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What Is A CRNA? How Do You Become A CRNA? Plus CRNA Salary Information and the Top 10 Best CRNA Programs!

May 10, 2023

Are you wondering what exactly a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) is, or what they do as a nurse providing anesthesia? If you’re looking for CRNA salary information or want insights into how to become a CRNA, including the top 10 best CRNA programs, this article will provide you with those answers. Let’s dive in!

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What is a CRNA (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist)?

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) are advanced practice registered nurses who specialize in administering anesthesia to patients in a variety of medical settings, ensuring they are pain-free during surgeries and other medical procedures or treatments. Their expertise spans across various medical settings, from hospitals to dental offices, and they’re trained to work with patients of all ages. After becoming a CRNA, they can work independently or in collaboration with anesthesiologists, surgeons, dentists, and other healthcare professionals to provide safe and effective anesthesia care to patients of all ages.

Becoming a CRNA involves completing a doctoral degree in nurse anesthesia and passing a national certification exam, after which they’re licensed to practice in all 50 states.

What Do CRNAs Do?

CRNAs have a multifaceted role in healthcare, providing anesthesia care for a variety of surgical and medical procedures. Their primary responsibility is administering anesthesia to patients undergoing surgeries, medical procedures, or pain management therapies. But their duties go beyond just putting patients to sleep.

Before a procedure, CRNAs conduct thorough assessments of patients’ medical histories and current health statuses to ensure they’re in the best possible condition for anesthesia. During procedures, they monitor vital signs, adjust anesthesia levels as needed, and ensure patients remain stable and comfortable throughout.

CRNAs also play a critical role in post-anesthetic care, overseeing patients’ recoveries, managing pain, and monitoring for any complications. They collaborate closely with other healthcare professionals, including surgeons, anesthesiologists, and nurses, to provide comprehensive care to patients. They also provide pain management services for patients with chronic pain conditions.

In addition to their clinical responsibilities, CRNAs often take on leadership roles, participate in research, and contribute to education and training programs for nurses and other healthcare providers. Their versatility and expertise make them invaluable members of the healthcare team, dedicated to ensuring the safety and well-being of patients throughout the perioperative process.

Read more about the Day in the Life of a CRNA by clicking here.

How to Become a CRNA

Becoming a Nurse Anesthetist is a rewarding but rigorous journey that requires dedication and commitment. Here are the typical steps to become a CRNA:

  1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN): The first step is to complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program from an accredited college or university. This program usually takes about four years to complete and provides the foundational knowledge and skills needed for nursing practice.
  2. Gain Nursing Experience: After obtaining your BSN, you’ll need to gain experience working as a registered nurse (RN). Most CRNA programs require at least one year of full-time work experience in an ICU setting. Some programs will accept various units including PICU or NICU, but most do not. It is crucial to do your research to ensure you’re getting the best ICU experience for CRNA school.
  3. Gain Admission to a CRNA Program: Admission to CRNA programs is highly competitive; nationally, the average acceptance rate is around 12% – 15%. You’ll need to meet and exceed specific prerequisites, which may include a minimum GPA, GRE and/or CCRN scores, letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose or a personal statement. Most programs may also require interviews or additional assessments.
  4. Complete a Doctoral Degree in Nurse Anesthesia: CRNAs are required to have a graduate-level education in nurse anesthesia. You can pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) with a specialization in nurse anesthesia; These programs typically take about three years to complete and include coursework in anesthesia principles, pharmacology, physiology, and clinical practice. CRNA programs also include extensive clinical training where you’ll work under the supervision of experienced CRNAs and             anesthesiologists. This hands-on experience is essential for developing the skills and confidence needed to practice independently.
  5. Pass the National Certification Examination: After completing your education and clinical training, you’ll need to pass the National Certification Examination (NCE) administered by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA). This exam assesses your knowledge and competence in anesthesia practice.
  6. Obtain State Licensure: Once you’ve passed the NCE, you’ll need to obtain state licensure to practice as a CRNA. Licensure requirements vary by state but typically include submitting an application, providing proof of education and certification, and passing a state-specific examination or meeting other requirements.
  7. Maintain Certification and Licensure: CRNAs are required to maintain their certification through continuing education and recertification exams every few years. They must also adhere to state licensure requirements, which may include completing continuing education credits and renewing their license periodically.

How Much Does A CRNA Make?

The salary of a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) can vary depending on factors such as location, experience, employer, and additional certifications. However, CRNAs typically earn competitive salaries due to their advanced education and specialized skills, reflective of the high level of responsibility and expertise required for the role.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual CRNA salary was $214,200 in May 2023. The highest 10 percent earned a CRNA salary of more than $239,200 per year, while the lowest 10 percent earned $139,980 per year. The BLS also reported that the highest-paying industries for nurse anesthetists were outpatient care centers, specialty hospitals, and ambulatory health care services.

It’s important to note that CRNAs often have opportunities for additional compensation through overtime, bonuses, and shift differentials. Furthermore, CRNAs may enjoy benefits such as healthcare coverage, retirement plans, paid time off, and professional development opportunities.

Where Can CRNAs Work?

