How to Become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) in the USA (2024)

Are you interested in surgical nursing? Do you like working with patients in high-stakes, fast-paced medical environments? If you are interested in anesthesiology and perioperative care, you may find yourself drawn to becoming a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist or CRNA.

CRNAs assist anesthesiologists during surgery, and in some states, they can administer anesthesia directly to patients without supervision.

Becoming a CRNA takes extensive education and experience working in the OR. Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists are some of the most trained and specialized types of nurses in the workforce. They are in demand everywhere due to their highly specific knowledge.

If you’re exploring different career options as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), then becoming a CRNA is one avenue to consider.

Alt text: A CRNA working in a surgical theatre

What are the steps to becoming a qualified CRNA?

You can become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist in 5 steps:

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing

All CRNAs are APRNs, meaning they hold a graduate degree in nursing. Before you can reach this point, you’ll have to complete a 4-year undergraduate degree. Although you can become an RN with an associate’s degree in nursing, you won’t be able to apply for master’s programs with it.

If you’re already a nurse, look into RN to BSN programs online. They can help you earn your degree in under three years, so you can begin to apply for CRNA master’s programs.

2. Study for and pass the NCLEX-RN exam

The NCLEX is the certifying exam for all registered nurses in the United States and Canada. The exam will test your nursing knowledge across for core areas:

  • Safe and effective care environment

  • Health promotion and maintenance

  • Psychosocial integrity

  • Physiological Integrity

Take a look at the free NCLEX test plans from the National Board of State Boards of Nursing (NCBSN) to prepare for your exam.

3. Prepare for a master’s degree in nurse anesthesia

You will need to gain some clinical experience as an RN, including work in surgical suites, before applying for your master’s degree. Choose a program specializing in nurse anesthesia, where you can study advanced physiology, pharmacology, anatomy, and chemistry.

Throughout your program, you’ll also get hands-on training in natural surgical environments, from hospitals to outpatient surgery centers.

You may decide to pursue a doctoral degree in nurse anesthesia instead. By 2025, all nurse anesthetists in the United States will be required to hold doctoral degrees.

4. Pass the national certification exam for nurse anesthetists

All CRNAs must earn their certification through the NBCRNA. After passing, your results will be sent to your state’s nursing board. Then, you can apply for licensure and complete any additional requirements to become fully licensed as a CRNA in your state.

5. Continue your education

To maintain your CRNA license, you’ll have to complete continuing education courses through NBCRNA’s Continued Professional Certification (CPC) Program. Renewal is mandatory every four years, so you will have to perform ongoing education in the:

  • Delivery of anesthesia care

  • Patient safety, development, and research

  • Airway management

  • Anesthesia equipment and technology

  • Physiology and pathophysiology

  • Advanced clinical practice

Can you become a CRNA online?

CRNAs can complete their classwork online but must complete a practicum and clinical rounds in person at an approved facility. It’s also likely that your school will require you to complete on-site in-person learning labs.

The shortest CRNA program is 24 months, but you will likely spend around 36 months preparing for your program and completing all the necessary experience to become a certified nurse anesthetist.

Is CRNA a master’s or doctorate?

There is some confusion about what type of degree you need to become a CRNA. Students can become a nurse anesthetist with a master’s degree, but that will change soon.

Starting in 2025, all aspiring nurse anesthetists will have to complete a doctorate in nurse anesthesia. However, doctorate programs do not always require a master’s as a prerequisite. Instead, the DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) program expands upon the MSN curriculum by offering students greater opportunities to study their specialty in-depth.

Traditionally, DNPs have been designed for nurses that want to enter leadership roles, nursing management, or research. However, that is changing as more significant specializations become available for RNs.

Most BSN to DNP in nurse anesthesia degrees is full-time, 36-month programs. You will spend more than half of this time completing your anesthesia residency.

What is the difference between a DNP and DNAP?

With the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) announcing that APRNs will require doctoral degrees by 2025, many students are looking into DNAP programs as part of their CRNA training.

DNP programs already offer specializations in nurse anesthesia; however, the DNAP, or Doctorate of Nurse Anesthesia Practice, is an even more specialized version of this curriculum.

With a DNAP, students will solely focus on learning about advanced nursing and anesthesia care. In addition, CRNAs who already have MSNs or DPNs may pursue DNAPs to become even more qualified in their fields.

DNP programs for nurse anesthetists must be accredited through the AACN, while DNAP programs are certified through the Nurse Anesthetists Council for Accreditation (NACA).

