How to Become a Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

October 10, 2023


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 10/10/23

If you’d like to join one of the fastest-growing and most rewarding careers in the US, read on to learn more about how to become a CRNA.

The journey to how surgeries are performed today has been tumultuous and quite horrific. Before the invention of anesthesia in 1846, patients were operated on fully awake! In fact, there were often surgical members in each operating room whose sole purpose was to hold down patients as they were cut into. 

Fast forward a few centuries, anesthesia has now become standard practice in all operating rooms, making surgeries completely pain-free! 

While this advancement has made the medical staff who held patients down during surgery obsolete, it created a demand for a new kind of health professional –  Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA). 

As a career that is projected to only grow in demand, it may be the perfect profession for those interested in the nursing field and operating room. Not sure if becoming a CRNA is the right fit for you? This guide will go over how to become a CRNA, their daily duties, and their salary.

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Steps to Become a CRNA

Before delving into the specifics of how to join this profession, you may be wondering, “how long does it take to become a CRNA?”

It will take at least seven to nine years to become a CRNA. Here’s what these years involve:

Step One: Maintain High Grades in High School

In order to get into nursing school, which is step two, you’ll need to maintain a high GPA in high school. Nursing school is competitive, and only a small percentage of applicants are accepted into the top nursing programs.

You may also consider gaining some pre-nursing internship or volunteer experience to stand out as an applicant and to confirm your desire to join this field!

Step Two: Complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

You’ll have to complete a four-year BSN degree in order to qualify for the further education required to become a CRNA. This step of the journey will be difficult. Nursing programs are known to be extensive and challenging! Ensure you are diligent, determined, and dedicated to nursing in order to excel in your program.

Step Three: Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

Once you’ve successfully completed your degree, you’re almost ready to join the medical field and begin practicing! The final step before this is to get certified by writing the NCLEX-RN exam

This exam assesses aspiring nurses’ competencies to determine whether they meet the national standards for patient care.

Ensure you create an effective study plan to ace the NCLEX on your first try so you can begin treating patients as soon as possible!

Step Four: Gain Experience

Before you can move on to step five, you’ll have to gain some experience working with patients as a nurse. You’ll need a minimum of one year working full-time in a critical care setting, or the equivalent if you’re working part-time.

While one year is the minimum, the majority of nurses have around 2.9 years of experience before they move on to step five!

Step Five: Complete a Master’s Degree in Nurse Anesthesia Education

There are currently 121 accredited Nurse Anesthesia programs in the US. Depending on your undergraduate GPA, clinical experience goals, and desired program location, any one of these programs can provide you with the right education and experience to prepare you for a prosperous career as a CRNA.

Some aspiring CRNAs also opt to complete a doctoral degree in Nurse Anesthesia to gain an even more advanced understanding of anesthesia and to have more opportunities.

Depending on the program and type of degree(s) you choose to complete, this step of the process will take 24-51 months to complete.

Step Six: Pass the Board Exams

Unfortunately, your NCLEX isn’t the only board exam you’ll have to pass to become a CRNA. The final exam, and step, you’ll have to complete is the NBCRNA exam. This exam ensures you meet all the necessary medical standards to begin working as a CRNA. 

Step Seven (Optional): Join a Fellowship

While most CRNAs stop after step six, those interested in working in a particular setting may wish to join a fellowship. There are very few fellowships available, however, and they focus largely on pain management and pediatric nurse anesthesiology.

What Does a Nurse Anesthetist Do?

Understanding how to become a CRNA is an important factor to consider when deciding whether this career is right for you. But, what’s perhaps more important is knowing exactly what this role involves, as it’s more complex than you might think!

CRNAs’ roles typically involve the following:

  • Performing physical assessments
  • Obtaining informed consent for procedures
  • Taking patients’ history
  • Educating patients and their families on anesthetics (side effects, desired effects, possible adverse reactions)
  • Developing and implementing anesthetic plans
  • Administering various anesthetics (local, intravenous, spinal, and sedation)
  • Monitoring patients during surgery (their oxygen, ventilation, cardiovascular status, positioning, neuromuscular status, and temperature)
  • Maintaining patient airways using intubation, ventilation, and pharmacological support
  • Inserting epidurals
  • Inserting peripheral and central lines
  • Recovering patients from anesthesia after surgery

Not only are CRNAs responsible for performing diverse roles, but they’re also able to work in diverse healthcare settings:

  • Hospitals
  • Dental offices
  • Outpatient surgery centers
  • Pain management centers
  • Public health centers
  • Plastic surgery centers

CRNAs are also the sole anesthesia providers in nearly all rural hospitals and the main providers of anesthesia for the US Armed Forces.

CRNA Salary and Job Outlook

While the process involved in becoming a CRNA may seem intimidating and costly, CRNAs are paid extremely well for all their hard work! 

