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How to Become a Nurse Anesthetist

To become a nurse anesthetist, you'll need to become a registered nurse (RN) and earn a graduate degree with a nurse anesthetist focus. You'll also have to sit for the National Certification Examination for Nurse Anesthetists.
A nurse anesthetist working on a machine

Know before you read
At SNHU, we want to make sure you have the information you need to make decisions about your education and your future—no matter where you choose to go to school. That's why our informational articles may reference careers for which we do not offer academic programs, along with salary data for those careers. Cited projections do not guarantee actual salary or job growth.

Nurses are involved in nearly every aspect of healthcare, from pediatrics to geriatrics and from critical care to primary care. Nurses can serve as specialists or generalists depending on their training. Ultimately, nurses are experts at both treating people when they are sick and keeping people healthy and well. One nursing specialty that allows for compassionate nursing care coupled with expert critical thinking and technical nursing skills is that of the nurse anesthetist.

Becoming a nurse anesthetist is a rigorous process that allows experienced nurses to extend their nursing practice. Patient education and pain management are also key components of this specialty. There are specific educational requirements and steps for licensure to become a nurse anesthetist.

What is the Role of a Nurse Anesthetist?

Dr Sandy Findlay with the text Dr Sandy FindlayThe role of a nurse anesthetist is a highly skilled nursing specialty. While administering anesthesia and providing patient care before, during and after surgical procedures is the main function of this job, certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) can do much more, according to Sandy Findlay, DNP, RN, CNE, a clinical faculty member in nursing programs at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).

"CRNAs provide regional and general anesthesia," she said. "They can administer epidural, spinal and peripheral nerve blocks. They place invasive lines such as central access and arterial catheters."

Some specific responsibilities of a nurse anesthetist, according to Findlay, include:

  • Assisting with airway management
  • Collaborating with physicians and other team members
  • Giving regional and general anesthesia
  • Monitoring and recording patient vital signs
  • Obtaining medical histories
  • Providing pain management care

These responsibilities require a high level of communication skills, critical thinking skills and compassionate patient care. Sharp attention to detail is critical as well.

How to Become a Nurse Anesthetist

The nursing profession comes with specific education and training requirements to earn and maintain licensure for any specialty, and becoming a nurse anesthetist is no exception.

The process of becoming a nurse anesthetist involves first becoming a registered nurse and then earning a graduate degree. By 2025, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) reports that a doctorate degree will be a requirement for CRNA certification.

Along the way, gaining work experience in one or more critical care areas is a must. Finally, passing and maintaining a licensure exam is necessary.

Here is the path to becoming a nurse anesthetist in more detail:

  1. Become a registered nurse, known as an RN. "Before being admitted to a CRNA program, RNs need at least two years of experience in an intensive care unit," Findlay said. If you find you have an aptitude for working in those types of environments, a career as a nurse anesthetist might be for you. An active, unencumbered RN license is also necessary to become a CRNA, according to Findlay.

  2. Earn a graduate degree in nursing. From there, the options for becoming a nurse anesthetist are to build on your existing nursing experience and education by earning a graduate degree with a nurse anesthetist focus and accreditation by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA), according to Findlay. In the past, a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with a nurse anesthetist focus was sufficient, but as of 2025, a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in Nurse Anesthesia will be a requirement to become a CRNA. (Nurse anesthesia programs are not currently offered at SNHU.)

    "An MSN program focuses on building the knowledge obtained in pre-licensure programs focusing on developing knowledge in a specialty of nursing, such as advanced practice nursing roles, administration, public health, education, etc.," Findlay said. "A DNP program continues the building of knowledge in a specialty area while focusing on understanding and utilizing research to improve patient outcomes and provide quality care."

    Some MSN programs will require you to first earn an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, so be sure to research a school's requirements before applying.

  3. Sit for the National Certification Examination for Nurse Anesthetists. Once you pass the national certification exam and become a certified registered nurse anesthetist, you’ll need to meet continuing education requirements every four years, and at eight years, a professional certification assessment is performed, according to Findlay. "This is used to show where areas of growth are needed," she said. "The renewal process includes obtaining continuing education credits on approved topics, participating in professional activities and being active in practice."

Is Becoming a Nurse Anesthetist Hard?

There's no doubt that pursuing a career in nursing is challenging. Becoming a nurse anesthetist, in particular, requires a very specialized path.

If a profession in patient care that uses critical thinking skills and requires a strong science background sounds rewarding, this area of nursing could be a great fit for you. According to Findlay, essential skills needed to be a successful nurse anesthetist include:

  • Critical thinking skills, where you may analyze facts and information, often very quickly and in serious situations.
  • EKG interpretation, where you may review reports of the electrical activity of a patient’s heart and make recommendations for treatment.
  • Laboratory result reading and interpretation, to aid in diagnosis of illness and determination of treatment for your patients.
  • Managing ventilator settings, which requires an understanding of lung function as well as knowledge of properly functioning ventilator systems.
  • Pathophysiology, which includes an understanding of the changes that happen as a disease progresses or which examines how a disease, injury or other conditions may affect a patient.

"A CRNA must have mastered these skills and (be able to) think independently, effectively communicate and strongly advocate for the patient," Findlay said. You should also have experience in an intensive care unit or other critical care areas to help put those skills into practice and ensure this career is the right fit for you.

These are high-stress areas, but working in the critical care field can be quite rewarding for the right person. If that type of nursing practice suits you, becoming a nurse anesthetist could be a very fulfilling career.

What are the Career Prospects for Nurse Anesthetists?

