As a registered nurse, one great way for you to diversify your experiences, increase your salary, and bolster your future job prospects is to take on additional qualifications. Putting in additional work and earning new educational credentials can open many doors for students, recent graduates, and current nurses alike.
There are many types of nurses but one popular specialty among RNs is anesthesia. As a CRNA, or Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, you’ll have the opportunity to work alongside anesthesiologists to administer anesthesia to patients to ensure comfort and care as they undergo procedures or recover from painful traumas.
Do you want to learn more about CRNAs? This article will provide you with detailed information about what a CRNA does and how you can become one.
What Is Anesthesia?
Anesthesia is a combination of drugs that help sedate patients and manage their pain. Typically, anesthesia medications are administered intravenously in liquid form or through inhalation in gaseous form.
Under general anesthesia, the patient’s anesthetized brain doesn’t respond to pain signals or reflexes, which allows the medical doctor to perform procedures that would be uncomfortable for an awake patient. These can include surgeries that are invasive and involve significant blood loss, have a long duration, affect breathing, or expose the body to abnormal temperatures.1
What’s a CRNA?
So, what’s a CRNA in this context? CRNAs are also a primary anesthesia provider, particularly in areas where an anesthesiologist may not be frequently available.
CRNAs work with anesthesiologists—medical doctors who specialize in anesthesia care—during surgeries or in general patient care to ease discomfort and facilitate a successful medical procedure. CRNAs can assist a physician anesthesiologist and surgeons in administering anesthesia, but many also work independently of doctors.
What Are the Responsibilities of a CRNA?
Let’s dive deeper into our main question: what is a CRNA nurse?
A CRNA is a registered nurse practitioner who has pursued further education and earned additional certification in order to specialize in anesthesia administration. CRNAs take care of patients who are undergoing surgery or other medical procedures. They are also important players in emergency situations where sedation or pain management is necessary. CRNAs may also practice under the title of Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN).
The following are the responsibilities of a CRNA in practice:
- Assess how much and what type of anesthesia to administer – Using information about the patient’s history and medical circumstances, the CRNA must develop a plan for the quantity, timing, and administration method. Because anesthesia is potentially dangerous if administered in the incorrect quantity, at an inopportune time, or to a patient who has certain medical complications, it’s essential that the CRNA be fully familiar with the patient and their needs.
- Educate the patient and obtain consent – Before undergoing any type of procedure that requires heavy sedation, the patient must understand the process of undergoing anesthesia as well as its potential side effects. It’s the CRNA’s responsibility to provide the necessary information to the patient. The patient should be fully familiarized with what’s going to happen to them—as well as risks and benefits—prior to the procedure so that they can give fully-informed consent. There are also specific requirements the patient must follow before and after the procedure.
- Administer general and local anesthesia – CRNAs can administer general anesthesia—which affects the entire body—as well as local or regional anesthesia—which has numbing effects on specific parts of the body.
- Monitor and adjust anaesthesia during procedures – CRNAs stay with the patient throughout their procedure, monitoring their vital signs for any indications of negative reactions to the anesthesia. They also adjust the amount of duration of the anesthesia administered in response to the patient’s current state.
- Provide after-care – Checking in with patients after their procedure is an important job of CRNAs. This allows CRNAs to assess the patient’s status and provide any necessary medications to alleviate pain or address other complications.
Where Do CRNAs Work?
CRNAs are necessary wherever patients may need anesthesia. This can include hospitals and private practices such as physicians’ offices and clinics.
Most commonly, a CRNA is needed in a healthcare facility or hospital operating room, emergency room trauma centers, independent surgical centers, pain clinics, or labor and delivery units. They may also work in more specialized practices, providing anesthesia for physicians in dentistry, podiatry, ophthalmology, plastic surgery, chronic pain management and more.
How Can I Become a CRNA?
Just like the path to becoming a PICU nurse, no matter where you are in your career as a registered nurse, you can become a nurse anesthetist. Let’s go over how to become a CRNA from start to finish.2
Necessary Qualifications for Current Students
If you’re not already a registered nurse, the first step in becoming a CRNA is to obtain a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). This four-year program gives you the skills and knowledge to be successful in nursing and also prepares you for the NCLEX-RN exam. This national nursing exam qualifies you to become an RN.