What is the difference between a CRNA and an anesthesiologist?

A CRNA is a nurse, albeit one with a graduate degree and extensive experience in anesthesiology. However, they still must maintain a valid RN license and are not allowed to call themselves anything other than a nurse.

Anesthesiologists are medical doctors who have graduated from medical school and completed residencies in general medicine and anesthesiology. They are also board-certified anesthesiologists with thousands of hours of experience.

Although some states allow CRNAs to act independently, they are still not considered anesthesiologists and can’t call themselves such.

What does a CRNA do daily?

CRNAs have a much greater responsibility than bedside nurses. Their focus lies on pre-surgical preparation, perioperative care, and post-surgical recovery.

All nurse anesthetists collaborate closely with the anesthesiology team and surgeon to deliver their patients the most excellent possible care. They develop specialized anesthesia plans for each person’s needs, considering factors such as age, medical history, and the type of procedure they’re undergoing.

A nurse anesthetist:

  • Meets with patients before surgery to discuss their anesthesia options

  • Offers anesthesia education to patients and their families

  • Prepares patients for local and general anesthesia procedures

  • Administers anesthesia to patients in hospital and outpatient settings

  • Monitors patients’ vitals throughout procedures

  • Manages patients’ post-anesthesia recovery

In emergencies, nurse anesthetists must be able to rapidly intervene, administer drugs to reverse the effects of anesthesia, and provide life support as needed.

The nurse anesthetist also consults with physicians and surgeons to update them on patients’ conditions. Together, they help streamline healthcare, giving every individual the best possible surgical care.

Read more: What is a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)?

Where does a CRNA work?

A CRNA can work in a surgical hospital, or they may work in an outpatient surgical center. Working in outpatient surgery includes less intensive procedures, and you may administer sedation, regional anesthesia, and local anesthesia more often than general anesthesia in these environments.

Many patients also want to be part of their anesthesia plan, so the CNRA works with them to explore their options. The goal is to make them as comfortable as possible while ensuring they are adequately sedated or anesthetized for the procedure's safety.

Some CRNAs specialize in specific fields, like dentistry or plastic surgery. With so many different types of surgery available, it is easy to follow your passion as a nurse anesthetist and work with your favorite patient populations.

Is being a CRNA boring?

One of the most commonly asked questions about nurse anesthetists is whether their job is tedious. It can seem so from the outside since most of your patients are either sedated or unconscious for their procedures. However, being a CRNA is anything but boring!

As an advanced nursing specialty, anesthesia is an incredibly complex and intricate field. You are constantly learning more about the best practices and ways to administer medication to people, as well as how to support the best surgical outcomes.

CRNAs have to be engaged in their work constantly. You continuously monitor your patients’ vitals and ensure that their recovery goes smoothly. If there are ever complications, your fast thinking and rapid response save their lives.

While they may be advanced nurses, CRNAs still learn regularly from their patients and procedures. And with continuing education courses, you can improve your practice even more throughout your career.

What positions can you progress to from being a CRNA?

CRNA is the highest possible nursing position in anesthesiology. As an APRN, you can either continue to work in anesthesiology or get another master’s degree to transfer to a different field.

For example, you could become a nurse practitioner if you grew tired of the surgical suite and wanted to treat patients in a family health practice.

CRNAs can also become anesthesiologists if they attend medical school and complete their residencies. You could also earn a doctoral degree in nurse anesthesia and teach it to other aspiring CRNAs.

Do CRNA qualifications expire?

Yes, you have to maintain your CRNA certification like your RN license. In addition, every four years, you will have to demonstrate you have completed continuing education requirements and apply to re-certify through the NBCRNA.

How much do CRNAs make per year?

Because they are nearly as qualified as medical doctors in anesthesia, CRNAs are also some of the top earners in the nursing field. According to thelatest data from Indeed, the average CRNA makes $118,629 per year.

CRNA salaries typically start at six figures and can top well over $200,000 later in their career. As a result, it’s not uncommon for an experienced CRNA to earn as much as a doctor.

The top-paying companies for CRNAs in the United States offer salaries ranging from $242,000 to over $400,000 per year.

Read more: How Much Do Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA) Make?

How long does it take to become a CRNA?

It will take a minimum of 8 years to become a CRNA, but expect to spend around ten years meeting all the requirements. Nurse anesthetists must gain extensive clinical experience in the OR and other surgical settings before being eligible for the best CRNA jobs.

