If you’ve ever had surgery, chances are you’ve encountered a nurse anesthetist. For over 150 years, nurse anesthetists have been providing relief to suffering patients in the United States; as of 2016, the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) reported that nurse anesthetists were administering anesthesia approximately 43 million times each year in the U.S.
Many registered nurses choose to pursue this career path because of its singular focus in work duties and the rate of pay. It is not a pursuit for the faint of heart — becoming a nurse anesthetist requires dedication to your training, and it can be stressful to know how much rides on the procedure you are performing — but the effect these professionals can have on the lives of their patients is undeniable.
Career Outlook for Nurse Anesthetists
|Nurse Anesthetist||National Average|
|Projected Job Growth||16%||7.4%|
Best States for Nurse Anesthetists
What is a Nurse Anesthetist?
A nurse anesthetist is exactly what it sounds like: a nurse who also administers anesthesia to patients. You may wonder what the difference is between a nurse anesthetist and an anesthesiologist; in fact, they are actually very similar in many ways. Both administer anesthesia before and during intensive medical procedures (i.e. surgeries), and both stay with patients throughout the procedure to monitor vital signs and supply additional anesthesia if necessary. Both practitioners administer anesthesia in the same way, and both were judged to be equally safe and competent by the Research Triangle Institute (RTI).
The differences between the two careers really comes from the other duties both perform. Anesthesiologists are medical physicians, and when they are not administering anesthesia, they have duties that reflect this position. Meanwhile, nurse anesthetists are also nurses, and so they are also responsible for advanced practice registered nurse tasks such as:
- Recording patients’ medical histories
- Performing physical exams and diagnostic tests
- Creating patient care plans based on observation and test results
- Educating patients on how to stay healthy, use medication or manage illnesses/ injuries
Nurse Anesthetist Skills
Step One: Earn Your Education
In order to begin the process of becoming a nurse anesthetist, it is vital to first earn your registered nursing license. This is a requirement for pursuing education in most of the advanced practice nursing roles, and nurse anesthetist is no exception. If you have not fulfilled this first requirement, our page on registered nurses might be able to help you get started.
The minimum education for nurse anesthetists as of 2018 is a master’s degree. However, this is slated for change. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists has declared that as of 2025, nurse anesthetists will be required to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or a Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice (DNAP) degree. The Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs states that students accepted into accredited nurse anesthesia educational programs after 2022 must complete a DNP or DNAP degree.
If you are an RN who is worried about this increase in educational requirements, there is good news to go along with it. In 2016, more than one-third of all accredited nursing school anesthesia programs offered a “Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing to DNP” bridge program, with more campuses working towards accreditation of the same. Our page on bridge programs can help you learn more about this option.
Nurse anesthetist programs are designed to teach nursing students about the administration of regional anesthesia and pain management, as well as a wide range of other clinical and surgical procedures. Coursework for nurse anesthetist programs varies from college to college. However, most require a clinical anesthesia residency, where students take increasing responsibility for patient anesthesia care under the supervision of a certified registered nurse anesthetist and/or anesthesiologist.
Nurse anesthesia degree programs may also include study in many of the following subjects:
- Advanced pharmacology
- Advanced clinical assessment across the lifespan
- Pharmacology for anesthesia and critical care
- Principles and practice of nurse anesthesia
- Anesthesia and coexisting diseases
- Leadership and collaborative practice
Length of study varies as well. It usually takes between two or three years to complete a master’s degree program, while a DNP or DNAP program may require a longer time commitment. Certain nurse anesthetist programs also allow students to complete some classes online.
Step Two: Earn Your Certification
The National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA) is the body that certifies aspiring nurse anesthetists to work in the U.S., regardless of geographical location. In order to be certified, a candidate must pass the National Certification Examination, as described below. In 2017, the board administered 3,120 exams with an 82.6 percent first-time pass rate.
Nurse Anesthetist Certifications
- National Certification Examination (NCE): This is the initial certification examination that nurse anesthetists must pass to earn licensure. The exam tests students’ knowledge in core areas of basic sciences, pharmacology, equipment, instrumentation and technology, and general principles of anesthesia. Each section of the exam is weighed equally.
- Continued Professional Certification Examination. CRNAs must pass this exam every eight years for recertification. During the eight-year timeframe between recertification, nurse anesthetists must check in every two years to confirm continuing practice, as well as demonstrate they hold a valid state license.
- Nonsurgical Pain Management (NSPM): This voluntary subspecialty certification is offered through the NBCRNA and requires advanced study in pain management techniques beyond those nurse anesthetists learn in nursing school. Candidates must have at least two years clinical experience, and the certification must be renewed every four years.
Step Three: Continuing Education
Due to the increasing role of nurse anesthetists in healthcare settings, coupled with technological advancements in the field, the NCBRNA requires a great deal of continuing education for nurse anesthetists.
In order to be recertified, nurse anesthetists must complete an eight-year recertification program that’s split into two four-year cycles. During the four-year cycles, CRNAs must complete 60 credits of continuing education classes, 40 credits of professional development classes, and a core development module in anesthesia study.
The best way for nurse anesthetists to be sure they are aware of the most accurate and recent list of continuing education requirements in their home state is to check with their state board of nursing.
- Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist fact sheet, American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, https://www.aana.com/patients/certified-registered-nurse-anesthetists-fact-sheet
- Nurse Anesthetists, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291151.htm
- Nurse Anesthetists, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm#tab-2
- Statement comparing anesthesiologist assistant and nurse anesthetist education and practice, American Society of Anesthesiologists, http://www.asahq.org/sitecore/shell/~/media/sites/asahq/files/public/resources/standards-guidelines/statement-comparing-anesthesiologist-assistant-and-nurse-anesthetist-education-and-practice.pdf
- Nurse Anesthesia Program, Columbia University School of Nursing, http://nursing.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/documents/anes_lateral_program_plan_0.pdf
- Nurse Anesthetist Curriculum Overview, Keck School of Nursing, University of Southern California, https://keck.usc.edu/nurse-anesthesia-program/courses/
- Continued Professional Certification Program, National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists, https://www.nbcrna.com/docs/default-source/continued-certification/cpc-toolkit/20160414_cpc_brochure.pdf
- AANP Pain Management Resources, American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, https://www.aana.com/ce-education/pain-management
- Nonsurgical Pain Management, National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists, https://www.nbcrna.com/exams/nspm
- “Research Shows Anesthesia Safety at All-Time High,” American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, https://www.aana.com/news/news-detail/2017/05/18/research-shows-anesthesia-safety-at-all-time-high