Once you’ve closed up your nursing textbooks, it’s time to get some experience in the field. After completing your undergraduate education and taking the NCLEX exam and getting your RN license, you’ll need to complete at least one year of experience as an RN. It’s likely that you will need critical care experience or clinical experience specifically in an acute care setting to better prepare you for a career as a CRNA.
Examples of acute care settings include:
- Emergency Room (ER)
- Intensive Care Unit (ICU)
- Urgent care centers
- Shock trauma unit
- Ambulatory surgery center
Necessary Qualifications for Registered Nurses
After gaining some real world experience working as an RN, it’s time to go back to school to obtain further study in anesthesia. You will need to enroll in an accredited nurse anesthesia program.
- If you’re already a nurse, you’ll need to take a CRNA program like Masters of Nursing Practice in Anesthesia.
- If you won’t be ready to pursue the necessary education until 2025, you’ll need a Doctorate of Nursing Anesthesia Practice (DNAP).
Previously, CRNAs only needed a master’s degree to qualify for the certification exam. However, in 2025, new guidelines will be instituted requiring a Doctorate of Nursing in Anesthesia Practice. This doctorate degree will grant prospective and today’s CRNAs a competitive edge in career opportunities and higher salaried positions.
Current CRNAs who only have a master’s degree will not be required to earn a DNAP. But, if you are a current student or RN who hopes to become a CRNA in the future, it’s highly recommended that you enroll in a DNAP program.
A Graduate CRNA program will prepare you for the next and final step: the National Certification Examination through the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA). Passing this exam qualifies you to be licensed as a CRNA by your state.
Maintaining Qualifications and Staying Skilled
Nursing and anesthesiology are both ever-evolving fields. Because it is crucial for you to stay on top of the newest developments, 40 hours of continuing education every two years are required in order to remain licensed as a CRNA.
Additional qualifications and requirements may differ by state or by employer.
Job Outlook and Salary for CRNAs
Nurse anesthetists are highly skilled and highly educated medical professionals. As such, they receive higher pay than other RNs. In 2020, the average annual salary for a CRNA in the United States was about $118,000 per year.3 Factors that can particularly affect your salary as a CRNA are your education, your location, and your nursing experience.
CRNAs remain in demand; the profession is estimated to grow by 45% from 2019 to 2029 which is significantly faster than the average job growth.4 The more we learn about pain management and anesthesia as a field, the more demand there will be for experts. Because it requires more education and training to become a CRNA, they are particularly valuable as they are less common.
Highly trained nurses will always be valuable assets in any healthcare setting.
A New Career Path as A CRNA
CRNAs play an important role in the medical field. From providing vital sedation for life-saving procedures to ensuring a patient is cared for after the anesthesia wears off, these anesthesia professionals are essential to the health world. While the additional education can seem daunting, becoming a CRNA might be the key to your future career goals and open up a whole new world of opportunity for your nursing skills.
If you’re interested in becoming a CRNA, or you’re interested in exploring other kinds of nursing, consider applying to be a travel nurse with Host Healthcare.
Expand Your Nursing Horizons with Host Healthcare
The number one travel healthcare company in the US, Host Healthcare offers thousands of job opportunities to nurses and therapists across the country. Our nurses have the flexibility to see new cities, explore new expertise, and meet other like-minded nurses through our supportive community.
If your application is accepted, you’ll be registered with us as a traveler and be matched with one of our expert recruiters. They’ll work with you to select nursing assignments that fit your personal preferences in a wide variety of locations around the country.
Whether you are a CRNA, an RN, or a recent graduate, working as a travel nurse will allow you to pursue your professional ambitions while exploring new cities and making lifelong memories. Apply to work with Host Healthcare and discover the next exciting chapter of your nursing career today!
- Mayo Clinic. General anesthesia. www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/anesthesia/about/pac-20384568/
- Western Governors University. Nurse anesthetist vs. anesthesiologist. www.wgu.edu/blog/nurse-anesthetist-vs-anesthesiologist2003.html#close/
- Nurse Practitioner Schools. How to Become a Nurse Anesthetist. www.nursepractitionerschools.com/certified-registered-nurse-anesthesia/how-to-become-crna/
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners. www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm/