How to Become a Nurse AnesthetistTraining, Programs and Timeline to a CRNA Career

Earning on average almost six times what regular nurse assistants make per year, nurse anesthetists work closely with both patients and medical staff, caring for those requiring anesthesia throughout the course of their medical procedures. Specialized training helps prepare those looking to enter the field to provide the level of care needed to ensure patients are safe and comfortable, from prep to recovery. Learn the types of educational and certification programs that exists for would-be nurse anesthetists, what to expect after graduation, and what it takes to succeed in this elite branch of nursing.

Search CRNA Schools

Certified registered nursing anesthetist degrees are a high-level nurse specialization and finding the right program can be a lot of work. This search tool locates accredited programs that fit a prospective student’s practical criteria, such as location and degree level, which can help narrow down the field.

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Timeline to Becoming a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

There is some leeway at the beginning of a certified registered nursing anesthetist’s academic career, but as students narrow their focus to this profession, they must be prepared for rigorous academic and practical work. Programs expect excellence from applicants, and they work to teach their accepted students to perform excellent work as nurse anesthetists. Below is a standard path to become a certified registered nursing anesthetist.

Before Starting a CRNA Program
Get a bachelor’s degree

This would ideally be a bachelor’s in nursing but certified registered nursing anesthetist programs accept other undergraduate majors as well, as long as a student has

Become a registered nurse

Pass the NCLEX-RN certification exam. If a student did not pursue a bachelor’s in nursing, this can be done through associate’s degree programs or certificate programs that are available online, at a community college, or through a university. Gaining the knowledge to pass the exam should take about two years, depending on the program.

Work in an ICU

Nursing anesthetist programs expect at least one year of clinical work in intensive care, and some require even more experience in clinical practice. Spend time in the field, gain experience in high-stress hospital situations, and perfect a good bedside manner. Getting Critical Care Registered Nurse certification is an additional step to demonstrate commitment to patient care work.

Getting in to a CRNA Program
Find the right program

Consider cost, location and ideal career goals when selecting a program. Nursing anesthetist education programs are intense, so be sure to choose a college that both feels right and contributes to personal future work opportunities.

Complete any prerequisites

Some certified registered nursing anesthetist programs require students to take core classes prior to enrollment. They make accept transfer credits from previous institutions if the prerequisites have been completed recently. Programs may also ask interested students to shadow a current nurse anesthetist.

Apply to a CRNA program

The acceptance rate depends on the college, but nursing anesthetist program class sizes are typically small for these high-level, specialized courses. Applicants may pursue post-graduate certification, a master’s or a PhD in certified registered nursing anesthesia.

Clinicals & Classes
Participate in clinicals

Most of the classes for nurse anesthesia programs are clinicals – over 1,000 hours in some programs. Clinical rotations provide experience with a range of medical facilities, such as inpatient and outpatient, MRI, ICU and ER. Clinical work requires much time and effort, so nurse anesthetist students must manage their time well.

Take required courses

University classes in nurse anesthetist programs delve into theory, research and simulations before students are ever tasked with clinical work. Students learn to administer general and local anesthesia as well as monitored anesthesia care. They learn spinal and epidural anesthetics, how to manage airways, and how to handle operating room emergencies. Students can focus in specialized areas of anesthesia including pediatrics, obstetrics, dental, trauma, and organ transplantation. Classroom theory courses focus on how anesthesia interacts with bodies, ethics, and on pain management techniques.

Graduate from a CRNA program

Students have to be full-time, and coursework is heavily weighted towards practical knowledge gained through clinical experience. Expect to work in hospitals and clinics throughout the program.

Find work as a CRNA

Nurse anesthetists work with patients before, during, and after surgery, easing pain and adjusting for different physiological factors that can affect anesthesia. They often serve rural areas, sometimes providing 100 percent of anesthesia care in rural hospitals. The pay can be great though the hours are long, and a confident professional who wants to make people feel better can thrive in this career.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist Classes and Degrees

Becoming a certified registered nurse anesthetist requires time and practical experience. Working with patients during a surgery and managing their pain afterwards is a precise task. Whether students are pursuing a certificate or a higher degree in this field, quality nurse anesthetist programs provide ample amounts of clinical work to build a student’s confidence in this delicate, crucial field of medicine.