You will also need to complete both a bachelor’s and master’s or doctoral degree program before you are eligible to take the national certification exam (NCE).

Download the official NCE handbook to learn more.

Employers also look for nurse anesthetists with several years of nursing under their belts, including hours of work as an RN in surgical settings outside of clinical rounds.

Try not to pressure yourself if you feel like becoming a CRNA is your calling. You have plenty of time to work toward your dream, and it’s best to gain experience as an RN before you embark on your studies. Many master’s programs, for example, require students to work for at least two years as a registered nurse before they apply.

Read more: How long does it take to become a nurse?

How to Become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) in the USA (2024)


How to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist in us? ›

Steps to Becoming a Nurse Anesthetist
  1. Earn a BSN degree from an accredited program. ...
  2. Pass the NCLEX exam to receive RN licensure. ...
  3. Gain clinical nursing experience in critical care. ...
  4. Enroll in a graduate nurse anesthesia program. ...
  5. Graduate with your DNP or DNAP and pass the National Certification Exam.

How many questions is the CRNA exam? ›

Passing the 3-hour CRNA board requires successful completion of a minimum of 100 questions (and up to 170 questions) across four subject areas: Basic sciences (25%) Equipment, instrumentation, and technology (15%) General principles of anesthesia (30%)

How long does it take to become a nurse anesthetist in USA? ›

Bachelors of Science in nursing requires four years. Working experience as a registered nurse requires 1-3 years. Attending an accredited nurse anesthesia program requires 2-3 years. After passing the certification exam, you become licensed in your state.

Is becoming a CRNA difficult? ›

CRNA school is one of the most difficult schools to get into and complete. Students must dedicate a tremendous amount of time to studying concepts and principles of their programs if they want to become Certified Registered Nurses Anesthetists.

Can you be a CRNA without being a nurse? ›

I hate to burst your bubble but there are no Nurse Anesthesia programs that allow non-nurses in, even with your background. As a CRNA, your liscense is through your states Nursing Board. You must first have a nursing liscense prior to becoming an advanced practice nurse such as a CRNA, NP, etc....

Is CRNA school the same as med school? ›

CRNAs do take heavier science-based courses like pharmacotherapeutics and pathophysiology, but doctors have already taken physiology, microbiology, molecular biology, organic chemistry and biochemistry in their undergraduate years and take a year of histology, pathology, biochemistry and the all-important gross anatomy ...

How many times can you fail CRNA boards? ›

You can take the NCE up to four times within one year following the completion date of your nurse anesthesia educational program. If you do not pass within that first year, you will only have up to four more times within one more year to take and pass the NCE.

What is a good GPA for CRNA? ›

The average GPA of accepted students is 3.7. You are right where you need to be with this domain. Evidence of academic ability is extremely important. Graduate education in general and anesthesia education in particular are very demanding, academically.

What is a passing score on the CRNA board exam? ›

After talking to many program directors across the country, most require a minimum SEE score between 420 – 430 (range = 410 – 438 based on our data). For context, in 2020 (the most recent data available), the average SEE score for students who passed the NCE on the first attempt was 443.1 (up from 437.5 in 2019).

What is the fastest way to become a nurse anesthetist? ›

Current registered nurses seeking a career change can become a nurse anesthetist with 1-3 years of critical care experience and a graduate degree from a nurse anesthesia program. This route typically takes 2-3 years for those with a BSN or 3-4 years for RNs without their BSN.

Do nurse anesthetists work 12 hour shifts? ›


You may be assigned to a combination of 8, 10, or 12 hours shifts, including evening, nights, weekends, and holidays totaling 40 hours per week as well as on call shifts.

Can you go straight to being a nurse anesthetist? ›

To become a nurse anesthetist, you must have a registered nurse (RN) license and a master's degree from an accredited MSN program with a CRNA program.

What is the average age of a CRNA student? ›

The average SRNA is about 30 years old, has around three years of experience in a critical care unit, and roughly 30% have kids.

What is the lowest a CRNA can make? ›

According to the website, an entry-level nurse anesthetist will command an annual salary of $120,581, while a senior CRNA will earn $220,557.

How many hours a week do CRNAs work? ›

What is a normal shift for a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA)? A certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) typically works two 24-hour long shifts per week. There are some settings which a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) may work 8 or 12-hour shifts, but 24-hour shifts are also common.

