What Is a CRNA?
Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) plan and administer anesthesia to patients who are undergoing medical procedures. CRNAs determine how much and what type of anesthesia to use on a patient. They then administer the anesthesia and remain with the patient to make sure there are no complications. Finally, they help patients as they come out of anesthesia.
What Does a CRNA Do?
- Consult with patients to learn about any allergies they have or medications they take.
- Administer general anesthesia to put patients to sleep.
- Administer local or regional anesthesia to numb a part of the body.
- Monitor vital signs throughout a procedure.
- Adjust anesthesia if needed.
Why Should You Become a CRNA?
Nursing students, registered nurses, and professionals in other fields might consider becoming a CRNA for increased salaries and higher potential for career growth. CRNAs earn a median annual salary of $167,950. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), positions for CRNAs are projected to grow by 16% between 2016 to 2026. Nurses enjoy a positive employment outlook over the coming years due in part to the aging U.S. population and an increased demand for healthcare services.
How Do You Become a CRNA?
The National Board of Certification & Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA) requires nurse anesthetists to earn a master's degree from an accredited program. For reference, lower-level nurses, such as registered nurses and licensed practical nurses, only need a bachelor's degree or a certificate, respectively.
However, aspiring CRNAs should be aware that minimum education requirements for the field may change in the coming years. Some organizations in the medical field, including the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA), argue that nurse anesthetists should earn a doctor of nursing practice (DNP). DNP programs offer advanced training in clinical aspects of nursing, such as diagnosing patients, identifying treatments, and prescribing anesthetics.
MSN in nurse anesthesia programs require at least one year of professional experience as an RN. Some nurse anesthesia programs might expect additional work experience or a background in a particular field, such as intensive care or surgical intensive care. Over the course of their master's study, future CRNAs complete extensive supervised, clinical components that may deal with childbirth, heart surgeries, and other major procedures.
Since CRNAs must work as RNs first, they need to satisfy all the clinical experience requirements necessary to become an RN. All RN bachelor's programs include clinical components.
Licensure and Certification
To become a CRNA, nurses need board certification from the NBCRNA. Aspiring nurse anesthetists must submit proof that they completed a nurse anesthesia educational program and then pass the National Certification Examination (NCE). Students must take the exam within two years after completing their degree.
The NCE, which costs $995, requires students to answer a minimum of 100 questions on topics like anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, anesthetic delivery systems, and pain management. The exam also covers geriatrics, pediatrics, obstetrics, and obesity. Students may sign up for the $250 self-evaluation examination to prepare for the real exam.
After obtaining board certification, CRNAs qualify for licensure in their state. While licensure requirements vary for APRNs in each state, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing aims to standardize APRN eligibility across the United States. Generally, state licensing boards require an application and fee, CRNA certification, and proof that the candidate completed an accredited nurse anesthesia program.
Every two years, CRNAs must validate their state licensure, confirm they are still practicing, and pay a $110 fee to the NBCRNA. Every four years, CRNAs must complete 100 continuing education credits. Every eight years, they take the Continued Professional Certification Assessment.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Master’s in Nurse Anesthesia Program
Accreditation demonstrates an institution meets certain standards of quality. During the accreditation process, third-party agencies evaluate a school's programs and faculty. Two types of institutional accreditation exist in the U.S.: regional and national. Regional accreditation typically serves as the more prestigious designation. Private and for-profit universities often hold national accreditation. A degree from an unaccredited institution may not qualify graduates to work as CRNAs, so students should ensure their prospective school holds accreditation before applying.
Programs may also hold field-specific accreditation from organizations like the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs. This specialized accreditation means the program meets high standards within the field and delivers a valuable nurse anesthetist education. Institutions typically provide accreditation status on their website.
While program requirements for nurse anesthetist schools may vary, they generally include similar admission requirements. Applicants must possess a bachelor's degree, usually in nursing. Some schools accept degrees in related fields. Applicants also must typically be a licensed registered nurse, though some programs waive this requirement for BSN holders.
Most schools require a 3.0 minimum GPA, and schools may waive GRE requirements for applicants with exceptional GPAs. CRNA programs often require applicants to submit GRE scores, with score requirements varying. Some programs require professional nursing experience. When not required, applicants with work experience gain the competitive edge.
By meeting these requirements, applicants demonstrate their ability to succeed in demanding CRNA programs. Dedication to nursing and to the CRNA specialization are crucial to completing your master's studies.
Benefits of Online Learning
Online CRNA programs can allow students to complete coursework on their own schedule. Many online courses are asynchronous, meaning students do not need to log in at specific times. Online programs frequently offer accelerated or intensive courses, which students can complete more quickly than on-campus offerings while still learning the same material.
Completing a nurse anesthetist program online can also be cost effective. Online students do not need to relocate, and online programs are often less expensive than on-campus classes.
Students in online nurse anesthetist programs can generally work full-time while earning their degree. CRNA programs often require internships or other workplace experiences, which distance learners can complete at their place of employment or at another local facility. Online CRNA schools serve as a good option for learners who require flexible scheduling, want to graduate more quickly, or do not want to relocate to attend school.
What to Expect From a Master's in Nurse Anesthesia Program
The median cost for nurse anesthetist programs — including tuition and fees — is approximately $50,000. Students who attend public programs pay around $37,000, while private universities charge a median rate of over $61,0Job and Salary Outlook for CRNAs00.
