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How to Become a Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) in 4 Steps

Amanda Guarniere

Experts predict that by 2034, the United States will have a staffing shortage of nearly 124,000 physicians. One of the solutions to healthcare staffing shortages is utilizing specialized nurses, like CRNAs. CRNAs or nurse anesthetists have completed additional schooling beyond a BSN and have nearly identical qualifications to administer anesthesia as MDs.

Have you wanted to learn how to become a CRNA? Advancing in the nursing field can be costly and time-consuming. Before diving into a significant life decision, you need simplified steps that can help you get started. 

Luckily, we have a must-read guide for you. In our CRNA article, we break down the process into four easy-to-follow steps. Keep reading on until the end and find out other helpful tips and tricks to becoming a CRNA!

What Is a Nurse Anesthetist?

A nurse anesthetist is a medical professional. They must graduate from specific schooling programs to learn how to deliver anesthesia safely.

Compared to traditional anesthesiologists, the job responsibilities are relatively the same. Nurse anesthetists primarily work in surgical or hospital units where anesthesia or other sedative drugs are used frequently. 

What Does a Nurse Anesthetist Do?

There are three primary categories of anesthesia that a nurse anesthetist can administer. These include:

  • General
  • Regional 
  • Sedation

General anesthesia is ideal for surgical centers where a patient must remain fully unconscious. Regional anesthesia only blocks sensation and touch in certain regions. Lastly, sedation can put you in deep sleep or lower anxiety levels.  

What Are the Education Requirements for Nurse Anesthetists?

Nurse anesthetists must complete a doctoral degree (more on that below). Traditional anesthesiologists complete medical school and various fellowships and residencies that can take years to complete. The primary difference is anesthesiologists are MDs, and nurse anesthetists are specialized nurses who may or may not work independently of MD supervision. 

How Long Does It Take To Become a CRNA?

Typical DNP degrees take between two to three years to complete. It will also depend on the program you choose and if you have completed all the necessary requirements.

Additionally, it takes around four years to complete a bachelor’s and a minimum of one year of working experience. Overall, the entire process can take up to eight or more years to become a CRNA. 

How Much Can You Make as a CRNA?

CRNA’s salary is around $195,610 annually. This equates to nearly $100 hourly. Compared to nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists can make over $70,000 more annually. 

What Is the Current Job Market for Nurse Anesthetists?

Out of the best healthcare jobs, becoming a nurse anesthetist is ranked number eight. It is also rated number nine out of the best-paying jobs.

The job market is booming with a need for nurse anesthetists to help with an aging population. They are also more cost-effective than hiring an anesthesiologist.  

Steps To Becoming a Nurse Anesthetist

There are four primary steps to becoming a nurse anesthetist. An official board-certification occurs once you have graduated and passed national examinations. While this certifies you to work as a nurse anesthetist nationally, you will need to meet state-specific credentials. 

1. Earn Your BSN Degree

To achieve your BSN, you will need to have a high school diploma or GED. Next, apply and become accepted into an accredited program.

Accredited programs have passed specific criteria and standards and can make a significant difference in career opportunities. The BSN program takes around four years to complete. Although, there are some RN to BSN programs that can take less time. 

2. Become a Registered Nurse

Technically, registered nurses do not need a BSN. However, many medical facilities and institutions are pushing for more nurses who have obtained a BSN. Around 56% of RNs have a BSN

Compared to 2010, this percentage is around 7% higher, and more states are pushing for full transitions of RNs to have a BSN. After achieving a bachelor’s, you will need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam (more on that below) and start the process for your state’s licensure.

If you choose to work in multiple states, you will need to apply and obtain a license from each one. State licensures vary on requirements, so ensure you do your research before. 

Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

The NCLEX is a standardized test that challenges the competency levels of future nurses. RNs will take this test once they have graduated and must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to progress to obtaining state licensure. These tests use computerized adaptive testing equipment. 

Ultimately, the difficulty of questions is largely determined by your previous answer. Ultimately, this design is to push for an overall understanding of basic competency and level the playing field for candidates. 

3. Get Experience as a Registered Nurse and Get Your Masters Degree

To become a CRNA, you must have a master’s degree. By 2025, a new transition is being made. To become a CRNA, you will need to achieve a doctoral degree

Steps are in place to help incoming students make the transition, although it will extend another two years onto an MSN. The decision to increase education standpoints to a doctoral degree has come after years of debate and will serve to increase competency and decision-making amongst CRNAs. 

The most popular doctoral choice is a DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice). However, there may be other options available, like a Doctor of Education or a Doctor of Philosophy. Like the recent push for RNs to have a BSN, you do run the risk of employment concerns if you do not earn a DNP. 

You Will Need 1-3 Years of Experience as a Nurse

CRNA programs will differ in their requirements. On average, you need at least one year of experience in an acute care setting as a licensed RN. Acute care settings could include ICUs or ERs. Most CRNAs may have several years of experience before starting their CRNA journey or achieve other certificates to improve their chances of acceptance. 

