Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) Programs

Anesthesia services is one of the most lucrative fields of nursing. Offering extensive autonomy and an income well above the average salary of an RN (registered nurse), a healthcare position as an anesthetist provides you the opportunity to practice in a wide array of outpatient and inpatient settings, including the military and ambulatory surgical centers. Although the compensation is highly rewarding, you do have to deal with a considerable amount of stress at the workplace, and you don’t have to be on call outside of working hours. But, this is also what makes the job less predictable and prevents you from falling into a routine. For those interested in this career path, here is a comprehensive guide on how to become a Nurse Anesthetist and what you can do once you have earned your qualification.

Who is this program for?

Are you an RN looking to earn a Master’s Degree in a specific nursing specialty? A Nurse Anesthetist program could be a smart decision for your career. If you want to advance from a bedside nurse to something a little more exciting and financially rewarding, consider becoming a CRNA (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist). Similarly, if you want to enroll in higher education but still work during your studies, you might want to join an online NA program. Are you interested in pursuing doctoral-level education and would like to be eligible for lucrative job positions? Anesthesia services might be the right fit for your ambitions.

If helping others has always been your passion, but you also want to help yourself by having a job with financial security, a career as a Nurse Anesthetist is the perfect choice for you. This type of advanced practice will ensure that you have no money worries, while still providing you with challenges that help you grow and gainthe authority of expertise. You get to make independent decisions that carry a lot of weight in critical situations. You have much more responsibility than a regular nurse, as well as the opportunity to advance towards a leadership, education or executive position in the future. Empathy, dexterity, critical thinking skills and the ability to perform under stress are all key-aspects required to be a successful CRNA.

The different paths to becoming a Nurse Anesthetist

A career in anesthesia services is very demanding and will require a lot of sacrifices. However, you shouldn’t take a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to the education leading to your work as a CRNA. There is a multitude of academic paths from which to choose to receive your qualification. And it is important to acknowledge that a Master’s degree, albeit the most popular, is not necessarily the best or even most efficient method out there. Depending on your schedule, family life and current job, you might need to finish your studies faster or have more flexible learning hours. This is where these alternatives come in handy. Here are the most relevant ways to become a Nurse Anesthetist:

  • Associate’s Degree: this type of training only takes two years to complete and has a more intensive curriculum. Although a standard ADN program does not qualify you to work as a Nurse Anesthetist, a bridge RN to BSN track will allow you to start practicing in half the time it would take with a conventional route;
  • Master of Science in Nursing: this graduate degree path is the most common among registered nursing; you simply continue your studies after earning your Bachelor’s certification and choose anesthesia as your future specialization. The advantage of choosing this track is that you will study a more comprehensive curriculum, have more clinical practice and the possibility to move up the ladder towards leadership positions in your later years;
  • Doctorate Degree: this is an excellent option if you’re looking to develop your academic skills and transition to higher education. A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) can take anywhere between one and three years to obtain, but it will turn you into an expert in your chosen specialty and ensure that you land a secure, high-end job providing anesthesia services.

What does the program require?

To be admitted to a Nurse Anesthetist program, you need a minimum GPA of 3.0, official copies of your transcripts, Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) and Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) or Basic Life Support (BLS) certifications, as well as your GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) scores where applicable. If you are pursuing a Master’s in this nursing specialty, you are required to have a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing. On the other hand, if you are enrolling in a doctoral degree for anesthesia services, you must already have an MSN from an accredited school.

Aside from your transcripts, you will be required to submit three letters of reference, proof of your current RN (registered nurse) licensure, a curriculum vitae (CV) and a goal statement that explains and motivates your endeavor to become a CRNA. Some universities also ask for work experience of at least two years as an RN before considering you for admission. Additionally, other institutions will require that you have one year’s worth of full-time work in an ICU (for cardiac, neuro, pediatric, medical, surgical and neonatal intensive care) or shadow experience with a professional anesthesiologist. Lastly, you will need a GPA of 3.0 or higher in five science prerequisites, and you will have to complete the following prerequisite courses: human anatomy, chemistry, statistics, physiology, and microbiology.

What will you learn?

Incorporating around 50 didactic credits and up to 60 equivalent credits of clinical practice, a Nurse Anesthetist program will teach you how to administer pain-controlling medicine or drugs to patients in emergency rooms, recovery units, ICUs, maternity centers, clinics or other urgent care facilities. The program will focus primarily on the essential procedures and technologies employed in pain management during preoperative, intraoperative and postoperative periods. You will learn about psychomotor skills, peripheral nerve blocks, absorption and distribution of drugs by the human body and therapeutic applications of pharmacological principles.

A Nurse Anesthetist program will teach you how to critically evaluate medical data to create and customize a perioperative anesthesia plan for an individual with specific pain management needs, as well as assess the toxicity and potential effectiveness of various drugs. Moreover, you will study the core aspects of patient safety, legal and ethical considerations applical to this advanced nursing practice, theoretical frameworks, techniques and strategies for therapeutic interventions, and also team collaboration and developing impeccable communication skills. Particular emphasis will be placed on biochemical principles, applying pharmaco-dynamic and pharmaco-kinetic principles, recognizing and managing life-threatening emergencies and dealing with clients with psychiatric disorders.

