CRNA vs. Anesthesiologist: What Are the Differences?

May 8, 2024
5 min read


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 05/8/24

Not sure if you should become a CRNA vs. an anesthesiologist? Below, we’ll explore a few key differences to help you make a decision. 

The healthcare industry is blessed with a diverse team of healthcare professionals. Healthcare includes a vast array of careers, from dental hygienists to veterinary medicine. In contrast, some students are drawn to a prospective career as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) or an anesthesiologist

Though both practitioners work in the field of anesthesiology, prospective students interested in this healthcare field often mistake these two professions. Luckily, this nifty guide will help students distinguish the differences between a CRNA and an anesthesiologist, including educational requirements and salary expectations.

Let’s get started!

image of dots background

CRNA vs. Anesthesiologist: Key Differences

The difference between these two professions is that anesthesiologists are doctors who administer anesthesia before surgery. Nurse anesthetists are registered medical nurses who help doctors administer or administer anesthesia themselves.

Points To Consider Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist Anesthesiologist
Degree Required DNP MD or DO
Certification Options CRNA National Certification American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA) Board Certification
Duties and Responsibilities Offers prenatal, labor and delivery, and pain control services
Observes and documents patients' key health metrics and indicators
Works closely with doctors and other medical professionals
Collects and records patients' health background information
Administers regional and full-body anesthesia as well as pain relief
Provides emergency assistance with airway control during crisis situations or challenging intubations
Guides certified registered nurse anesthetists and anesthesiology assistants
Manages more intricate and highly specialized patient situations
Partners with medical doctors and surgeons as part of the care team
Gathers and documents patients' past health information and medical records
Administers regional and full-body anesthesia as well as pain relief
Provides emergency assistance with airway control during crisis situations or challenging intubations
Average Annual Salary $212,650 (BLS, May 2023) $239,200 (BLS, May 2023)

1. Education and Training

CRNAs typically have at least seven years of education and training, whereas anesthesiologists complete 12-14 years. Anesthesiologists hold an MD, DO, or PhD degree from a medical school and complete four years of residency. CRNAs hold a DNAP or DNP degree from a nursing school and typically complete around 2,000 practicum hours. 

Anesthesiologists are medical doctors who are trained to provide anesthesia care for patients of all ages and complexity levels, including those with serious medical conditions.

On the other hand, CRNAs are registered nurses with advanced training in anesthesia care. CRNAs are qualified to provide anesthesia care for patients of all ages but typically work in collaboration with a physician, such as an anesthesiologist or a surgeon.

2. Scope of Practice and Autonomy

Anesthesiologists are trained in a wide range of medical specialties beyond anesthesia care, such as pain management and critical care medicine. They also have a greater degree of autonomy, as they are able to work independently and make decisions about patient care on their own.

CRNAs, on the other hand, typically focus solely on anesthesia care. They work in collaboration with physicians and may have more limited decision-making authority.

3. Patient Care and Management

Anesthesiologists are responsible for overseeing the entire perioperative period, including preoperative assessment, intraoperative anesthesia management, and postoperative care. They work closely with other members of the healthcare team to develop an individualized anesthesia plan for each patient based on their medical history, current health status, and surgical needs.

CRNAs typically focus solely on the administration of anesthesia and do not have the same level of involvement in the overall perioperative care of the patient. While they work in collaboration with other healthcare professionals, including anesthesiologists and surgeons, they may not have as much direct involvement in preoperative assessment or postoperative care.

Ultimately, both anesthesiologists and CRNAs play an important role in ensuring the safe administration of anesthesia to patients. While their training and scope of practice may differ, both professions work together to provide high-quality anesthesia care to patients in need.

Education Requirements

Interested in becoming a CRNA or an anesthesiologist? These careers in healthcare involve a combination of school, on-the-job learning, and specialized certifications. Let’s take a look at their distinct educational requirements.

To become a CRNA, a student must first earn a bachelor's degree in nursing, become a registered nurse (RN), and then complete a nurse anesthesia program. These programs typically take two to three years to complete and include both classroom and clinical training.

In contrast, becoming an anesthesiologist requires completing a four-year undergraduate degree, followed by four years of medical school, and then a four-year anesthesiology residency program. Additionally, anesthesiologists may choose to complete a fellowship in a specific area of anesthesiology, which can add another one to two years of training.

Overall, the education and training required to become an anesthesiologist are much more extensive and time-consuming than those required to become a CRNA.


When comparing the salaries of CRNAs and anesthesiologists, it's important to note that the differences may vary based on factors such as job location and experience. However, both professions offer high earning potential. 

In recent years, nurse anesthetists reported an average salary of $212, 650 or a mean wage of $102 per hour, with approximately 47,810 employment opportunities available. CRNAs can find employment in various settings, including physician's offices, general/surgical hospitals, and outpatient care centers. 

Anesthesiologists, on the other hand, earn significantly higher wages, with an average salary of $239,200 or an hourly rate of $115. There are around 33,470 positions available in the US. Many anesthesiologists work in physicians' offices, but some also find employment in outpatient care centers and post-secondary institutions.

FAQs: CRNA vs. Anesthesiologist

Students interested in becoming a CRNA or anesthesiologist may have many questions about these healthcare professions. Keep reading to find your answers!

1. Is It Better to Be a CRNA or Anesthesiologist?

Becoming a CRNA may be a better option if you prefer not to become a medical doctor and want a shorter educational path. However, becoming an anesthesiologist can lead to a higher salary, greater autonomy, and a broader scope of practice, including pain management and critical care medicine.

2. What Can an Anesthesiologist Do That a CRNA Can Not?

An anesthesiologist can handle more complex cases, patients with serious medical conditions, and has a wider scope of practice compared to a CRNA. They complete more extensive education including medical school and residency, and have full practice authority nationwide.

3. Can a CRNA Become an Anesthesiologist?

Yes, in fact, a recent past president of the ASA (American Society of Anesthesiology) experienced this. CRNAs looking to become anesthesiologists must attend medical school to obtain their MD degree. Then they need to complete an internship and anesthesia residency.

4. Do CRNAs Make More Than Doctors?

The average salary of a CRNA is comparable to that of many doctors, but it varies depending on factors such as geographic location, years of experience, and area of specialization. 

While CRNAs may not typically earn as much as highly specialized medical doctors, such as dermatologists or cardiologists, they can still earn a good living. It's important to note that salary is just one factor to consider when choosing a career, and individuals should also consider other factors such as job satisfaction, work-life balance, and educational requirements.

Final Thoughts

Both CRNAs and anesthesiologists play a crucial role in providing safe anesthesia care to patients. Anesthesiologists have more extensive medical training, including specialties beyond anesthesia care, and have greater autonomy in decision-making. However, it takes significantly more time and education to become an anesthesiologist, and the salary reflects that.

On the other hand, CRNAs require less education and training, but their scope of practice is limited to anesthesia care. While they typically earn a lower salary than anesthesiologists, they still earn a good living and have a rewarding career providing anesthesia care to patients.

Ultimately, the decision between becoming a CRNA or an anesthesiologist depends on an individual's career goals, interests, and educational background. Both professions have their unique challenges and rewards, and it is up to the individual to decide which career path is best suited for them.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Schedule A Free Consultation

Plan Smart. Execute Strong. Get Into Your Dream School.
Get Free Consultation
image of dots background

You May Also Like