Submitted by Andrew Steger on Wed, 06/16/2021 - 23:12
Nurse anesthetist giving anesthesia to patient

Careers in Nursing: What Is a Nurse Anesthetist?

A career in nursing is one of the most exciting and fulfilling job opportunities available today. Nurses are the backbone of the healthcare industry and are constantly exposed to new people and experiences. Plus, the job market continues to grow, making it a lucrative industry.

Because there is such a wide range of medical needs, there are dozens of specializations within the overarching umbrella of “nursing.” One of the most rewarding advanced specializations is to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA).

Sounds intriguing, but what is a nurse anesthetist?

If you’re not familiar with the ins and outs of this advanced practice, then you’ve come to the right place. This guide will cover exactly what a nurse anesthetist does, their average salary, and how you can excel in this particular medical niche.

What Does a Nurse Anesthetist Do?

A nurse anesthetist specializes in administering anesthesia care to patients, typically during surgical or diagnostic procedures as well as the management of an individual’s airway.

Anesthesia consists of a combination of medications used to induce sedation and protect patients from feeling pain during surgery. General anesthesia is administered through an IV to render a patient fully unconscious, while local anesthesia numbs only a specific area of the body for smaller procedures like pulling a tooth, stitching an open wound, or removing moles.

Anesthesia can be dangerous when improperly administered, which is why the nurse anesthesia specialty is so important and highly-valued in medicine.

Where Nurse Anesthetists Work

Nurse anesthetists often collaborate with anesthesiologists, who are licensed doctors. Together, they may work alongside surgeons, dentists, or a number of other physicians who require anesthesia to safely perform medical procedures.

It is very common to find nurse anesthetists working in the following patient care locations:

  • Hospital operating rooms (ORs)
  • Emergency rooms (ERs)
  • Intensive care units (ICUs)
  • Cardiac care units (CCUs)
  • Outpatient surgical clinics
  • Delivery rooms
  • Military facilities

Nurse anesthetists are indispensable in locations where medical procedures take place. This is because sedating patients requires extensive knowledge and preparation. Although anesthesia is safer today than ever before due to better training and more advanced technology, there are still serious risks involved.

Luckily, nurse anesthetists know all about these risks—in fact, assessing and mitigating risk is a core part of their jobs.

Nurse anesthetists are responsible for ensuring patient safety throughout anesthesia. They’re carefully trained to assess their level of risk before they undergo a medical procedure.

Nurse anesthetist screen patients for risk factors such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart, kidney, or lung conditions
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Asthma
  • Seizures or other neurological disorders
  • Alcoholism
  • Smoking
  • Allergies to drugs
  • Use of blood-thinning medications like aspirin
  • Diabetes
  • Being overweight or obese
  • History of adverse reactions to anesthesia

Other Roles of a Nurse Anesthetist

In addition to pre-procedure patient screenings, nurse anesthetists perform a wide variety of essential tasks that help ensure safe and successful medical procedures. These include:

  • Educating patients about the anesthesia they’re about to receive
  • Administering the anesthesia through the IV or other means
  • Ensuring a correct and precise anesthesia dosage
  • Monitoring the patient’s level of sedation and vital signs throughout the procedure
  • Checking on patients after they recover from anesthesia and gauging side effects

These are the responsibilities of nurse anesthetists in broad strokes, but each nurse practitioner may take on slightly different duties. No two healthcare facilities are exactly alike and, therefore, the daily routines and on-the-job demands of every nurse anesthetist vary.

Nurse Anesthetist Average Salary and Job Outlook

Nurse anesthetists face a high level of risk and responsibility on the job; as a result, they frequently receive increased compensation.

In fact, nurse anesthetists earn some of the highest salaries in the field of nursing. The median annual salary of a nurse anesthetist is around $168,000. By comparison, the average registered nurse earned about $73,000 annually in 2019, less than half of a nurse anesthetist’s salary.

Nurse Anesthetist Salaries By State

Your annual salary can change significantly depending on your training, years of experience, and especially the state in which you work. Many states have a high demand for nurse anesthetists and typically pay more than the median annual salary. For example, these states paid much higher than the average salaries for nurse anesthetists in 2019:

  • Wyoming ($243,310)
  • Montana ($239,380)
  • Oregon ($234,750)
  • Wisconsin ($233,600)
  • California ($227,290)

In the states that pay lower than the national median salary, nurses working there often have much lower costs of living. Even still, the average salary is much higher than the nationwide median for nursing in general, making it a lucrative profession in virtually all 50 states.

