A nurse anesthetist, also known as a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), work closely with other health care professionals such as surgeons, dentists, podiatrists and other anesthesiologists to provide the same anesthesia services as an anesthesiologist. Over 28,000 CRNAs currently work to provide for a patient’s needs before, during and after surgery. CRNAs are licensed professional nurses who administer approximately sixty-five percent of the twenty-six million anesthetics given to patients in the U.S. each year, according to the AANA (American Association of Nurse Anesthetists).

The CRNA assumes a responsible role for the patient during surgery, as this nurse performs pre- and post-operative procedures such as physical assessments, education for the patient and family members, anesthetic preparation managements, the actual administering of the anesthesia, recovery from the anesthesia and detailed postoperative management. The nurse anesthetist is with a patient during the entire surgical procedure to monitor every important body function for patient safety.

Prerequisites for Becoming a CRNA

Individual programs may required various work and educational experience, but in most cases the nurse who seeks a CRNA license must have a BSN or other appropriate undergraduate degree. The applicant also must be a registered nurse (RN) and have up to five years of experience in acute nursing care, preferably adult intensive care or emergency nursing.

How to become a CRNA

If the applicant is accepted for a CRNA course, he or she can expect to study a curriculum that emphasizes anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology, biochemistry, chemistry, physics and pharmacology. Most nurse anesthetist programs are found within nursing schools. The first year is spent in the classroom and the second year in the field, where the nurse is assigned to a hospital for hands-on experience with administration of general and regional anesthesia and to learn about acute and chronic pain managements.

A typical CRNA program is a graduate program that will lead to a master’s degree (MSN). Therefore, a typical CRNA program generally will take two to three years to complete, depending upon whether the course is completed on a full- or part-time basis. After completing extensive education and training, CRNAs become nationally certified to practice in all 50 states.

Careers Available After Becoming a CRNA

CRNAs may have one of the most flexible, well-paying and exciting careers of any nursing occupation. These nurses can practice in a variety of settings alone, in groups and collaboratively. You can find CRNAs in hospital operating rooms, obstetrical delivery rooms, ambulatory surgery centers, pain clinics and doctors’ offices. CRNAs work in the public sector, in private situations, in the military and as independent contractors. Additionally, these nurses witness every kind of surgery imaginable, from total hip to neonatal open heart procedures.

Since CRNAs remain with their patients for the entire surgical process to administer anesthesia and to monitor pain management, the level of responsibility that CRNAs assume is reflected in their salaries. According to the AANA, the reported average annual CRNA salary in 2005 was approximately $160,000. This high salary also reflects the severe shortage and high demand for CRNAs, especially in the public sector.