As a nurse anesthetist, you could work in a surgical center or hospital or in therapeutic, diagnostic or obstetrical fields. The field is potentially financially lucrative as well. “Salaries differ across the United States, but CRNAs are among the highest-paying advanced practice roles," Findlay said.*

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), industries with the highest levels of employment for nurse anesthetists as of May 2022 include:

  • Outpatient care centers, where the average salary is $246,980*
  • General medical and surgical hospitals, where the average salary is $217,570*
  • Physician’s offices, where nurse anesthetists earned an average salary of $200,280*

Also according to BLS, the overall job growth predicted for nursing specialties that includes nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners is 38% between 2022-2032.* That is much faster than the national average for job growth, BLS reported.*

What is the Difference Between Nurse Anesthetists and Anesthesiologists?

The paths to becoming a nurse anesthetist and an anesthesiologist each take many years of training and experience. Both paths require strong critical thinking skills and a desire to help patients have positive surgical outcomes. Yet, while the role of the nurse anesthetist is very similar to that of an anesthesiologist, there are some key differences.

A nurse anesthetist is a licensed, registered nurse who has achieved specialized nursing training to administer anesthesia and provide the other functions of the role. An anesthesiologist is a medical doctor (MD) who has completed medical school, earned a license to practice medicine, and has completed the specialized physician training to administer anesthesia.

One notable difference between the two, according to Findlay, is the time needed to train for the position. Where a CRNA program takes between 27-32 months to complete, anesthesiologists must complete four years of medical school and then four years of anesthesia residency, Findlay said. Additionally, CRNAs work under anesthesiologists in some states and independently in others.

Another difference between the two is the focus of the role. Which route you choose truly depends on how you wish to serve your patients. “A physician diagnoses, treats, prescribes and evaluates," Findlay said. "A nurse anesthetist diagnoses, treats, and evaluates in a holistic manner."

Find Your Program

Why Become a Nurse Anesthetist Instead of an Anesthesiologist?

Findlay offers the following benefits to becoming a nurse anesthetist over an anesthesiologist:

  • Nurses can enter the workforce faster. Medical doctors are trained for many years before being allowed to practice unsupervised. Nurses in any specialty are able to start working and making a difference for their patients much sooner.

  • Nurse anesthetists can still work independently. While some states require nurse anesthetists to work under the supervision of an anesthesiologist, many states allow nurse anesthetists to practice independently. According to Findlay, employing nurse anesthetists can be financially beneficial. "CRNAs allow healthcare facilities to lower their cost without impacting the quality of care patients receive," she said.

  • Nurses connect with patients. Doctors diagnose illnesses and prescribe medications, and while nurses in certain specialties can do the same, nurses are trained to make personal connections with patients. "Nurses focus on providing care to the patient in a holistic manner," Findlay said. "Often this requires being an advocate for the patient and their family to ensure all their mental, physical and spiritual needs are met."

Do Nurse Anesthetists Have a Good Work-Life Balance?

The flexibility of creating and maintaining a healthy balance of work and life is truly up to the nurse anesthetist. While most nurse anesthetists choose to practice at the bedside. Findlay notes that they can work in a number of other roles as well, including:

  • Continuing Education. Many nurses choose to go into education, teaching critical skills to other nurses.
  • Department Manager. Supervising or managing staff allows nurses to hone their people skills, manage budgets, write schedules and lead meetings, in addition to administering patient care.
  • Personnel and Resource Management. Making hiring and staffing decisions in a busy medical practice, in addition to seeing patients, is another option to incorporate the strong interpersonal skills of a nurse.
  • Quality Assurance. A nurse anesthetist may wish to work on implementing or refining anesthesia processes or quality of care.
  • Risk Management. Nurse anesthetists could use their critical thinking skills to work with hospital or medical office administration to identify and eliminate any risks to patient care.
  • Staff Development. According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA), approximately 43 million anesthetics are administered by nurse anesthetists to patients each year in the United States (AANA PDF source). That creates a great demand for mentorship and other training opportunities for nurses.

Similar to the demands of many advance practice nurses, achieving a work-life balance can be tricky for a nurse anesthetist. This is because nursing is a demanding role, and the type of facility where the nurse anesthetist works can vary so widely. This variation can lead to a high level of personal choice in customizing a career, though, which can be quite satisfying. Some nurse anesthetists can create their own work schedule or work with assigned patients in an on-call or per diem environment.

Is a Career as a Nurse Anesthetist Rewarding?

While the training to become a nurse anesthetist is significant, the specialty is ideal for registered nurses looking for more autonomy and continuity of care when working with patients, according to Findlay.

"Nurses who are self-driving, autonomous and diligent in their practice often move towards working as a CRNA," Findlay said.

The areas nurse anesthetists work in often involve intense stress, but Findlay finds that the profession is ultimately a rewarding one — one that offers immediate gratification during patient care.

"Being a CRNA allows for an individual to treat a patient in a manner that focuses on pain management and improvement in health outcomes," Findlay said. "Though it can be stressful at times, the impact on patient care outweighs the stress."

The bottom line is that nursing as an overall profession offers many ways to serve others while customizing your career. Becoming a nurse anesthetist is one way to excel in a fast-paced environment while working independently with a focus on patient care.

Find an RN-to-BSN program that can help position you for further education in an advanced nursing field, such as nurse anesthetist.

*Cited job growth projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth. Actual salaries and/or earning potential may be the result of a combination of factors including, but not limited to: years of experience, industry of employment, geographic location, and worker skill.

Marie Morganelli, PhD, is a freelance content writer and editor.

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