Certified Nurse Anesthetist: Average Salary: $169,330

The job growth for career is projected at 31 percent, nearly twice that of registered nurses

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

NurseIf you’ve experienced in-patient surgery, you likely have received care from a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA).

Cheryl Spulecki, president of New York State Association of Nurse Anesthetists, works as a professor at University at Buffalo. The association represents more than 1,600 CRNAs statewide.

“The reason many are interested in the program is they think they’d find it a very satisfying career if they’ve worked in acute care, the emergency room or intensive care unit and they’d like to advance their career,” Spulecki said.

CRNAs administer all types of anesthesia in the operating room. Their care begins at the pre-operation assessment, throughout the surgery, preparing the patient for awakening to recovery and follow-up post-surgery to make sure they’re comfortable and their pain is managed safely.

In addition to more skills, the degree prepares CRNAs for leadership, administrative or education roles. Like other nursing specialties, CRNA candidates beginning in 2020 will need to complete a higher degree — a doctorate in this case — by 2025. That degree allows CRNAs to transition into education.

To apply to a CRNA program, candidates must have a bachelor of science in nursing or any appropriate bachelor’s degree, a license as a registered nurse, and a minimum of one year acute care nursing. Most master’s programs take 26 months to complete. The doctorate takes 36.

After completing the education required, candidates must pass national board examinations and then recertify every eight years. Four continuing education credits are also required every four years.

“We advise nurses or undergraduates to understand the prerequisites,” Spulecki said. “They should have critical care experience. They should enjoy the autonomy of working in that environment, working under supervision and medical direction of a physician and caring for patients with all types of anesthesia.”

Kristine Faust, director of the UB School of Nursing nurse anesthetist program, said that CRNAs have many opportunities available, such as at a dental office, podiatrist, plastic surgery practice, OB-GYN, out-patient facility or hospital.

“In New York, you have to be supervised by a physician,” Faust said. “That physician could be a surgeon or an anesthesiologist.”

Faust likes the autonomy CRNAs enjoy. She added that the career offers a good salary, variety of patients and “every day is different,” she said. “You’re helping people in pain and assuring them they’ll be safe.”

She wants to encourage more intensive care unit nurses to learn about how to become a CRNA.

“There’s more to nursing than taking care of patients at the bedside,” Faust said. “You have to like taking care of patients in ICU, enjoy the critical care piece of it, and possess prioritizing and critical thinking skills.”

Good grades help, too. Faust recommends at least a 3.0 GPA.   

About 20 percent of nurses are men, but men populate nearly half of CRNA classes. Faust thinks that is because more men in nursing gravitate toward emergency health, intensive care and other high-adrenaline and autonomous nursing scenarios. Those are also the sources of CRNA candidates.

Faust also thinks that men tend to seek leadership roles, too.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average CRNA in New York makes an average annual salary of $169,330. The job growth between 2014 and 2024 is projected at 31 percent, nearly twice that of registered nurses.