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Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), also called simply nurse anesthetists, are nurses who provide anesthesia. CRNAs provide very similar services as an anesthesiologist, who are medical doctors, but with a nursing degree instead of a medical degree. Anesthesiologists must complete medical school, an internship, and a residency; by comparison, CRNAs require much less schooling. With over 28,000 CRNAs in the United States alone, these highly trained, specialized nurses administer over 30 million anesthetics to patients each year in various settings.

In developing countries with even fewer anesthesiologists, CRNAs are often the sole provider of anesthesia. Because of their high level of training, CRNAs are some of the most respected and autonomous nurses in the nursing field. Unlike other nursing fields, CRNAs are evenly divided between women and men – about 49% of these nurses are men, and 51% are women.

 

 

The Roles of a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

CRNAs are found wherever doctors or dentists who perform surgeries are found. Hospitals are an obvious place to find CRNAs, but dentist offices, podiatrists, obstetricians, and doctors with private practices also sometimes require the services of CRNAs. Some CRNAs work in conjunction with, or as an assistant to, an anesthesiologist in an Anesthesia Care Team. In rural areas with few or no anesthesiologists, CRNAs are often the sole provider of anesthesia. They are also the main providers of anesthesia for expectant mothers and for men and women in the United States armed services.

 

Because of their prominence within the military, a relatively high number of CRNAs work in VA hospitals. During a surgical procedure, the CRNA assesses the patient's anesthesia needs and educates the patient before the surgery begins, stays with the patient and monitors bodily functions during the surgery, and oversees the patient's recovery from the anesthesia once the surgery has been completed.

 

What Education does a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist Need?

The first step in becoming a CRNA is to become a registered nurse (RN), specifically through a bachelor's degree nursing program. The next step is to spend a minimum of a year working as an RN in an acute care setting (in other words, in a medical or surgical intensive care unit). It should be noted that different CRNA programs require different levels of hands-on experience, and many require more than one year of RN experience. Once this experience requirement has been fulfilled, the RN who wishes to become a nurse anesthetist can apply to an approved master's program, which generally take an additional two to three years. These accredited master's programs (see below) are college or university based, and include both classroom and clinical components. After graduating successfully from a master's program, the future CRNA must pass a national certification exam.

In the United States, certification for certified registered nurse anesthetists is overseen by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA), which in turn is overseen by the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA). According to the AANA website, there are currently 108 accredited CRNA programs in the United States. Most of these master's degree programs have start dates either in August or in January, and last an average of 27 to 33 months.

There are currently accredited CRNA programs in 38 states (including Puerto Rico and Washington, DC). The states without programs include: Alaska, Hawaii, Delaware, Vermont, New Hampshire, Indiana, Oklahoma, Nevada, New Mexico, Idaho, Colorado, Mississippi, Montana, and Wyoming. Furthermore, in many of the states that do have accredited programs, only one or two programs are currently available.

Job Prospects for CRNAs

Like virtually every type of nurse and nurse assistant, there is currently a shortage of CRNAs. Not only is there a shorting of nurses, hospitals and other health care providers are realizing that CRNAs are much more cost-effective than anesthesiologists. Further, because of the level of training required, certified registered nurse anesthetists are some of the best-paid nurses in the nursing field, with starting salaries already in six figures. It is not unusual for CRNAs to start at $140,000 per year – compared to a starting salary of $35,000 for an entry-level registered nurse. Thus, while all the additional schooling that CRNAs may seem daunting and expensive, the payoff is both immediate and virtually guaranteed.

 

 


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