Your job prospects with a master’s degree in nurse anesthesia, one of the highest-paying master’s degrees, are excellent. Nurse anesthetists are in high demand, with job opportunities rising at a rate that is much faster than the average rate of job growth across all occupations. The main reason why the demand for nurse anesthetists is so high is because these highly trained advanced practice registered nurses are able to safely provide an important, specialized medical service. In areas where there is a shortage of physicians who practice anesthesiology, nurse anesthetists fill that void in a way that is cost-effective without sacrificing safety.
The Job Outlook for Nurse Anesthetists
For the 2019 to 2029 decade, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expected job opportunities spanning all occupations to rise by just four percent. Job prospects in the field of healthcare fared better, with the BLS anticipating a 10 percent increase in job opportunities for healthcare diagnosing and treating professionals. For nurse anesthetists and other advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), the job outlook is even brighter. During this decade, opportunities for nurse anesthetists should grow by 14 percent, from 44,900 to 51,000 total jobs in the United States, according to the BLS. All in all, 6,200 new jobs are likely to come into existence as a result of this growth.
The strong demand for nurse anesthetists is even more pronounced when you compare this occupation to its physician counterpart, anesthesiologist. The BLS reported that the expected rate of growth for anesthesiologists is lower than one percent, with an increase of only 200 jobs over a decade. According to the BLS, nurse anesthetists already outnumber anesthesiologists by about 11,000, with anesthesiologists currently accounting for just 33,800 job roles. If these occupations grow by the projected rates, nurse anesthetists will outnumber anesthesiologists by 17,000 by 2029.
The BLS’s predicted job growth rate for nurse midwives, another type of APRN, is 12 percent. Nurse practitioners, the largest portion of APRNs that includes practitioners in many different specializations, are seeing an even larger job growth rate of 52 percent.
Bringing the Skills to Safely Administer Anesthesia to Underserved Areas
Correctly administering anesthesia is a delicate balance that requires precision and in-depth knowledge of medications and medical equipment. Nurse anesthetists who acquire the Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CNRA) credential are highly trained in the general principles of anesthesia, the equipment and instruments used to administer these drugs, and more. Every year, CNRAs administer upwards of 50 million drugs in the class of anesthesia and analgesia, the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists reported.
Studies of the safety of nurse anesthetists’ practice have found “no measurable difference in the quality of care” patients receive under a CRNA compared to an anesthesiologist. That’s excellent news particularly for underserved rural areas, where attracting – not to mention affording – anesthesiologists is difficult. In fact, certified nurse anesthetists account for more than 80 percent of the anesthesia professionals working in rural counties in the U.S., according to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists. The field of obstetric care, specifically, depends heavily on nurse anesthetists. Fifty percent of rural hospitals exclusively using CRNAs to provide pain relief and surgical anesthesia to laboring mothers, the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists reported.
Nurse anesthetists are more cost-effective than anesthesiologists for employers to hire, partly because it takes less time to become a CRNA. That isn’t to say that the process of preparing to be a nurse anesthetist is quick or easy. The process takes a total length of seven to eight and a half years, according to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, and it consists of undergraduate studies, experience working as a registered nurse and graduate studies. However, the training needed to become an anesthesiologist takes even longer. Between their undergraduate studies, medical school, a four-year residency training and an optional fellowship, prospective anesthesiologists are looking at a total training time of 12 to 13 years, according to the American Society of Anesthesiologists.
While nurse anesthetists earn less than anesthesiologists, they still make an excellent living. The median salary for nurse anesthetists is $174,790 annually, compared to $261,730 for anesthesiologists. Of course, nurse anesthetists also tend to have less student debt. As of 2017, the median amount of graduate student debt for nursing students was between $40,000 and
$54,999, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing reported. For medical school students, the average student loan amount in 2016 was $246,000, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. This faster, less expensive path to becoming a nurse anesthetist and the more affordable salary range for this occupation make nurse anesthetists much more cost-efficient anesthesia providers than anesthesiologists.
Generally, nurse anesthetists are the highest paid of the APRN occupations, earning median annual wages that are nearly $70,000 more than that of nurse midwives and nearly $65,000 more than nurse practitioners, the BLS reported.