What is the difference between a CRNA and a nurse anesthetist? ›

An anesthesiologist has a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree, whereas a CRNA is a registered nurse who has a doctoral-level degree and has passed the National Certification Examination for Nurse Anesthetists.

Can you go to CRNA school without ICU experience? ›

Why is ICU experience important for applicants? All CRNA programs require some ICU experience. Those applying for admission who possess comprehensive intensive care unit (ICU) experience are better equipped to handle the demanding program of study and are thus considered more competitive candidates for admission.

Is it too late to become a CRNA? ›

Am I too OLD to go back for CRNA? It's a very common question asked inside our communities, and the decision can feel really overwhelming. The good news is, whether you're looking at a career change, or just getting a later start, CRNA is a total possibility for you!

Can a CRNA call themselves an anesthesiologist? ›

“While there is no question about the level of service and professionalism CRNAs bring to anesthesia care, they are not anesthesiologists, in the same way nurses are not physicians,” the brief informs the court in the case, In re Appeal of New Hampshire Association of Nurse Anesthetists.

Can CRNA be called anesthesiologist? ›

While both professions are responsible for preparing, administering, and monitoring anesthesia, there are some key differences between the two roles. The main difference between CRNAs and anesthesiologists is that CRNAs are nurses while anesthesiologists are physicians.

Is CRNA a masters or doctorate? ›

Certified registered nursing anesthetists currently need a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) to practice. But in a change supported by the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA), all new CRNAs will need a doctoral degree to enter the field in 2025.

Is CRNA a high stress job? ›

Being a CRNA is a highly stressful job. When you are a CRNA, your patient's life is in your hands. The decisions you make can be life or death. A CRNA needs to be able to think clearly during stressful situations and work well under pressure.

Does CRNA require lots of math? ›

We had a semester long class of Chemistry and Physics of Anesthesia. It was mainly focused on Gas/Fluid Laws and their application to anesthesia; but there was some math. Generally the math is nothing more complicated than the med calcs you did in nursing school.

Do you need a good GPA for CRNA school? ›

2) Maintain good grades

To be considered competitive for CRNA school you should aim to have a 3.5 or higher. Keep in mind that a lower GPA will still be considered because they look at the candidate as a whole.

What is the best state to be a CRNA? ›

Top 10 highest-paying states for nurse anesthetists
RankStateAverage CRNA Salary
2New Jersey$263,850
4West Virginia$247,650
6 more rows
Jan 4, 2023

What kind of ICU is best for CRNA school? ›

Essentially, the units that are the safest are any adult ICU. There can be many different types of adult ICUs out there. There's the SICU, MICU, the CVICU, the CCU, and the burn trauma unit.

Can a CRNA make 300k? ›

Yes. Nurse anesthetists can make $300,000 a year, or close to that figure. In upstate New York, one of the top-paying nonmetropolitan areas for nurse anesthetists, CRNAs earn $261,730 annually.

Does nursing school GPA matter for CRNA school? ›

While GPA is very important, and we will not consider students who do not meet our minimum GPA, students do not need a 4.0 to get into our program. Our 2022 cohort had an average overall GPA of 3.43 and an average nursing GPA of 3.59.

What should I study for CRNA interview? ›

You're going to have to know various drugs down to the cellular level of how they react to receptor sites. By far, the most common thing asked in CRNA's interviews is to know your ICU drugs, vasoactive drips, sedative drugs, and ACLS drugs. Again, know them down to the cellular level and how they work.

How selective is CRNA school? ›

We all know CRNA school is extremely competitive. The average percentage of those who get accepted to those who apply is about 10%.

What does a CRNA do in a day? ›

Scope of practice

Preparing patients for anesthesia, including physical assessment and preoperative teaching. Administering anesthesia to a patient. Maintaining anesthesia during an operation. Managing recovery from anesthesia.

Do nurse anesthetists make more than anesthesiologist? ›

Rough estimates have anesthesiologists earning an average of $360,000 while CRNAs (specialty nurses in anesthesiology) average about $170,000, which is more than some primary care doctors.

How do I become a traveling CRNA? ›

The qualifications that you need to become a travel CRNA include a master's degree, a license to practice, and experience in the field of anesthesiology. This job requires communication skills because you work closely with surgeons, surgical nurses, and anesthesiologists during procedures.

Is being a CRNA worth it? ›

Yes, becoming a CRNA is worth it.