CRNAs make $205,770 a year on average, with those working in outpatient care centers making $246,980 a year. 

This job is also in high-demand and is expected to grow 4.7% in the next decade, with over 40,000 job openings. 

For those interested in making the most money, Connecticut, CT average CRNA salary is $276,540 a year. 

Skills Required to Be a Nurse Anesthetist

The perks of working as a CRNA are excellent—not only are you paid well, but you also have a direct impact on patients’ lives every day! However, there are certain skills you’ll need to be an effective CRNA and increase the positive impact you have on those you work with and for:

Attention to Detail

As a CRNA you’ll have to know exactly how much anesthesia to administer to your patients, depending on multiple factors such as their age, weight, heart rate, drug use, and even hair color!

For instance, redheads are likely to experience more pain and thus require about 20% more anesthesia than any other hair color!

You’ll have to be able to keep track of these details and ensure you don’t miss any, as doing so puts you at risk of giving the patient too little or too much anesthesia.

The Ability to Multitask

You’ll have to monitor your patients’ oxygen, ventilation, cardiovascular status, and more while administering their anesthesia. If several of these aspects require attention, you’ll need to know how to correct your anesthesia administration to ensure your patient remains asleep and healthy. 


Even when CRNAs have all of their calculations right, the effects anesthesia has on people can be quite unpredictable. CRNAs must be able to work under high levels of pressure and know how to adapt quickly within different situations.

Strong Collaboration and Teamwork Skills

As a CRNA in the operating room, you’ll be working with a team of healthcare professionals with the same goal—to treat each patient with the highest degree of care and get them through their surgery successfully. You’ll need to be a good collaborator who’s able to rely on others to ensure this goal is met.

Good Bedside Manners

As a nurse, you will interact with your patients quite often. As such, you need good bedside manners to be able to discuss the anesthetic procedure with your patients in a sensitive, yet simple way. 

Surgery is scary for everyone! You’ll need to be able to remain patient and calm, even when your patients aren’t.

No matter how many times you get the same questions like, “what if I wake up during surgery?”, “will it hurt?”, or “will I remember anything?”, you’ll have to keep answering these questions to ensure your patients are comfortable and well-informed.

FAQs: Becoming a Nurse Anesthetist

While we’ve covered the basics of how to become a CRNA, you may have some remaining questions. In case you do, here are the answers to frequently asked questions about this medical profession! 

1. How Long Does It Take to Become a CRNA?

It generally takes at least seven to nine years to become a CRNA: four years to complete a BSN, at least one year to complete the necessary experience to qualify for higher education, and two to four years to complete an advanced degree in Nurse Anesthesia.

2. Is a CRNA Higher Than an RN?

CRNAs are RNs, only they have more advanced training and education, allowing them to administer anesthesia on top of their regular RN duties. 

3. Is it Hard to Become a Nurse Anesthetist?

Yes, becoming a nurse anesthetist will take time, effort, and focus. Getting into nursing school to become an RN is difficult on its own, as these programs involve rigorous curriculums and clinicals. 

Once you’ve completed your degree, you’ll have to pass your NCLEX-RN to begin practicing as a nurse. While the NCLEX has a relatively high pass rate, it is still one additional step you must complete in order to reach your final goal.

You’ll then have to work one year in a critical care setting in a hospital. This typically involves working in the ICU, which can be mentally and physically exhausting. 

After gaining enough experience, you’ll have to go through the nerve-wracking process of applying to highly competitive Nurse Anesthetist programs, and spending another few years working hard to excel in your program. As the cherry on top of this very high sundae, you’ll have to pass your board exams to become a certified CRNA!

4. Can You Be a CRNA Without Being a Nurse?

No, you must be an RN before you can become a CRNA. In order to join an advanced Nurse Anesthetist degree, the first requirement is to complete a BSN and be a licensed RN.

5. What is the Difference Between a CRNA and a Regular Anesthesiologist?

While the duties these two medical professionals perform are essentially identical, CRNA’s are nurses, whereas anesthesiologists are doctors.

As such, anesthesiologists attend medical school and complete a residency in order to administer anesthesiology. CRNA’s do not, and thus may require physician supervision when administering anesthesia. 

However, due to the widespread shortage of physicians, CRNAs are taking a more prominent role in healthcare, and many are able to work without physician supervision!

Additionally, larger metropolitan hospitals typically have both CRNAs and anesthesiologists, whereas smaller or rural hospitals only have CRNAs.

6. What is the Best Nurse Anesthesia Program?

Virginia Commonwealth University’s Nurse Anesthesia programs are considered to be the best in the nation.

Final Thoughts

As vital parts of any healthcare setting, CRNAs provide crucial care to patients to ensure their surgical procedures are as stress-free and uncomplicated as possible. 

After going over what it takes to become a CRNA, what the job entails, and how much you can expect to make, you can hopefully make a more informed decision about whether this career is the right fit for you!

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