctors in administering anesthesia, while others work independently as they administer anesthesia. This means the day-to-day duties of a nurse anesthetist can also vary, though some of their most common job responsibilities include: 

  • Conducting patient assessments. 
  • Working with other medical staff to develop pain management plans. 
  • Assisting physicians with anesthesia administration. 
  • Performing epidurals or spinal blocks. 
  • Monitoring a patient’s vitals during surgery.
  • Providing care before, during, and after anesthesia. 
  • Discussing anesthesiology side-effects with patients. 
  • Monitoring vital signs during procedure.  

How Do I Become a Nurse Anesthetist?

There’s a lot of training and education that goes into becoming a nurse anesthetist. If you’re considering this career path, here are the steps you’ll need to take.  

Step One: Earn your degree.  
CRNAs must have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and be a registered nurse (RN). WGU has options for current registered nurses to obtain their BSN, as well as options in limited areas for nursing hopefuls to earn their BSN and be prepared to become an RN. 

Step Two: Gain experience.  
Once you’ve become a nurse and obtained your degree and registration, you’ll need at least one year of experience as an RN before you can continue with your education. This will likely need to be in an acute care setting, like the ER or ICU, in order to have the experience necessary to progress toward becoming a CRNA.

Step Three: Earn an advanced degree.  
After gaining experience, earn a master's degree from a nurse anesthesia educational program accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs. This usually takes two to three years.  
 
Step Four: Become certified.  
After you’ve obtained your master’s degree, you’ll need to take and pass the National Certification Examination through the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA) in order to be licensed and eligible to work as a CRNA. Every two years, you’ll have to prove that you’ve had 40 hours of continuing education in order to keep your CRNA license. 

Best Degrees for a Nurse Anesthetist

Nursing (Prelicensure) – B.S.

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you to be an RN...

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you...

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you to be an RN and a baccalaureate-prepared nurse:

  • Locations: offered in FL, IN, TX, MO, and UT only.
  • Tuition: $6,430 for the first term, $7,616 for the remaining 4 terms. Each term is six-months. Prelicensure students can not accelerate and the program takes 2.5 years to complete.

WGU offers the prelicensure program in areas where we have partnerships with healthcare employers to provide practice sites and clinical coaches to help teach you and inspire you on your path to becoming a nurse.

If you don't live in one of our prelicensure states or don't qualify to apply, consider getting our Bachelor's Degree in Health Services Coordination instead. This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry, while also working directly with patients who need help.

Nursing (RN-to-BSN Online) – B.S.

An online BSN degree program for registered nurses (RNs) seeking...

An online BSN degree program for registered...

An online BSN degree program for registered nurses (RNs) seeking the added theoretical depth, employability, and respect that a bachelor's degree brings:

  • Time: 66% of graduates finish within 18 months.
  • Tuition: $3,998 per 6-month term, plus a Health Professions Student Fee of $350.
  • Transfers: On average, students transfer 81 credits.

With over 35,000 BSN alumni, this is one of WGU's most popular online degree programs. View our RN to BSN degree guide.

If you don't currently have an RN and don't qualify for your nursing prelicensure program, consider getting our Bachelor's Degree in Health Services Coordination instead. This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry in a unique way.


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What Skills Does a Nurse Anesthetist Need?

Nurse Anesthetist In Surgery

Nurse anesthetists have unique requirements compared to other nurses. Some of these include: 

  • Strong leadership skills, especially in high-stress situations. 
  • Trauma and critical care experience. 
  • Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) training and experience.   
  • Assessment skills to determine necessary patient care.  
  • Knowledge of different medications and their effects on patients.  
  • The ability to administer local, regional, intravenous, or other anesthesia according to medical standards.
  • Airway management training and experience. 
  • Knowledge of medical terminology. 
  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) training and experience.  

Keep in mind that the exact skills you’ll need as a nurse anesthetist will be different based on what kind of nurse anesthetist you want to become and the environment you work in. 

How Much Does a Nurse Anesthetist Make?

$195,610

Becoming a certified registered nurse anesthetist can be well worth the time and effort. In fact, the average annual salary for CRNAs is $195,610, with incomes ranging from $150,000 to $230,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). 

What is the Projected Job Growth?

45%

The BLS reports that employment of nurse anesthetists is projected to grow by 45% from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations. About 29,400 openings for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners are projected each year, on average, over the decade.

Where Does a Nurse Anesthetist Work?

Varies

Where Does a Nurse Anesthetist Work? 
Nurse anesthetists typically work in healthcare settings that have operating rooms, emergency rooms, and intensive care units. These settings include:

-Medical and surgical hospitals.

-Critical access hospitals.

-Mobile surgery centers.

-Outpatient care centers.

-Nursing research facilities.

-Offices of plastic surgeons, dentists, ophthalmologists, pain management specialists, and other medical professionals.

-U.S. military medical facilities.

 

 

Interested in Becoming a Nurse Anesthetist?

Learn more about degree programs that can prepare you for this meaningful career.

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