As of May 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the mean annual average salary for nurse anesthetists in the United States was over $183,000 in a year. Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) are the highest paid of all nursing specialties.

Is it better to be a CRNA or anesthesiologist? ›

Anesthesiologists make about $129,000 more annually than CRNAs, but they can also have as much as $100,000 more in student loans by the time they finish residency. According to BLS data from May 2021, the job outlook for CRNAs is 11% higher between 2021-2031 than it is for anesthesiologists during the same 10 years.

How many years of ICU do you need for CRNA? ›

Minimum of one year of full time clinical registered nursing experience within the past two years in an adult critical care ICU in the US by the application deadline.

Why does CRNA pay so much? ›

The average CRNA salary is so high because the position requires very advanced knowledge and skills. While many nursing positions only require that you have a Bachelor's degree, or even an Associate's degree, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists need at least their Master's of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree.

How long is CRNA school after BSN? ›

CRNAs are only required to earn their bachelor's degree, spend a year working in critical care, then complete a CRNA program which takes about 2-3 years. Nurse Anesthetists work in a variety of medical offices, such as hospitals, outpatient care centers, and doctor's offices.

Which state has the most CRNAs? ›

Maine is the best state, and Gresham is the city with the highest pay for certified registered nurse anesthetists.
1. Maine.
Total Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist Jobs:1,266
Average Annual Salary:$180,983
Lowest 10 Percent Earn:$128,000
Highest 10 Percent Earn:$255,000
1 more row
Apr 6, 2021

Is a CRNA higher than a RN? ›

The pay also varies greatly between the two positions. Experience level, education, and geographic location also differ. CRNAs earn more than registered nurses, often well into six digits, practicing in many states without physician supervision.

Can you get into CRNA school with a 3.0 GPA? ›

Applying to the Nurse Anesthesia Program requires that the applicant have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0. If the minimum cumulative GPA is below 3.0, the applicant will not be considered for admission.

Do CRNA wear scrubs? ›

Nurse anesthetists wear scrubs and protective coverings to maintain a sterile surgical environment and to prevent coming in contact with fluids.

Do CRNAs have flexible schedules? ›

2. Flexible Schedules. Ample opportunity means CRNAs can choose a schedule that fits their needs. There are options to work full-time, part-time, as needed, on call, or even overnight.

Is CRNA school 3 years? ›

Now due to the new AANA regulations, all CRNA programs require 3 years to become a nurse anesthetist.

What is the shortest nurse anesthesia program? ›

How Long is CRNA School? Most nurse anesthetist programs (80% or more) are 36 months. The shortest is 24 months. Once all nurse anesthesia schools have transitioned to the DNP, they will all be a minimum of 36 months.

What state pays the highest for CRNA? ›

Highest-paying states for nurse anesthetists

For nurse anesthetists, Connecticut tops the list of highest-paying states with an average annual wage of $276,540. New Jersey comes in at second with an average CRNA salary of $263,850, followed by Illinois at $250,280.

Is a CRNA higher than a nurse practitioner? ›

As senior healthcare positions, both CRNAs and NPs often earn competitive salaries. However, working as a CRNA is the more lucrative career path. The average salary for a nurse practitioner is $113,484 per year , while the average certified registered nurse anesthetist makes $176,509 per year .

What is higher than a CRNA? ›

Education and Certification. CRNAs complete about eight years of training; anesthesiologists complete 12 years. CRNAs attend nursing school, hold a DNP degree, and complete at least 1,000 hours of practicum. Anesthesiologists attend medical school, hold an MD or a DO degree, and complete four years of residency.

How many days a week does a CRNA work? ›

A certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) typically works two 24-hour long shifts per week. There are some settings which a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) may work 8 or 12-hour shifts, but 24-hour shifts are also common.

What is the GPA for CRNA? ›

The average GPA of accepted students is 3.7. You are right where you need to be with this domain. Evidence of academic ability is extremely important. Graduate education in general and anesthesia education in particular are very demanding, academically.

Can you become a CRNA without ICU experience? ›

All CRNA programs require some ICU experience. Those applying for admission who possess comprehensive intensive care unit (ICU) experience are better equipped to handle the demanding program of study and are thus considered more competitive candidates for admission.

How many years in ICU before CRNA school? ›

CRNA schools require applicants to have a minimum of 1 year (2 years are generally preferred) of full-time critical care experience in the US (US territories and military hospitals outside of the US are acceptable in most instances). Definitions of accepted critical care experience varies by school.

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