A Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) is an advanced practice registered nurse who has acquired graduate-level education in anesthesia. Nurse anesthetists are the oldest nurse specialty group in the United States. Nurse anesthetists must first complete a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing. They must be a licensed registered nurse. Candidates are required to have a minimum of one year of full-time nursing experience in an acute care setting. Nurse anesthetist program are typically about 24 to 36 months long.
For nearly 150 years, nurse anesthetists have been providing anesthesia care to patients in the United States. Countless studies have demonstrated that there is no difference in the quality of care provided by CRNAs and their physician counterparts CRNAs provide anesthesia in collaboration with surgeons, anesthesiologists, dentists, podiatrists, and other qualified health care professionals. Anesthesia administered by a nurse anesthetist is recognized as the practice of nursing; aneshtesia administered by an anesthesiologist is recognized as the practice of medicine. Regardless of whether their educational background is in nursing or medicine, all anesthesia professionals give anesthesia the same way.
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists, or CRNAs, are some of the most advanced and highest paid of all nurses. CRNAs administer anesthesia during surgery, when an anesthesiologist physician is not available to do so. In fact, CRNAs actually predate anesthesiologists (physicians who administer anesthesiology). According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA), CRNAs are “pioneers in the field of anesthesiology,” having come into existence during the civil war in the 1800s, when anesthesia itself was new, and was utilized to ease pain for soldiers and surgical patients.
CRNAs often work as part of a team with anesthesiologists. CRNAs enable more surgeries to be completed, with fewer anesthesiologists on staff. Depending on state regulations and the bylaws of the employing facility, CRNAs may be supervised by an anesthesiologist or work independently. Although CRNAs are very well-paid compared to other nurses, they are much more cost-effective for hospitals than employing multiple anesthesiologists. Therefore, CRNAs enjoy excellent job stability and high demand for their services, and it is highly unlikely that CRNAs would ever be entirely replaced by anesthesiologists.
Most CRNAs are employed by hospitals, and work in a surgical environment, such as an operating room. CRNAs also may work in outpatient surgery centers and medical offices. According to the American Nurses Association, CRNAs are responsible for delivering over 65% of all anesthetics administered to patients in the US. There are over 30,000 CRNAs practicing in the US, and just over half of them are men, based on information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the ANA.
CRNAs function much like anesthesiologists (physicians who specialize in the administration of anesthesia and pain management). CRNAs are responsible for pre- and post-operative care as it relates to the delivery of anesthesia. A CRNA does a pre-op assessment of the patient, administers the anesthesia during the surgery, brings the patient back out of anesthesia, and then follows up to ensure the patient’s recovery from the anesthesia. According to the AANA, during surgery, the CRNA monitors the patient’s vital signs and adjusts the level of anesthesia accordingly, while coordinating with the surgical team.
CRNAs are one type of many Advanced Practice Nurses (APN). Therefore they must have a bachelor’s degree in nursing or other applicable field, and be a licensed RN by passing the NCLEX-RN, the national licensing exam. Once licensed as an RN, one must have at least one year of nursing experience before gaining admission into a graduate nurse anesthetist graduate program, according to the AANA. Most nurse anesthetist graduate programs take two or three years to complete. After completing the graduate education, one must pass the national certification exam in order to practice legally as a CRNA.
The money is great. CRNAs can earn more than many primary care physicians, with a fraction of the education and training required. The job growth outlook is excellent. Employing CRNAs is very cost-effective for hospitals (anesthesiologists earn 2-3 times or more than CRNAs). Therefore, the demand for CRNAs is only going to increase.
The responsibility is great for CRNAs, so it can be stressful. Also, depending on the size of the anesthesiology staff, the on-call schedule can affect your quality of life.