Aspiring CRNAs should bear in mind that they can take advantage of various types of financial aid to help pay for school. Nonprofit organizations, government bodies, private companies, and universities offer scholarships and grants to help students pay tuition and other college-related costs.
The time it takes to earn an MSN nurse anesthetist degree largely depends on the student's time commitment along with some program characteristics. In general, full-time students earn their master's degree in about two years. The median length of CRNA master's programs is 28 months, but many programs require as many as 36 months.
Some online CRNA programs feature accelerated classes that let students earn their degree more quickly. Additionally, some programs allow ambitious students to double up on credits and finish the curriculum in fewer semesters. Since CRNA programs require professional RN experience, graduates do not need any additional work experience to become certified and start practicing.
While CRNA programs may vary depending on the school and program you choose, most curricula share some key characteristics. The list below details some common CRNA courses.
- Ethical Decision-Making in Healthcare This course teaches students to recognize and overcome the moral dilemmas they may encounter in clinical practice. Students learn about the fundamental theories that can help them make difficult decisions.
- Basic Principles and Practice of Nurse Anesthesia Foundational anesthesia classes offer an overview of anesthesia equipment, airway anatomy, patient positioning, and airway management. They also may cover regional anesthesia insertion techniques along with induction, maintenance, and emergence.
- Pharmacology for Anesthesia and Critical Care Throughout this class, students explore anesthetics, adjuvants, and other common medications. The class covers inhalational agents, intravenous drugs, sedatives, opioids, and nonopioid analgesics. CRNA programs generally include multiple pharmacology courses.
- Regional Anesthesia This course introduces theories and techniques related to regional anesthesia. The course covers pain management strategies, neuraxial anesthesia, simple peripheral nerve blocks, and the pharmacology of local anesthetics.
- Methods for Health Research This class covers quantitative and qualitative research methods, data collection, analysis techniques, and research ethics. Students evaluate published research to learn about research concepts.
Internship or clinical courses are a common requirement for students pursuing a nurse anesthetist education. These components provide practical, supervised experience that qualifies learners to become CRNAs. Most programs require three to five semesters of experiential coursework, which provide direct experience to prepare students for the workforce. During clinical courses, students work alongside CRNAs as they prepare and administer anesthesia and perform aftercare. Students typically observe before offering direct assistance.
Job and Salary Outlook for CRNAs
What Can You Do as a CRNA Program Graduate?
CRNA programs build on bachelor's degree coursework and equip students with the necessary skills to secure nursing jobs with higher pay, increased responsibility, and more autonomy. As they gain experience, nurse anesthetists can advance to leadership positions where they may supervise other CRNAs.
Nurse anesthetists work with anesthesiologists to evaluate patients and administer anesthesia. They can find work in hospitals, urgent care clinics, and private practices. All nurse anesthetists need a master's degree in nursing to become licensed. Additionally, nurse anesthetist degrees develop clinical skills through courses and supervised internships.
Average Salary: $146,200
Chief nurse anesthetists hold a master's degree along with years of experience in the field. They direct a facility's anesthetics procedures, supervise nurses, and make sure employees follow established protocols. They also assess situations to determine the appropriate anesthesia and communicate with patients.
Average Salary: $174,900
How Much Do Nurse Anesthetists Make?
Nurse anesthetists typically command high pay, and the top 25% of earners in the field make over $195,000 per year. However, many factors can affect CRNA salary expectations. For instance, the industry a nurse anesthetist works in greatly affects their pay. CRNAs working in outpatient care centers take home well over $194,000 per year on average, while CRNAs working in physicians' offices earn just over $162,000 annually. Location, education level, and job function can all affect a CRNA's pay and job outlook. As the chart below illustrates, career experience plays a huge role in nurse anesthetist salary potential.
Paying For Your Online CRNA Program
Some of the most expensive CRNA programs cost $80,000-$100,000, while more affordable programs may fall under $40,000 in total. Fortunately, nurse anesthesia students can benefit from many scholarship and grant opportunities to help pay for their degree.
All nursing students should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if they qualify for any government loans or scholarships. Additionally, students should look for funding opportunities from local healthcare facilities and professional associations. Below, you can learn about a few opportunities for nursing students.
AANA Foundation Scholarships
Who Can Apply: Various AANA-affiliated organizations offer scholarships to students attending nurse anesthetist programs. Some scholarships come from local chapters, which require applicants to attend school in a certain state.
Geraldine "Polly" Bednash Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) offers this opportunity to students enrolled in a nursing program leading to a bachelor's degree or higher. Students must hold at least a 3.2 GPA and attend an approved AACN-member institution.
AfterCollege/AACN Scholarship Fund
Who Can Apply: AfterCollege, a professional networking site, partners with the AACN to offer four scholarships each year. Candidates may pursue a nursing degree at the bachelor's, master's, or doctoral level. The program prefers students enrolled in RN-to-MSN and accelerated programs.
Tylenol Future Care Scholarshipp
Who Can Apply: Tylenol awards this scholarship to graduate students enrolled in nursing, medical, and pharmacy programs. Students must seek a degree that enables them to actively treat patients. Tylenol evaluates applicants based on their college GPA, graduate academic record, volunteer work, and an essay.
Nurse Corps Scholarship Program
Who Can Apply: The National Health Service Corps offers this scholarship to students accepted to or enrolled in nursing programs from the diploma to the graduate levels. Successful candidates receive financial assistance in exchange for working in a facility with a nursing shortage.
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