Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) is one of the major advanced practice areas for nurses. Although requirements for becoming a CRNA vary by state, they must graduate from a nurse anesthesia educational program accredited by the Council on Accreditation (COA) and pass the certification examination administered by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA).

COA accredited nurse anesthesia educational programs require a bachelor’s degree, a registered nursing (RN) license and a minimum of one year experience as a nurse in a critical care setting, according to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA)’s CRNA Fact Sheet. Upon completion of the program, aspiring CRNAs must pass the national certifying exam in order to practice as nurse anesthetists.

Certified registered nurse anesthetists administer care in a variety of settings from medical centers to community hospitals, pain clinics, dentist offices or physicians’ offices, just to name a few. Their practice includes, but is not limited to, general and local anesthesia, sedation, epidural, spinal or peripheral nerve blocks.

Common roles of the nurse anesthetist may include caring for patients before and after surgery, providing pain control during childbirth, overseeing conscious sedation, teaching students and conducting research. Nurse anesthetists must possess advanced assessment skills and be able to work directly with other members of the patient care team to provide the best possible outcomes.

Nurse Anesthetist Salary

As of September 2019, the median salary for nurse anesthetists $167,950 per year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. CRNAs may find a variety of career opportunities due to high demand and career flexibility.

CRNAs can practice in all 50 states, but must complete significant training before graduation. According to the COA Standards for Accreditation, CRNAs must complete more than 2,000 clinical hours and administer more than 600 clinical cases before graduation. Nurse anesthetists must meet specific training criteria, including at least one year of experience in critical care nursing and a passing score on the National Certification Exam (NCE).

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist Education Programs

Curriculum and Core Classes

As of December 2019, there were 122 nurse anesthetist programs in the U.S. Programs are often competitive, with a high number of applicants for a select number of openings. Student selection criteria is based on academic transcripts, references and critical care experience.

Face-to-face interviews may also be conducted, and the student’s intelligence, problem-solving abilities, critical thinking and commitment to the profession will be evaluated throughout the admissions process.

Curriculum requirements are formulated to build a scientific, clinical and professional foundation for safe practice. Prerequisite work includes pharmacology of anesthetic drugs and adjuvant drugs, plus additional focus on chemistry and biochemistry. Anatomy, physiology and pathophysiology studies are also required. Students will learn basic and advanced principles of anesthesia practices that go beyond the physical aspects including physics, equipment management, technology, pain management, research and clinical correlation.

Program Length

According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) most programs range between 24 and 51 months in length. Both full-time and part-time study is available, although not necessarily for all programs. Applications should be submitted a year before the candidate’s desired enrollment date.

In addition to graduation from an accredited master’s or higher nursing degree program, aspiring CRNAs will need to pass the certification exam administered by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists to become a CRNA. The NBCRNA exam tests comprehension of assessment and diagnosis techniques, pharmacology, theory and more. Before applying to a specific program, prospective students can inquire about the school’s pass/fail rate on the NCE. Many schools will have this information posted on their website and will disclose what percentage of their graduates passed on the first or second attempt.

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