Sample Courses

While clinical work is a major component in all nurse anesthetist programs, but there is also classroom preparation, discussion and practice that must take place before students step into the field. Below are examples of classes that students might expect to take.

Chemistry and Physics Related to Anesthesia

A course on the physics and physical laws of anesthesia.

Professional Aspects of Nurse Anesthesia Practices

This course addresses how students can assess and manage pain in a variety of ways, from traditional medicine to alternative pain management practices.

Pain and Pain Management in Clinical Practice

Students in this class learn the professional issues, roles, rights, and responsibilities of nurse anesthetists.

Anesthesia in Clinical Practice

Theoretical knowledge, clinical experience, and patient simulations all connect in this course designed to ease students into clinical settings.

Basic Principles of Anesthesia

This course introduces concepts for planning safe, individualized anesthetic programs. Students learn in the classroom and the lab about pre- and post-anesthetic assessment, care plans and techniques, acute pain management, and anesthesia equipment.

Information Systems and Data Management in Anesthesia

In this class, students learn to use information technology to increase patient safety through the anesthesia process.

Advanced Physical Assessment for Nurse Anesthesia

Students in this course learn to perform comprehensive health assessments on people of various ages and interpret those findings through the lens of anesthesia.

Advanced Practicum in Anesthesia I-VI

In this series of six classes, students apply their knowledge of anesthesia, addressing relevant patient needs and risks to refine their clinical skills.

Degrees: Post-Graduate Certificate, Master’s or PhD

Time to Complete: Two years to 36 months

Program Type: Community College or 4-Year University

Description: Earning a certified registered nurse anesthetist certificate or degree requires intensive practicum work as well as classwork. Applicants should have previous nursing education, and some programs expect a bachelor’s in nursing and a year of critical care experience. Colleges may also require applicants to take chemistry, anatomy, physiology and statistics classes through an accredited school. Programs are full-time, clinical-intensive and competitive because classes are often less than 20 students. Nurse anesthesia students gain practical experience in hospitals located close to the college. They can graduate from these programs with a certificate, master’s, or doctoral degree in anesthesia, and will likely have experience with nearby hospitals or clinics for future career opportunities.

CRNA Careers At-a-Glance

Considering the amount of education, time and energy that certified registered nurse anesthetists pour into getting their degrees, it makes sense that they are some of the highest-paid medical professionals in the healthcare industry. Because they work with individual patients who are experiencing medical crises, they must be calm, kind and confident in their ability to administer anesthesia using various means. The job market for certified registered nurse anesthetists is wide open and welcoming, but they must put in the time and effort to truly succeed in this difficult career.

CRNA: Career Basics

Certified registered nurse anesthetists are responsible for safely putting patients to sleep during surgery. They monitor patients carefully throughout invasive medical procedures to ensure that they are not conscious at any point in the process, and develop pain management plans for them post-surgery. Professionals in this field must be able to work with a wide range of people, understand how anesthesia can affect different bodies, and care for distressed patients with compassion.

CRNA: In Depth

A certified registered nurse anesthetist degree is an intensive specialization within the nursing field and while it pays extremely well, the time and energy that professionals put into their work is immense. Though putting people to sleep sounds simple, there are factors ranging from the physical to the psychological that can obstruct a nurse anesthetist effectively pursuing their job. Nurse anesthetists begin work before surgery starts by assessing patient anesthesia needs. They monitor the patient throughout surgery and throughout recovery. While they may work with a team of anesthetists, more often nurse anesthetists work alone, so they must be confident in their skills. They are in charge of patient comfort and should provide a warm, professional bedside manner to patients who may be concerned, anxious, uncomfortable or hurting.

CRNA Career & Salary Outlook

Certified registered nurse anesthetists most often provide anesthesia services to rural communities, though they may work in urban medical facilities alongside anesthesiologists or other nurse anesthetists. They are some of highest paid medical professionals, both because of the training they undergo and because of the responsibilities they have for patient safety and comfort. It takes hard work and dedication to reach this level of specialization, and there are many opportunities in various medical settings for nurse anesthetists throughout the nation.

