For those seeking specialization in their nursing career, one path to consider is becoming a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), a type of advanced practice registered nurse.1, 2 Nurse anesthetists help administer anesthesia to patients in medical settings, such as delivery rooms, dental offices, operating rooms and outpatient surgical centers. Prospective nurse anesthetists typically attend school for a number of years beyond a registered nurse (RN), as they must earn a master’s degree in addition to special licensing and certification.2
The job market for nurse anesthetists is expected to grow much faster than other industries and occupations.3 However, it is important to consider the skills and dedication required to become a CRNA.
Skills and Characteristics
A nurse anesthetist must have all of the capabilities of an RN. For instance, nurses administer various types of anesthesia and monitor patient vital signs while under anesthesia. Nurse anesthetists also implement advanced life support techniques, prepare medications and medical supplies, and administer intravenous medications.4
Nurse anesthetists should have good people skills, including active listening and clear communication abilities.1, 4 They need to be able to communicate with patients and other health care professionals to help ensure that proper care or courses of action are understood. These nurses must also be detail oriented in order to monitor patients accurately and administer correct dosages of medication.1
Additionally, since nurses may care for patients in sometimes dangerous medical situations, the ability to demonstrate compassion and empathy can be important too. In general, nurses should be sympathetic when treating patients and communicating with families.1
In order to become a registered nurse, a student must first earn a diploma, associate degree or bachelor’s degree in nursing from an accredited nursing program. Then, to become licensed, the nursing candidate must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) and become certified in his or her state of residence; however, certification requirements for licensing may vary by state.5
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a license, an RN can pursue a nurse anesthetist career by gaining at least one year of clinical experience, preferably in a critical care patient care setting.1, 2 An RN then must work towards a master’s or doctoral degree, which typically involves two to three years of graduate study. Becoming a nurse anesthetist requires approximately eight years of education overall.2
Certifications and Licenses
The National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA) administers national certification for CRNAs. Each graduate of a nurse anesthesia program must pass the national certification exam before becoming a CRNA. Recertification occurs on a biennial basis, and CRNAs must demonstrate at least 40 hours of continuing education and substantial engagement in the practice of anesthesia during the two-year period in order to be recertified.6
Job Market for CRNAs
According to the America Association of Nurse Anesthetists, more than 50,000 CRNAs administer approximately 43 million anesthetics in the United States each year.6 Additionally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the job market for nurse anesthetists, midwives and nurse practitioners will grow by 31% through 2024. This growth may occur primarily due to changes in healthcare legislation, increased emphasis on preventative care, and increased demand for health care services from the aging baby boomer generation.3
In 2016, states with the highest employment of nurse anesthetists were Texas, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Florida. Metropolitan areas with the top employment levels of nurse anesthetists during the same year included Houston, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Boston and Birmingham.7
What to Expect on a Day-to-Day Basis
Nurse anesthetists work in traditional hospital surgical units, obstetrical delivery rooms, ambulatory surgical centers, and in dentistry, podiatry, and plastic surgery offices. The services nurse anesthetists provide are generally determined by the hospital or group that employs them. However, CRNAs should have experience in every type of anesthesia care, including anesthetizing newborns and the elderly, and administering anesthesia during brain surgery procedures, life-saving trauma care, and childbirth.2
In general, a nurse anesthetist can be expected to execute the following duties on a given day: 4
- Perform pre-anesthesia screenings including patient physicals, interviews and documentation
- Implement anesthesia techniques, such as endotracheal intubation, mechanical ventilation, pharmacological support, respiratory therapy and extubation
- Monitor patients’ physical responses and vital signs, including skin color, pupil dilation, pulse, heart rate, blood pressure and respiration
A nurse anesthetist’s daily activities may involve contact with nerve-wracking situations. A CRNA should be able to deal with emotional strain and have a high stress tolerance. This job requires accepting criticism and dealing calmly and effectively with demanding medical procedures, patients and family members.4
Challenges can be presented with any nursing career, but those who meet the challenges of a nurse anesthetist may find themselves fulfilled by their job.
Earn Your Bachelor of Science in Nursing
The Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program at Colorado Technical University is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (http://www.ccneaccreditation.org). The RN-to-BSN program is designed to help students care for the complex need of patients across the health care continuum and become a leader in the profession of nursing. Learn more about CTU’s BSN degree.