Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
How Long Does Becoming a CRNA Take
Average salary: CRNA
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA)
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA) are the advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) who train specifically in administering anesthesia and other medications. The complex and specialized nature of this process makes CRNAs one of the most on-demand and highly paid healthcare providers in the entire industry. Read on to find out more about this challenging, yet highly rewarding line of work.
Nurse anesthetists can find work in a variety of different settings. Many states allow CRNAs to work autonomously, while others work in team settings with fellow HCPs like surgeons, dentists, other physicians and more. You can usually find them in hospital operating rooms, emergency rooms, cardiac care units, outpatient surgical clinics or intensive care units.In a surgical team, most surgical procedures take place between 6am to 7pm, Monday through Friday. Because of the importance of anesthesia and the possibility of sudden bookings, CRNAs still often work on holidays, weekends and late nights.
In any setting, CRNA responsibilities typically include (but are not limited to):
Identifying potential risks, such as allergies or overdose
Analyzing patient’s response to anesthesia
Accurately administering exact dosages
Educating patients on anesthesia, before and after
Maintaining anesthesia dosage throughout the operation
Overseeing patient recovery, post-procedure
How to Become a CRNA
You cannot enter this lucrative profession for free. Becoming a good CRNA takes years of training, experience and education. It is a large investment materially as well, since many of the best programs do not come cheap. If you have the commitment and the drive to pursue this path, however, then the rewards waiting for you could be bountiful. To get you started, here are the steps you need to take to become a nurse anesthetist:
1. Become a Registered Nurse
Before anything else, you need to apply to an accredited nursing program and become a certified registered nurse. While you can become an RN with an associates degree or a diploma, the Bachelor's Degree in Nursing (BSN) will provide you with a crucial foundation. Classes on health assessments, pathophysiology and pharmacology will become relevant to your work, much later on. BSN programs will also provide you with crucial hands-on experience in active healthcare settings.
Once you complete your BSN program, you become eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). Since every state has different requirements for exam registration, be sure to contact your local State Board of Nursing or visit their website for more information. After you pass your exam, and fulfill your state-specific requirements, you can finally acquire your registered nurse certification!
2. Acquire 1 to 3 years of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) experience
While some students skip directly to their postgraduate studies after certification, this is not an option for aspiring CRNAs. Nurse Anesthetist programs typically prefer students with 1 to 3 years of experience with adult patients in an ICU setting. 1 year is the absolute minimum, but greater than one year will increase your acceptance chances. This phase lets you get a feel for the typical work environment of a CRNA as you earn money at the same time.
Taking relevant certification classes at this time will make you more appealing both to future employers and nurse anesthetist programs. To this end, you can also shadow a nurse anesthetist. This displays your commitment to your line of work, while also providing an opportunity to learn valuable insights from professional CRNAs.
3. Take an accredited nurse anesthesia program
Now you can finally apply for an accredited nurse anesthetist program. In the past, CRNAs got to choose between taking their Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN) and a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). This is still the case at the time of writing, but there are plans to make a doctorate the minimum requirement, by 2025. In general, schools are trending towards providing doctorate programs over Masters. This is something to consider, when selecting your program of choice
There are currently hundreds of CRNA programs available nationwide. It is important to check if they are accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA), since it would be a waste of time otherwise. Although specifics will differ depending on school, there are a handful of common requirements to keep in mind:
Two years of RN working experience (minimum)
One year experience in an acute care setting (minimum)
Active RN license
BSN in a related field of study. Must include prerequisite courses like microbiology, human anatomy, chemistry, statistics and physiology
Proficiency in communication
Minimum college GPA
In total, you can expect two to three years of high level classes and clinical experience.
4. Complete and pass the National Certification Examination for Nurse Anesthetists
Upon graduation, you can finally take the National Certification Examination (NCE). This three hour electronic test evaluates the knowledge, skills and abilities that you honed in your studies. Once you pass the exam, you can finally become licensed by your state.
Congratulations! You are now an entry level nurse anesthetist! Do not forget to stay on top of your certification renewal. You need to recertify every four years and take a new test every eight years. In total, recertification requires 100 units of continuing education in areas like pathophysiology and anesthesia technologies.
Why CRNAs Will Need Doctorate Degrees by 2025
In the past, Nurse Anesthetists only needed their MSN to qualify for the certification exam. While nurses could hypothetically settle for their Master’s, DNPs provided added opportunities and advantages in a competitive job market. The changing minimum requirements further emphasize the importance of a doctorate, in the future.
In 2025, the Council of Accreditation (COA) is going to raise the degree standard for all CRNAs. This is in response to an increasingly complex healthcare landscape, which requires a higher level of education to address. By that time, all CRNAs will be required to have doctorates. As a direct result, nurse anesthetist schools can only graduate students in their doctoral programs.
These changes will affect every nurse applying for CRNA school in 2022. Since doctorate CRNA programs take two to three years to complete, this graduating class will have time to meet the new requirements by 2025.
If you are already enrolled in a master’s CRNA program, you will not be required to enroll in a doctoral program. That being said, pursuing your DNP is worth considering due to the numerous benefits. In the future, your contemporaries will have doctorates by default. Applying for a job with just a Master’s will put you at a disadvantage. A doctorate will also help you land certain jobs after graduation, and in the future it will be key in advancing your career even further.
Luckily, there are post-masters DNP bridge programs that will allow you to obtain your doctorate while you work.
If you are a licensed CRNA with a Master’s, you do not need to go back to school for your doctorate. It would still be advised to do so, since degree requirements vary from institution to institution. In the future, it is possible that most hospitals only consider doctorate candidates.