Industries with the Most CRNAs

Industry Total Employment (2014) Mean Hourly Wage (2014) Mean Annual Wage (2014)

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General Medical and Surgical Hospitals




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Outpatient Care Centers




Federal Executive Branch (OES Designation)




Top 5 States with the Highest Concentration of CRNAs

  • Florida 3,160
  • Texas 3,050
  • North Carolina 2,380
  • Ohio 2,330
  • Pennsylvania 2,210

Highest-Paying States for CRNAs

  • Montana $243,550
  • New Hampshire $217,560
  • Wyoming $210,210
  • Wisconsin $207,220
  • California $206,150


Certifications & Salary Boosters

Becoming a certified registered nurse anesthetist is already a gateway into a great salary, but program graduates can further demonstrate their skills for employers by taking certification exams through a couple different nurse anesthetist certifying bodies.

  • National Certification Examination:

    Accredited nurse anesthetist education programs prepare students to take this exam after graduation. All program graduates must take this exam, offered by the National Board of Certification and Recertification of Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA), in order to practice as certified registered nurse anesthetists.

  • Continued Professional Certification:

    This is a continuing education and recertification program for practicing nurse anesthetists though the NBCRNA. Certified registered nurse anesthetists who maintain a license to practice, participate in continuing education activities, and continue to work skillfully in their field must demonstrate their abilities by meeting continuing education requirements every four years and taking a recertification exam every eight years.

  • Certified Post Anesthesia Nurse (CPAN)/Certified Ambulatory Perianesthesia Nurse (CAPN):

    The American Board of Perianesthesia Nursing Certification, Inc. offers this certification program for nurse anesthetists who work with patients either before or after they have experienced anesthesia in a hospital facility. The CPAN exam is for nurses who work with patients immediately post-anesthesia, while nurses working with patients before anesthesia, during the procedure, and afterwards in extended care take the CAPN. Professionals must meet clinical experience requirements before they can take either of these exams.

Additional Resources

American Association of Nurse Anesthetists.

Previously an accrediting and certifying body for nurse anesthetists, the AANA is currently an association of certified registered nurses. It provides education grants and opportunities, and endorses certification and recertification programs for practicing nurse anesthetists as well as current students interested in the field of anesthesia.

American Board of Perianesthesia Nursing Certification, Inc.

This non-profit certification board develops, sponsors, and manages two perianesthesia nursing certification programs. Their programs focus on certifying nurses who care for patients post-surgery, after going through sedation, analgesia, and anesthesia in a medical facility.

Council of Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs.

Through the COA, students and practicing nurse anesthetists have access to accredited education programs and fellowships in the field of anesthesia. This council verifies that certified registered nurse anesthetist programs meet a standard of education that can help graduates do well in the field.

Memphis Student Nurse Anesthetist Foundation.

A local foundation that serves nurse anesthetist students in the Memphis, TN area, this foundation promotes scholarship and professional engagement among students in the anesthesia profession. They also work to develop health and educational outreach services within the community.

National Board of Certification and Recertification of Nurse Anesthetists.

While individual states issue credentials to certified registered nurse anesthetist program graduates, students must take a certification exam through NBCRNA to demonstrate that they understand the essential, objectively established standards of practice. There are student and recent graduate resources available through this certification body as well.

New England Assembly of Student Registered Nurse Anesthetists.

This student assembly is a way for nurse anesthetist students in New England, New York, and New Jersey to gather and exchange ideas. It also facilitates students and faculty communication and provides a variety of professional resources to students, from continuing education to community outreach.

Nurse Anesthetist Org.

This website provides less-formal information on recommended anesthesia and medical texts for nurse anesthetists. The site also includes a blog where professionals speak about their personal experiences in this elite medical field.

Various State Associations.

The AANA provides a list of certified registered nurse anesthetist associations by state. These associations are a great way to network with local nurse anesthetists, and may have resources for students as well as current professionals.

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