CRNAs can work in a variety of settings across the healthcare industry. Some common places where Nurse Anesthetists can work include:

  • Hospitals: CRNAs are commonly found in hospitals of all sizes, including academic medical centers, community hospitals, and specialty hospitals. They work in operating rooms, labor and delivery units, emergency departments, and intensive care units (ICUs), providing anesthesia care for surgical procedures, labor and delivery, and critical care interventions.
  • Surgical Centers: Many CRNAs work in ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs) or outpatient surgery centers, where they provide anesthesia services for a wide range of surgical procedures performed outside of traditional hospital settings.
  • Dental Offices: CRNAs may work in dental offices alongside dentists and oral surgeons to provide anesthesia services for dental procedures, such as oral surgery, wisdom teeth extraction, and dental implants.
  • Veterinary Clinics: Some CRNAs choose to work in veterinary medicine, providing anesthesia care for animals undergoing surgical procedures in veterinary clinics, animal hospitals, and research facilities.
  • Military and Government Facilities: CRNAs may work in military hospitals, Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers, and other government healthcare facilities, providing anesthesia services for active-duty military personnel, veterans, and their families.
  • Pain Management Clinics: CRNAs with specialized training in pain management may work in pain clinics or pain management centers, where they provide anesthesia services for procedures such as epidural steroid injections, nerve blocks, and spinal cord stimulator trials.
  • Rural and Underserved Areas: CRNAs play a vital role in providing anesthesia care in rural and underserved communities, where access to anesthesia services may be limited. They may work in small hospitals, rural health clinics, or mobile anesthesia units to ensure that patients in these areas receive safe and effective anesthesia care.

Overall, CRNAs have the flexibility to work in a wide range of settings, allowing them to pursue diverse career opportunities and make meaningful contributions to patient care across the healthcare continuum.

How Long Does it Take to Become a CRNA?

The educational path to becoming a CRNA typically takes seven to eight years, but it can take longer. This includes four years of undergraduate education to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing, followed by three years of graduate education in nurse anesthesia. CRNA schools also require you to have at least 1 year of ICU experience. After completing their education, individuals must pass the national certification examination to become a CRNA. Click here to learn about the fastest way to become a CRNA!


The Top 10 Best CRNA Programs In The USA

In the 2024 Best Health Schools U.S. News and World Report rankings for CRNA programs, the following schools were ranked as the top 10:

  1. Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences
  2. University of Pittsburgh
  3. U.S. Army Graduate Program in Anesthesia Nursing
  4. Baylor College of Medicine
  5. University of Iowa
  6. Virginia Commonwealth University
  7. Duke University
  8. Kaiser Permanente School of Anesthesia- California State University Fullerton
  9. Texas Christian University
  10. Wake Forest Baptist Health- Wake Forest School of Medicine

It’s important to note that rankings can vary depending on the methodology and criteria used by each organization, and that there are many other excellent CRNA programs not included in this list. It’s always a good idea to do your own research, talk to current students  and consider factors such as program location, cost, curriculum, clinical experience, and faculty expertise when selecting a CRNA program.

Please keep in mind that US News and World Report is not the best way to determine which school is right for you. It is always best practice to talk to current students to ensure they are actually getting a good experience in the program and assessing if it is the right fit for you personally. Just because a school is not listed on US News and World Report does not mean it is not an exceptional school for you personally to attend. Click here to learn more about the best way to pick your CRNA program!

Click here to get a Free Copy of our Most Affordable CRNA Schools Resource! 

Is There an Exam That CRNAs Must Pass?

Yes, CRNAs must pass the National Certification Examination (NCE) administered by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA) to become licensed. This exam assesses the candidate’s knowledge and competency in the field of nurse anesthesia and is a requirement for certification as a CRNA. The NCE is computer-based and consists of 150-170 multiple-choice questions that test the knowledge and skills needed to practice as a CRNA. The exam covers the following areas:

  • Basic sciences
  • Advanced principles of anesthesia practice
  • Equipment and technology
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Professional aspects of anesthesia practice

Passing the NCE demonstrates that the individual has met the rigorous standards set forth by the NBCRNA and is qualified to practice as a CRNA. Successful completion of the NCE is an essential step in the process of becoming a CRNA and is required for obtaining state licensure to practice as a Nurse Anesthetist.

The Career Outlook for CRNAs

According to the BLS, overall employment of nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners is projected to grow 38 percent from 2022 to 2032, much faster than the average for all occupations.

About 29,200 openings for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Also according to the BLS, the median annual CRNA salary was $214,200  in May 2023. This is significantly higher than the median wage for a registered nurses at $94,480. Click here to learn more about the differences between RN and CRNA!

Advice For Future CRNAs

Becoming a CRNA is a challenging and rewarding career path. Here are some tips for those considering this career:

  • Research the profession thoroughly and ensure it is the right fit for you.
  • Get shadowing experience. Not only do many programs require it, it will help you best understand the role of a CRNA and whether it is the right career for you. Click here for a Free Shadow Documentation Form and learn about the CSPA Virtual Anesthesia Lab Experience!
  • Obtain ICU experience as early as possible in your nursing career.
  • Maintain a strong GPA and take challenging science courses in preparation for CRNA school.
  • Develop strong critical thinking and communication skills.
  • Network with current CRNAs to gain insight into the profession and learn about different CRNA programs.
  • Join a mentorship community like CRNA School Prep Academy 
  • Study hard and prepare well for the National Certification Examination.
  • Stay up to date with advances in anesthesia practice and continue your education throughout your career.
  • Join professional organizations such as the AANA to stay connected to the CRNA community and access valuable resources.

Where to Find More Information on CRNA Careers

To learn more about CRNA careers, you can visit the following resources:

In conclusion, becoming a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist is a challenging and rewarding career path. CRNAs are highly skilled professionals who play a critical role in the healthcare system. By obtaining the necessary education, experience, and certification, you can join the ranks of these exceptional healthcare providers and make a positive impact on the lives of your patients. If you are interested in this career, start by researching the profession, obtaining ICU experience, maintaining a strong GPA, developing critical thinking and communication skills, networking with current CRNAs, and joining CRNA School Prep Academy Mentorship Program. 

CRNA School Prep Academy has membership options to help YOU achieve your goal of becoming a CRNA, no matter where you are in your journey. Join CRNA School Prep Academy today!

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