CRNA vs. Anesthesiologist: What Are the Differences?

April 27, 2023


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 04/27/23

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 (CRNAs) 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 vs. an anesthesiologist, including educational requirements and salary expectations.

Let’s get started!

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CRNA vs. Anesthesiologist: Key Differences

Many students interested in anesthesiology often confuse the roles of CRNAs and anesthesiologists. While both professions are qualified to administer anesthesia to patients, there are key differences between them.

Education and Training

An anesthesiologist is a medical doctor who specializes in anesthesia care. They have completed a medical degree and a residency in anesthesiology, which typically lasts four years. Anesthesiologists are trained to provide anesthesia care for patients of all ages and levels of complexity, including those with serious medical conditions.

On the other hand, CRNAs are registered nurses with advanced training in anesthesia care. They typically have a minimum of a master's degree in nursing and have completed specialized 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.

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.

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.

CRNA vs. Anesthesiologist: Education Requirements

Interested in becoming a CRNA or an anesthesiologist? These noble 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.

CRNA vs. Anesthesiologist: Salary

When comparing the CRNA vs. anesthesiologist salary, 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 $202,470 or a mean wage of $97.34 per hour, with approximately 43,950 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 $331,190 or an hourly rate of $159.22, with around 31,130 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

Naturally, students interested in becoming a CRNA vs. an 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?

Both professions of CRNA and anesthesiologist have their unique advantages and challenges. The decision between the two ultimately depends on an individual's personal and professional goals.

If you are interested in anesthesia but prefer not to become a medical doctor, then becoming a CRNA may be a better option. The path to becoming a CRNA typically requires less time and education than becoming an anesthesiologist, which can take over a decade of education and training.

However, if you are willing to invest the time and effort, becoming an anesthesiologist can lead to a higher salary and greater autonomy in patient care. Anesthesiologists also have a broader scope of practice beyond anesthesia care, including pain management and critical care medicine.

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

From administering anesthetics to walking patients through the process, there are many shared duties between a CRNA and an anesthesiologist. These healthcare practitioners also tend to multiple patients, even in critical care. However, due to their additional training, anesthesiologists are granted additional duties. 

Anesthesiologists are also qualified to practice their specialty in all 50 US states. In contrast, the NCSBN highlights 30 states that allow CRNAs to practice anesthesia independently of a physician.

3. Can a CRNA Become an Anesthesiologist?

CRNAs and anesthesiologists may have overlapping responsibilities with different educational credentials. This means that CRNAs who wish to become an anesthesiologist must go to medical school to follow their anesthesiology-fueled dreams. 

Though both healthcare professions often collaborate and share responsibilities in the workplace, their certifications are governed by different medical boards and professionals. Therefore, CRNAs do not hold the same licenses that a medical doctor would have to be a practicing professional like an anesthesiologist in the US.

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.

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