How to Become a CRNA (Nurse Anesthetist) - Complete Guide

May 8, 2024
6 min read


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 5/7/24

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, and 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 has 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. 

image of dots background

What is CRNA?

A Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) is a highly trained nurse who focuses on giving anesthesia to patients during medical procedures. They're key team members in surgeries, working closely with doctors, dentists, and others. They're important because they inform everyone about how to make procedures safe and comfortable for patients by talking to patients and doctors.

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 Degree in Nurse Anesthesia Education

There are currently 130 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.

Many aspiring CRNAs also opt to complete a doctoral degree in Nurse Anesthesia instead of a master’s degree 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 24-36 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, and 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 among the highest-paid nurses

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 4.4% in the next decade, with over 45,000 job openings. 

Highest Paying States for Nurse Anesthetists

For those interested in making the most money, here are the top-paying states for CRNAs:

Salary Annual Salary
New Jersey $287,792
Wisconsin $281,056
Alaska $274,100
Massachusetts $273,729
Oregon $272,846
Washington $272,833
North Dakota $272,105
New Mexico $270,272
Minnesota $266,916
Hawaii $266,694
Ohio $260,773
Colorado $260,630
Nevada $259,168
New York $257,603
South Dakota $257,168
Rhode Island $252,721
Iowa $252,191

Salary Annual Salary
Vermont $251,022
Connecticut $250,058
Tennessee $248,985
Utah $247,050
Delaware $246,296
Mississippi $245,822
Virginia $243,259
Illinois $240,879
Maryland $238,659
California $236,233
Pennsylvania $236,003
Nebraska $233,943
Louisiana $233,034
Missouri $231,499
Kansas $231,355
Maine $231,170
South Carolina $229,297

Salary Annual Salary
New Hampshire $229,266
Oklahoma $226,556
Wyoming $226,061
Idaho $225,651
North Carolina $224,565
Texas $223,828
Indiana $223,391
Arizona $218,772
Kentucky $216,829
Michigan $215,877
Montana $215,475
Alabama $212,786
Arkansas $205,546
Georgia $198,229
West Virginia $182,269
Florida $175,433

How Long Does It Take to Finish Nurse Anesthetist School?

Depending on the type of degree you pursue, it typically takes 24-36 months to finish nurse anesthetist school. Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)-level nurse anesthetist programs typically take 24-29 months to complete, while Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)-level programs usually take 36 months to complete.

Where Does CRNA Usually Work?

Nurse anesthetists can be found in hospitals, doctor's offices, and even the military. They help manage pain wherever it's needed. You'll often see them in operating rooms, giving anesthesia to surgery patients. They're also crucial in emergencies, helping with breathing and sedation. Plus, they relieve pain during childbirth and other conditions needing nerve blocks.

Top 10 Schools with CRNA Programs

Here is a table showing the top 10 schools with CRNA programs. 

School Location Acceptance Rate Tuition Fees
Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences Bethesda, MD 61% No tuition fee. Graduates will work instead.
University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, PA 49.2% $20,154 per year
Baylor College Houston, TX 50.9% $54,844 per year
University of Iowa Iowa City, IA 84.7% $10,964 per year for Iowa residents
Virginia Commonwealth University Richmond, VA 91% $12,850 per year

School Location Acceptance Rate Tuition Fees
Duke University Durham, NC 5.1% $31,725.00 per year
California State University--Fullerton Fullerton, CA 87% $7,608
Texas Christian University Fort Worth, TX 43% $61,650 per year
Wake Forest University Winston-Salem, NC 22% $67,642 per year
Case Western Reserve University Cleveland, OH 29% $66,020 per year

If you need help finding the right med school for you, check out our Which Medical School Is Right For Me? Quiz here! It'll help you find the perfect med school to attend. 

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 to 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 three years to complete an advanced degree in Nurse Anesthesia.

2. Is a CRNA Higher Than an RN?

CRNAs are RNs, but 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 pursue 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 on 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!

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