CRNA Salary Description and Requirements
What is a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist – CRNA?
We’re used to seeing movies and TV shows where a patient is put to sleep to have an operation. Perhaps you’ve even had a procedure yourself and were given a local or general anesthetic. And you may have imagined it could only be a doctor who could administer this anesthetic.
You might be surprised to learn that a CRNAs, or Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists, are in many cases just as qualified to administer anesthetic as anesthesiologists. Not only that, CRNAs are in huge demand in hospitals all over the country, and they do much more than put people to sleep.
The Duties of a CRNA
First and foremost, a nurse anesthetist is called upon to administer anesthesia before and during surgery. This can range from a mild, local anesthetic for minor surgeries, such as stitching a wound, or larger surgeries, where a patient must be put to sleep until the procedure is over.
However, the nurse anesthetist’s job neither begins nor ends there. It is their responsibility to look after the patient before the anesthesia is given, as well as monitoring them throughout the procedure, and finally ensuring that they recover well once the procedure is over.
Under a general anesthetic, a nurse anesthetist maintains the correct levels of anesthesia drugs to ensure the patient remains unconscious until the surgery is over. They monitor vitals, including heart rate, oxygen levels, blood pressure and beyond, ready to step in and adjust anesthesia levels if complications arise.
Before any procedure, it is a nurse anesthetist’s responsibility to fully explain the anesthesia procedure, including discussing how long the anesthesia will be administered for, what effect this will have on the patient during administration, and whether there will be any side effects.
Working as a CRNA is therefore a varied and often challenging job, which requires not only the holistic skills expected of a nurse but also a quick, technical mind that thrives on working under pressure and the exercising of critical thinking skills.
After all, along with the surgeon performing the procedure, the most important person in the operating theater is undoubtedly the anesthetist. A CRNA’s job is one that’s comes with huge responsibility, but is without doubt highly rewarding, too.
What’s the Difference Between a CRNA and an Anesthesiologist?
An anesthesiologist is a medical doctor, who has completed four years of medical school before another three or four years as a resident, where they will specialize in anesthesiology. If they ever change their minds and decide to no longer have a career in administering anesthesia, they’re still qualified doctors and can go into another field.
Nurses take a different path, although they may still end up in the anesthetist’s chair. To become a CRNA, a nurse must first complete their nursing training, usually in the form of an undergraduate degree. Then, they will have to have critical care experience for at least one year, before a further 2-3 years of their CRNA program.
These days, CRNAs are being given more responsibility as anesthetists, even without the oversight of an anesthesiologist. Many medical experts today admit that when it comes to the level of care that a CRNA supplies compared to that of an anesthesiologist, there is little to know difference. CRNAs are heralded as being just as capable and perform as excellent a job.
Interestingly, nurses were the first to give anesthetic to patients, long before doctors specialized in pain relief. It was the nurse who first gave opium and other pain-relief to soldiers on the battlefield, so it stands to reason that nurses are just as capable of administering anesthetic today!
Where do CRNAs Work?
You can find a registered nurse anesthetist anywhere there’s a need for the safe administering of anesthesia required. Many times, even when there is an anesthesiologist present, a nurse anesthetist is on hand, too. This is particularly in the case of larger, more complicated procedures or operations that can last for several hours.
CRNAs are required to help women in labor, too. Many women who give birth either opt for, or are required to have, a caesarean section to deliver their babies, and it’s often a CRNA who will help the expectant mother understand the procedure at an understandably stressful time.
Even women who choose to have epidurals, or spinal blocks, will have anesthesia carefully administered by either an anesthesiologist or, often, a nurse anesthetist.
Patients who attend larger hospitals in metropolitan areas will perhaps have their anesthesia administered by an anesthesiologist, but for those who attend a local clinic or a hospital in a rural area, they will only ever see a nurse anesthetist. In fact, over two thirds of anesthesia administered in rural areas of the USA is delivered by a CRNA.
CRNAs can be found not only in hospitals but in private practices, clinics, and childbirth centers. They work in free-standing centers, minor injury offices, dentist and orthodontist practices, podiatrists, and beyond.
How to Become a Nurse Anesthetist
As discussed, the journey to becoming a registered nurse anesthetist is less intensive than that of becoming a doctor. However, as it’s a specialized field, there are several years of study required.
The most recommended route is for a student to complete their BSN, or Bachelor of Science in Nursing. They should then complete a Master’s in a nurse anesthesia educational program, alongside getting at least 12 months of experience in a critical care setting.
It is also thought that within the next four years, it will be a requirement for all nurses to obtain a doctorate in nurse anesthesia for them to be allowed to practice.
There are also different requirements depending on the state in which you live and are planning on practicing in, so it’s always a good idea to check the licensing laws pertaining to your own state, so you know exactly the educational route you need to take.
How Much does a Nurse Anesthetist Earn?
While it’s true that a doctor of anesthesiology will earn more than a nurse anesthetist, the salary for a qualified CRNA is still excellent. On average, a nurse anesthetist will earn around $180,000.00 per annum, and this can easily increase to well over $200,000.00 per annum for the higher earners, and those with higher levels of experience.
If your heart is set on becoming a nurse anesthetist, you’ll be in high demand! The need for specialists in the healthcare service means that the job of nurse anesthetist is considered one of the most sought-after positions in employment in the whole country.
It means that if you study hard, get the qualifications you need and have plenty of on-the-job experience, you are almost guaranteed to walk into a job practically anywhere in the country. With a career as a nurse anesthetist, the world’s your oyster!
A Specialist Nurse in a Critical Role
The role is certainly a demanding one, with a great deal of responsibility. A level head and strong critical thinking and problem solving skills are required.
But across the country, hospitals and clinics are searching high and low for Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists. If this is the direction you can see your career heading, then this is the perfect time to reach out for this extremely rewarding and greatly respected role.
For more information on becoming a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, visit the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology.