What Does a Nurse Anesthetist Do?

Personnel administering anesthesia play key roles in preventing pain and preserving life. A nurse anesthetist is a nurse who has accumulated extra years of training and is allowed to administer anesthesia under the observation of a board-certified anesthesiologist.

This profession requires a high level of alertness, attention to details, leadership and decision-making abilities, and communication skills. Anesthesiology represents a critical, delicate node of patient care, and is a career many choose due to the benefits of a good salary, job security, daily patient interaction, professional respect, and the ability to work with and learn from a wide variety of medical professionals from other fields.

While responsibilities of certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNA) vary by work setting, many CRNAs perform the following:

  • Completing physical assessments of incoming patients
  • Discussing surgical procedural operations with patients
  • Preparing and administering the correct amount of anesthesia
  • Monitoring and maintaining patient anesthesia levels during procedures
  • Ensuring proper patient recovery after the completion of operations

If you are passionate about patient care and safety, now might be the right time to pursue this important and rewarding career.

Are There Subspecialities Within The Field?

Below is a list of a variety of specialties that CRNAs can work in, according to the American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA):

Critical Care

This is for the nurse anesthetist who would like to work with victims of acute trauma in need of critical care. They typically work in the ERs and ICUs of hospitals and must care for patients over long periods of time, as well as patients with multiple organ dysfunctions/failures.

Hospice and Palliative Medicine

This is for the nurse anesthetist who wishes to improve the life quality and relieve the suffering of terminally-ill patients during the end of their lives.

Pain Medicine

This is for the nurse anesthetist who enjoys working with and helping to relieve the pain of a variety of patients in inpatient and outpatient settings, including patients dealing with acute, chronic, and cancer-related pain.

Pediatric Anesthesiology

This is for a nurse who specializes in administering anesthesia to patients in the early years of their lives. They also provide appropriate pre- and post- operative care for this group of patients.

    How Do I Become a Nurse Anesthetist?

    The pathway to becoming a CRNA typically starts as an undergraduate. After achieving a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing, and working as an entry-level nurse for a few years, you may start to develop an interest in a nursing specialization.

    Just like any nursing specializations, to become a CRNA you must find and attend an accredited nursing graduate program. After completing the graduate program, a prospective CRNA is allowed to take the Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist Exam, administered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Successfully passing this exam allows nurses to work as CRNAs.

    The requirements for an MSN program will vary from school to school, but will generally be similar. Below includes the minimum requirement for The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston Cizik School of Nursing MSN Anesthesia, and can serve as a general example. Be sure to investigate the specific requirements of any institution that interests you.

    • Completed Bachelor’s degree
    • Official scores from the Graduate Record Examinations taken within five years your application
    • Official copy of your transcript from your post-secondary institutions
    • 3 academic/professional references
    • Resume
    • Completed basic statistics, organic chemistry, and biochemistry with a grade of B for each one
    • Current Texas Nursing licensure
    • One year work in critical care as a registered nurse
    • Goal statement
    • Background check and drug screening

    Like any graduate nursing degree, a specialization in Nursing Anesthesia is a multidisciplinary program that focuses heavily on the sciences, but which also contemplates the legal and ethical precedents within the field, as well as contents related to management and administration within a healthcare environment.

    Below, we have listed some typical courses you are likely to find within a graduate degree program specializing in anesthesiology.

    General Principles of Anesthesia

    This course introduces the potential nurse anesthetist student to concepts that are necessary in order to formulate a plan and utilize anesthesia in a safe and individualized way, during the perioperative period (the time in which a patient is undergoing an operation). The focus of the course generally includes the following: preparation of the anesthetizing environment, patient assessment, anesthetic techniques, common complications and their prevention, the correct use of anesthesia equipment, communication and documentation, and the formulation of an anesthesia care plan and evaluation.

    Legal And Ethical Issues for Advanced Practice Nursing

    This course offers doctoral students an in-depth examination of healthcare laws and ethical principles related to nursing in general and the specific field of anesthesiology, as well as the impact these precedents have on healthcare delivery and advanced nursing practice. Case studies are used to demonstrate how the principles of ethics can guide the decision-making process when clinical, research, and practice management dilemmas inevitably arise. Emphasis is placed on ethical and legal issues in practice, scholarly work, and research.

    Clinical Practicums

    Throughout their degree plans, nursing graduate students will gain practical experience within their field. Class discussions and theoretical contents will serve as the springboard for in-hospital observation experiences. An emphasis on patient safety and vigilance, perianesthesia topics of pre-operative evaluation, comprehensive equipment check and the prevention of complications related to general anesthesia are explored. The coursework tends to reflect upon the construction of adequate care plans, and bridges the skills and knowledge taught in Basic Principles of Anesthesiology into the real world.

    How much is tuition for an MSN?

    On-campus tuition fees for nurse anesthesia programs generally cost between $1,000 to $1,700 per credit hour. A typical Master’s program will generally comprise between 60 and 70 credit hours, and take two years to complete.

    Online nurse anesthetist programs costs tend to be slightly lower than in-person programs. For example, Texas Wesleyan University’s online program costs around $1,150 per credit hour, including administrative fees.

    Below, we have listed some the prices of the CRNA programs of three different universities which have been listed as some of the best and most accessible distance-learning programs.

    • Barry University – $27,720 per year – Approximate completion time, 2 years
    • Loma Linda University – $1,805 per credit hour – Approximate completion time, 2 years
    • University of Arizona – $1200 per credit hour – Approximate completion time, 2 years

    Considering public, in-state options is like to help you find universities with lower costs. Keep in mind that even universities which allow you to complete online coursework may require you to attend on-campus sessions for certain practicums and orientations. Others may be willing to allow you to obtain clinical experience in a hospital or health center near your home.

    Make sure that the program you are considering is accredited by The Accreditation Commission For Education in Nursing (ACEN) and/or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

    What Kind of Salary and Work Environment Can I Expect?

    Nurse Anesthesia is among the best-paid nursing specializations in the field. U.S. News and World Report ranks the profession within the top fifteen both in Best Jobs in Healthcare and among overall jobs.

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual income for nurse anesthetists in 2017 was $169,450. Like many different nursing specializations, the field of nursing anesthesia is projected to grow at a rate of 31% through 2024: far greater than the national average.

    As a certified Nurse Anesthetist, you are qualified to find work in a variety of healthcare environments. Surgical hospitals, critical access hospitals, mobile surgery centers, outpatient care centers, and the offices of plastic surgeons, dentists, and ophthalmologists are just some examples of potential employers. Wherever a patient requires a surgery which merits the use of anesthesia, a nurse anesthetist may be needed.

    An additional bonus to the job is that, as advanced registered nurses, CRNAs are given a high degree of autonomy and professional respect, and generally are reported as among the highest ratings in job satisfaction surveys.

    Your daily tasks might entail taking care of a patient’s anesthesia needs before, during and after surgery, including but not limited to the following responsibilities:

    • Completing a physical evaluation of the patient
    • Informing the patient with respect to the use of the anesthesia
    • Preparing for anesthetic management
    • Administering anesthesia in a correct and safe manner
    • Maintaining anesthesia for the duration of the anesthesia
    • Overseeing a proper, healthy recovery from the effects of the anesthesia
    • Following up with the patient during the postoperative period

    This is a highly sensitive, well-paid and well-viewed profession within the medical community. If you think it might be a good fit for you, consider investigating accredited graduate degree programs in order to further your nursing education and move towards a new and fulfilling career.