Enroll in a Graduate Nurse Anesthesia Program

As of 2022, programs are required to offer DNP or Doctor of Nurse Anesthetist Practice (DNAP) degrees for incoming students. The benefit of attending a DNAP is you don’t have to pick a specialty since it is already designed for CRNAs. 

You will need to meet minimum GPA requirements, letters of recommendation, and RN experience. Once accepted and enrolled in a program, it will take approximately 64 to 94 credits to complete.

A DNP is required for any higher-education nursing career, like nurse practitioner and CRNA. If you already have your MSN, you can also find programs that specialize in MSN to DNP transitions and take between 31 to 40 credits to complete. 

4. Get Certified, Get Your State License, and Get a Job

After completing your DNP, DNAP, or another doctoral program, you will need to become certified. The National Certification Exam (NCE) is administered by the NBCRNA and is similar to the certification you completed as an RN. You can find access to testing throughout the United States. 

You must pass the NCE before starting state licensure applications. The majority of states require APRN licensure to work as a CRNA.  

Most states allow CRNAs to work independently without physician supervision. States that do not allow independent practice must have supervision from an MD or DO.

Get Certified as a Nurse Anesthetist

To get certified, first, you must graduate from an accredited program. Ensure you still hold a current RN license.

If necessary, you may need proof of physical and mental capability to administer anesthesia. Next, you will take the NCE and pass it.

The NBCRNA score ranges from 0 to 900, with a 450 considered “passable.” If you do not pass on the first round, you are able to take it again.

The NBCRNA also requires you to perform a check-in. During check-in, you will verify licensure, active practice, and update any information.  

Get Nurse Practitioner State Licensure

Texas has the highest employment for CRNAs. Other top states for CRNA employment are:

  • Florida
  • Minnesota
  • Ohio
  • New York

While this guide is too short to dive into the specific state licensure requirements, let’s look at Texas as an example. Texas requires proof of graduating from an accredited institution or working as a CRNA or APRN in another state.

Ensure you include valid licensure from other states in your application. Finally, they require a fee for filing any application. 

Find a Job

There are a few different avenues that you can use to find a job. First, broad search engines like Indeed can give you a good starting point. 

You can also ask family and friends for referrals or visit local hospitals regarding job opportunities. If you have worked in an acute care setting previously, that can be an excellent referral source. 

To fine-tune the job search and make your application stand out, you need a high-quality resume. Resume templates give you a great starting point to fill in the gaps and customize an application specific to NP or CRNA graduates. 

FAQs: How To Become a CRNA

Becoming a CRNA can get complex. This is especially true if you are debating between an NP and CRNA. Ultimately, if you want a broader scope of practice, choose an NP. If you want to practice administering anesthesia and receive higher pay, you may find being a CRNA more worth your while. 

1. What Is the Job Outlook for Nurse Anesthetists?

The job outlook for nurse anesthetists and nurse practitioners is expected to grow by 40% between 2021 and 2031. Compared to other healthcare jobs, this is extremely promising. More clinics are looking toward nurses to carry out highly specialized jobs and duties.

2. Is CRNA as Hard as Med School?

CRNAs must learn similar concepts and applications that anesthesiologists learn. The safety requirements and skill sets are nearly identical. However, DNP and med school will differ slightly otherwise. 

Both programs allow you to pick specialties, but MD schools will have a broader selection and are required to complete a residency afterward. They also have an additional one to two years of schooling that can dive into more specialties and disease-based practices. 

Some DNP programs might target curricula with holistic or whole-body approaches. Ultimately, curriculum standards and national certification can make both programs strenuous, but medical schools will have a larger variety of classes and core curricula that might be more challenging to keep up on from a quantity standpoint. 

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

There are several online roadmap tools you can use to start your path toward becoming an NP or CRNA. Certain schools will accept nurses who have not completed a BSN. However, since you need experience working as a nurse as part of the requirements, you must start there. 

If you are having a challenging time getting started in a BSN, there are associate-level degrees that can help you qualify for the NCLEX-RN exam. Another option is to work as LPN first, which also requires less schooling. 

The downside of starting as an LPN is you will have to complete your RN certification before applying to DNP programs. Programs that will accept RNs without a BSN might streamline you through BSN, MSN, and/or DNP school. It is important that you still check into course prerequisites before getting started. 

Start Your CRNA Journey Today

Have you wanted to learn how to become a CRNA? The process can easily be broken down into four simple steps, starting with earning your BSN. This is the easiest route and opens up several more opportunities to apply to different schools. 

Once you have graduated from DNP school, don’t let a poorly constructed resume keep you from nailing the job of your dreams. At The Resume Rx, we specialize in prepping NPs and CRNAs for interviews, resumes, and much more. Check out our resume bundle to get started!


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