Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists are consistently the highest paid practitioners of advance practice registered nursing in the United States. The variety of settings they qualify to work in is another part of the appeal of the CRNA designation for nurses considering entering advanced practice. According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, CRNAs deliver anesthesia in every medical setting where it is required, including operating rooms, outpatient clinics, dental offices, and pain management clinics; as well as offices of ophthalmologists, podiatrists, and cosmetic surgeons, among others. They administer local anesthesia, general anesthesia and regional anesthesia, and work to safeguard patients throughout a range of procedures while offering comfort and peace-of-mind.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists enjoy a unique level of respect within the medical community thanks to their ability to administer anesthesia in the same manner and in identical situations as physicians who specialize as anesthesiologists. In fact, the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists notes that CRNAs who deliver high-level anesthesiology care can drastically decrease the cost of healthcare, as they offer services that are virtually identical to those of anesthesiologist MDs, but often at a much lower cost. As government and policy makers look for ways to reduce the costs of routine healthcare, CRNAs emerge as being key to administering first-class patient care while reducing costs to both patients and health care providers.anesthetist with anesthetic machine

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists deliver anesthesia to more than 32 million patients in the United States each year, and are the primary providers of anesthesia in medically underserved areas around the country. In these areas they often offer services ranging from surgical and obstetrical care to trauma stabilization. In fact, the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) reports that CRNAs are the sole providers of anesthesia in almost all rural hospitals in the country.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists are an integral part of the American healthcare system, as they offer an economically logical alternative when anesthetic care is needed. They enjoy a high degree of job stability, as economic issues do not directly impact the demand for anesthetic care.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists and the Military

Nurse anesthesiology was one of the first and most important specializations to be developed in the long and distinguished history of nursing. Often employed in the practice of triage in war and epidemic situations, nurse anesthetists have made a critical difference during times of conflict, from the American Civil War to the current conflicts in the Middle East. According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA), since World War I, CRNAs have been the primary providers of anesthesia to United States military personnel on the front lines. Currently, many are found working as care providers at Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare facilities, providing anesthesia to the nation’s wounded veterans.

Requirements for Becoming Nationally Certified and State-Licensed

As of 2007, National certification through the National Board of Certification & Recertification of Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA) is a prerequisite to licensure or authorization to practice that is maintained by all State Boards of Nursing. Certification through the NBCRNA is available to licensed registered nurses who meet the following criteria:

  • Hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing or in a related, appropriate scientific field
  • Hold a current, valid RN license
  • Have no less than one year of experience as a registered nurse in an acute care setting, such as an ICU
  • A master’s degree at minimum from a nurse anesthesia educational program accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA)
  • Successful completion of the national nurse anesthesia examination upon graduation

Education and Degree Options

Given the requirements for national certification and those maintained for licensure by state Boards of Nursing, most Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists have an undergraduate degree in nursing, and a graduate degree from a program accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA). Most hold a master’s or doctoral degree specific to anesthesiology, while some hold the more general Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), with course concentrations in anesthesiology.

The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists notes that there are more than 110 nurse anesthetist programs throughout the United States. These graduate-level programs can range from 24 months in duration for accelerated tracks, to 36 months. These programs include both classroom instruction and clinical training in hospital settings.

For practicing CRNAs, the AANA offers many opportunities for continuing education by hosting a variety of meetings, assemblies and workshops throughout the year. In 2012, the AANA Annual Meeting will be held in San Francisco and offers attendees the opportunity to meet and learn from other CRNAs from across the country. The Annual Meeting showcases programs and panels that provide education on contemporary practice issues while allowing participants to earn continuing education credits necessary for professional recertification. The 2012 Annual Meeting will host panels on topics like technology and nursing education, the politics of patient care, and educating the future workforce.

The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists’ Professional Development Department has also established an innovative online educational program called AANALearn®. This program offers a range of courses on over 45 subjects and allows CRNAs to complete necessary continuing education accreditation anywhere there is an internet connection. Continuing education is key to success and advancement for CRNAs. In most cases, CRNAs must complete around 40 hours of continuing education every two years to retain their certification. The AANA provides these online, classroom and conference options to make recertification a streamlined and rewarding process.

Professional Associations

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists enjoy strong support and advocacy for their profession through professional associations. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) serves not only as the national certifying body for CRNAs, but also as the premier professional association. The AANA develops educational rubrics, methodologies and guidelines, and provides access to private and governmental agencies that impact the professional and personal livelihood of CRNAs throughout the country. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists Foundation also recognizes outstanding practitioners with awards and provides research grants to universities and non-profits committed to the advancement of the profession. The AANA boasts a membership that includes more than 90% of the nation’s nurse anesthetists.

There are also a number of state and regional professional associations that provide CRNAs professional support, as well as state AANA chapters located throughout the United States.

The Adventure of Travel Nursing

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists are critical to virtually every medical setting, and are in constant demand in medical institutions struggling with staff shortages. While many nursing professionals are well aware of the freedom and excitement of being a traveling nurse, the opportunities afforded to CRNAs are especially rewarding.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists also enjoy a number of advantages over other advance practice registered nursing professionals seeking travel opportunities. There’s a number of job placement and recruitment companies that cater to the rare skill-set CRNAs possess, helping them find choice assignments across the country and around the world. Companies like Global Anesthesia Services provide customized placement services and expert advice to CRNAs interested in exploring travel opportunities.

Jennifer Olin, a CRNA who has worked as a traveling nurse, reported in an article featured on the AANA website, that traveling CRNAs build their confidence as they use their expertise in unfamiliar locations around the globe. Travel nurses enjoy a wide variety of benefits including choosing an assignment close to home or across the country. Travel nurses get the opportunity to work at large prestigious institutions and rural hospitals or clinics as desired, and enjoy a range of benefits, including bonuses and free housing.

Earning Potential for Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists

Registered Nurses who wish to specialize and enter advanced practice as Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists can look forward to dramatically increasing their earning potential. Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists are consistently the highest paid of all specialized nursing professions due to their autonomy in operation and specialized skills.

The median Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists salary in the United States is $157,724, with CRNAs in some regions and sub-specialties earning as much as $160,680, according to the recent AMGA Medical Group Compensation and Financial Survey.

As the need for health care professionals continues to grow in response to a growing elderly population, the demand for CRNAs will become more acute as they are called upon to fill the shortage of anesthesiologists in the military, rural and medically underserved areas, as well as in private hospitals and public clinics throughout the country.

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