What is a CRNA?

A CRNA (certified registered nurse anesthetist or just “nurse anesthetist”) is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who administers anesthesia and other medications. They also take care of and monitor people who receive or are recovering from anesthesia.

Anesthesia is a medical treatment that keeps you from feeling pain during procedures or surgery. Different types of anesthesia work in different ways. Some anesthetic medications numb certain parts of your body, while other medications work on your brain to induce sleep.

CRNAs have specialized training and knowledge to administer anesthesia safely and properly.

What is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN)?

Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) are registered nurses educated at a master’s or doctoral level and in a specific role and patient population. APRNs are prepared by specialized education and certification to assess, diagnose and manage medical issues. They can also order tests and prescribe medications.

Types of APRNs include:

  • Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA).
  • Certified nurse practitioner (CNP).
  • Clinical nurse specialist (CNS).
  • Certified nurse midwife (CNM).

What does a nurse anesthetist (CRNA) do?

CRNAs have specific responsibilities, which include:

  • Educating people before and after they receive anesthesia for a procedure or surgery.
  • Assessing a person’s physical response to anesthesia.
  • Identifying possible risks to the person undergoing anesthesia, including allergies to anesthetics and issues related to health conditions they may have, such as asthma or diabetes.
  • Providing precise dosages of anesthesia.
  • CRNAs work with surgeons, anesthesiologists, dentists, podiatrists and other healthcare providers to provide anesthesia care to people undergoing all types of procedures. They care for people of all ages, undergoing all types of surgical procedures.

CRNAs are often the sole anesthesia providers in hospitals in rural parts of the United States. They’re also the main provider of anesthesia to the people who serve in the U.S. armed forces.

CRNAs can work in several different medical settings, including:

  • Hospital operating rooms (ORs).
  • Postanesthesia recovery rooms (PACU).
  • Emergency rooms (ERs).
  • Outpatient surgery centers.
  • Labor and delivery units.
  • Physician’s offices.
  • Dentist’s offices.

What’s the difference between a CRNA (nurse anesthetist) and an anesthesiologist?

Both CRNAs (nurse anesthetists) and anesthesiologists can safely and expertly provide anesthesia, but there are some differences in their educational backgrounds.

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.

When a nurse anesthetist administers anesthesia, it’s recognized as the practice of nursing. When an anesthesiologist provides anesthesia, it’s recognized as the practice of medicine. Regardless of whether their educational background is in nursing or medicine, physician anesthesiologists and CRNAs provide anesthesia the same way.

How does someone become a nurse anesthetist (CRNA)?

To become a nurse anesthetist (CRNA), a person must:

  • Have a bachelor’s degree in nursing or a related field.
  • Be licensed as a registered nurse in the United States or its territories.
  • Work as a registered nurse for at least one year in an intensive care unit (ICU). Most RNs who become CRNAs work for closer to three years in this setting.
  • Attend and graduate from an accredited nurse anesthesia program, which results in a doctoral degree. These programs are three years in length.
  • Pass the National Certification Examination for Nurse Anesthetists after graduation from a nurse anesthesia program.
  • Some CRNAs pursue a fellowship in a specialized area of anesthesiology, such as chronic pain management, after becoming a CRNA, which typically takes at least one year.

Like all medical professionals, CRNAs need to complete continuing education, such as conferences, research and classes, throughout their career to keep up with advances and technology in their field.

How long does it take to become a nurse anesthetist (CRNA)?

It takes approximately seven to 10 years total to become a nurse anesthetist (CRNA), which includes education to become a registered nurse (RN), experience working as an RN in an intensive care unit (ICU) and attending and graduating from an accredited nurse anesthesia program.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Facing surgery or an invasive procedure can be stressful. Know that your nurse anesthetist (CRNA) has specialized knowledge and skills to make sure you’re safe during your surgery. Don’t be afraid to ask your CRNA questions. They’re available to help you feel more comfortable and confident about your surgery.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/17/2022.

References

  • American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology. Become a CRNA. (https://www.aana.com/membership/become-a-crna) Accessed 3/22/2022.
  • American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology. Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists Fact Sheet. (https://www.aana.com/membership/become-a-crna/crna-fact-sheet) Accessed 3/22/2022.
  • American Society of Anesthesiologists. Anesthesia as a Career. (https://www.asahq.org/education-and-career/career-resources/anesthesia-as-a-career) Accessed 3/22/2022.
  • Nurse.org. Nurse Anesthetist. (https://nurse.org/resources/nurse-anesthetist/#how-long-does-it-take-to-become-a-crna) Accessed 3/22/2022.

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