These average salaries include:

  • Utah ($146,000)
  • Louisiana ($159,000)
  • South Carolina ($166,000)
  • Arizona ($145,000)
  • New Mexico ($162,000)
  • Missouri ($161,000)
  • Idaho ($151,000)
  • Alabama ($157,000)

Highest Paying Cities for Nurse Anesthetists

The statewide salary figures can only tell you so much, especially in large states with diverse demographics and cultural landscapes. In many cases, metropolitan areas pay higher wages than their rural counterparts. The highest paying cities for nurse anesthetists include:

  • Toledo, Ohio ($266,260)
  • San Francisco, California ($254,860)
  • Columbus, Georgia ($224,540)
  • Vallejo-Fairfield, California ($240,820)
  • Sacramento, California ($236,400)

If you’re planning to work outside of a major city in rural hospitals or other patient care facilities, some of the highest paying non-metropolitan areas for nurse anesthetists are:

  • Southeast and Southwest Minnesota
  • West Kentucky
  • Upper Savannah, South Carolina
  • West Central-Southwest New Hampshire

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, current and aspiring nurse anesthetists are in an excellent position for continued job security and further advancement.

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According to current projections, the profession is expected to continue growing at a rate of 45% between 2019 and 2029, which is much faster than the average job. This growth can be attributed to a few different factors, most notably:

  • An increased emphasis on surgical treatment in the healthcare industry
  • Nurse-friendly healthcare legislation
  • A growing elderly population that has increased anesthesia needs as they age

How To Become a Nurse Anesthetist

To unlock higher wages, more career opportunities, and professional benefits, nurse anesthetists must complete a higher level of education than many other nursing careers.

Registered nurses (RNs) usually earn a four-year bachelor’s degree before passing their licensure exam. Nurse anesthetists, on the other hand, are Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) who typically need to complete between six and eight years of higher education.

Many nurse anesthetists follow this or a similar career path:

  • Earn an ADN or BSN – All nurses, including nurse anesthetists, usually start their careers by earning an Associate Degree of Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). ADNs typically take two years, while BSNs are more likely to take four.

  • Get licensed as a registered nurse – After completing their degrees, all future nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX) to become an RN.

  • Gain professional experience – Passing the NCLEX-RN allows RNs to work in the field. Future nurse anesthetists often need at least one year of professional work experience before earning any advanced training or specialized degree. Some programs require that prospective nurse anesthetists gain one to three years of ICU experience.

  • Enhance your resume – This step is not strictly necessary but many people spend time demonstrating their interest and enhancing their skill sets before earning an advanced degree. This can be done by completing relevant certifications, like a Critical Care Registered Nurse certification. Added professional experience can be very attractive to the admissions boards of advanced degree programs.

  • Earn a DNP – Beginning in 2022, all students entering an accredited CRNA program must pursue their doctor of nurse practitioner (DNP) degree. A DNP program will typically take three to four years to complete. These programs often require students to administer anesthesia in a supervised setting at least 600 times and to complete roughly 2,500 hours of clinical work before graduating.

  • Get certified as a nurse anesthetist – After graduating with an MSN or DNP, nurse anesthetists must take and pass the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA) exam. After passing this national certification exam, nurse anesthetists apply for licensure with the state but must undergo recertification every two years. To be recertified, an APRN must complete 40 hours of continued education and show proof of sustained work in the field.

This sample career trajectory is typical of current nurse anesthetists, but that won’t always be the case. In fact, by the year 2025, every newly certified nurse anesthetist will be required to obtain a doctoral degree.

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Start Your Nurse Anesthetist Journey Today

Nurse anesthetists enjoy one of the most rewarding careers in healthcare. The pay is high, their career opportunities are plentiful, and they live with the knowledge that their work is extremely valuable.

The many years of higher education may seem daunting, but they don’t have to be.

If you dream of becoming a nurse anesthetist, an online nursing program can help you get there. As long as you have the necessary prerequisites—passion and determination—you can find success in completing the technical, educational, and experiential components.

If logistics are the biggest barrier to achieving your goals, get around them by earning your MSN or DNP degree online. There are highly-valuable online MSN and DNP programs at some of the best medical schools in the country.

Pursuing your dream doesn’t have to disrupt every other aspect of your life. Start forging your path now so you can realize your dreams for the future.



Mayo Clinic. Nurse Anesthetist.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Registered Nurses.

American Society of Anesthesiologists. Anesthesia Risks.