Lastly, you will learn how to read anesthetic dosages, side effects, and usage, how to promote rehabilitation or maintenance of optimal health, what implications anesthesia has on a wide array of surgeries, as well as how to administer a routine, safe anesthetic without excessive instructor intervention. If you’re interested, you can also delve into cardiovascular, neurosurgical, pediatric and obstetric anesthesia and learn how to care for specialized patients at increased risk. Here are the main course outlines for your Nurse Anesthetist program:

  • Advanced Pharmacology
  • Advanced Pathophysiology
  • Advanced Health Assessment
  • Chemical and Physical Properties of Anesthesia
  • Anesthesia Nursing
  • Introduction to Neurobiology
  • Physiological Variables and Responses (cardiovascular, respiratory, obstetrics, renal and neurologic systems)
  • Principles of Anesthesia
  • Leadership in Evolving Healthcare Environments
  • Specialty Practicum (for DNP)
  • Project Practicum (for DNP)
  • Pain Theory
  • Research Methods
  • Application of Evidence-Based Practice

How long does the program take?

The length of a Nurse Anesthetist program depends on the type of training you are pursuing. For an Associate’s Degree, you only need approximately 2 years to finish your studies and earn your certification. For an MSN with an anesthesia specialization, you generally need to spend 4 years studying to become qualified as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. Lastly, if your option is education on a doctoral level, your degree can take anywhere between 3 to 4 years to obtain. Either way, completion time will vary according to the school, depending on whether or not you are studying full-time.

Does the program require any clinical hours?

The number of clinical hours required to complete a standard Nurse Anesthetist program depends on whether you are studying for a Master of Science in Nursing or a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. The former typically entails over 1,000 clinical hours, whereas the latter requires a much more significant amount of both hands-on practice and procedures and clinical rotations. For a DNP, you will need to manage a minimum of 800 anesthesia cases, and also carry out around 2,500 clinical hours. There is a remarkable difference between an MSN and a doctoral program from this perspective. Both have pros and cons, and the one right for you will depend on whether you want to primarily develop firsthand experience or focus more on coursework.

Are there any online options?

There is a wide range of online options for becoming a Nurse Anesthetist. These programs provide both theoretical knowledge and clinical practice in your registered nursing specialty. Designed to be available 24 hours a day, most online tracks are a hybrid between traditional on-site practice and interactive, personalized training via a web platform or a digital curriculum. You will use e-mail, video, discussion boards and one-on-one mentoring to learn the fundamentals of administering anesthesia in a variety of healthcare settings.

Here are the most renowned universities offering affordable, high-quality online programs for Nurse Anesthetist certification:

  • Texas Wesleyan University
  • University of Iowa
  • University of Minnesota
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Southern California
  • University of Cincinnati
  • Drexel University
  • Emory University
  • University of Pittsburgh
  • University of Connecticut
  • Barry University
  • Oakland University
  • Northeastern University
  • University of Kansas
  • University of Alabama
  • University at Buffalo
  • Wayne State University
  • Duke University
  • Columbia University in the City of New York

How much does the program cost?

A typical three-year Nurse Anesthetist program costs anywhere between $50,000 and $80,000 for residents and up to $140,000 for non-residents. With this in mind, expect to pay between $1,000 and $1,800 per credit hour for most programs. On top of this, there will be additional expenses like the certification exam fee (at least $500), the AANA (American Association of Nurse Anesthetist) student membership fee (approximately $200), the lab and technology fee, the review course fee (up to $1,000, optional), and the yearly cost of books and supplies.

There are several non-academic expenses to take into account when planning your budget. These include living expenses, meals, housing, health insurance costs and any application fees required by the faculty or to gather the necessary admission documents. Whether you are studying for a DNP or an MSN, you have a multitude of financial aid options available, including private loans, scholarships, grants and student loans.

What about accreditation?

Since the 1970s, Nurse Anesthetist programs have been officially authorized by The Council on Accreditation (COA) of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (whether you are obtaining a post-master certificate, enrolling in an MSN program or continuing your doctoral studies). Accreditation is an essential peer process that ensures your studies and qualifications are legitimate, without which you cannot receive any financial aid and will run into trouble and severe limitations when applying for a job or pursuing higher education. Your program can also be authorized by the following designated organizations: The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or The Accreditation Commission For Education in Nursing (ACEN).

Where can you work as a Nurse Anesthetist?

As a Nurse Anesthetist, you will work alongside doctors, dentists, pain management specialists and other healthcare professionals within intensive care units, ambulatory surgical centers, emergency rooms, maternity wards, military settings and hospital operating suites. Most students who complete a Nurse Anesthetist program will pursue a career as a CRNA (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist). If you would like to know your options outside of this job position, take a look at the list below:

  • Physician Assistant
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Physician
  • Surgeon

How much can you earn as a Nurse Anesthetist?

CRNAs are by far among the highest-paid nurses across the country. The median salary for a Nurse Anesthetist is $157,000, approximately four times the average salary of an LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) and more than double the income of a regular RN (registered nurse). However, depending on the state you are in, your level of experience and your workplace, you can earn a much higher income than average. For instance, CRNAs in California and Wyoming are paid well over $200,000 every year.