If you’re interested in becoming a nurse anesthetist, you should know what the path to this high-paying advanced nursing career involves. First, you will need to start out with the credentials and experience of a registered nurse (RN). Then, you’ll have to attain an advanced degree and an additional license, and be prepared for the challenging responsibilities of work as a nurse anesthetist.
An Advanced Degree in Nursing
As a registered nurse, you will already have an undergraduate nursing education and a professional nursing license. Generally, an aspiring nurse anesthetist needs to have at least one year of full-time work experience as an RN before starting an advanced degree program. How much work and how much time it will take to earn an advanced degree depends on what education you have currently achieved. Programs for nurses who already have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree are more plentiful than those that cater to students with an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or a diploma, according to U.S. News & World Report.
The most common degree path to an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) role is the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. However, some students choose instead to enroll in a doctoral program, such as a Ph.D. in Nursing or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree program. In fact, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has proposed that APRNs be required to attain a doctorate degree rather than a master’s degree. While the MSN degree remains popular, it may be doctoral nursing programs that become more in demand over the next few years. Due to the AACN’s position that APRNs should have a doctorate degree, many schools are transforming two-year (or longer) master’s programs to three-year (or longer) practice-focused DNP programs.
In master’s degree program in nursing, you will study advanced anatomy, physiology and pharmacology as well as coursework in nursing leadership, health care ethics and health informatics at the graduate level. Perhaps the most valuable and interesting component of your master’s-level nursing education is graduate coursework in the specialty of nurse anesthesia. While each nursing school will have its own set of major requirements, you can expect to take a number of introductory through advanced courses in the principles of anesthesia and the chemistry and physics of anesthesia. You will also complete thousands of hours of clinical experience, administering anesthesia at least 600 times, under the guidance of licensed anesthesiologists (physicians) and certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs).
All told, it will take you at least seven years to become a CRNA, according to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists.
An APRN License and Nurse Anesthesia Certification
Once you complete your graduate or doctoral education in nurse anesthesia, your next step to career advancement is to earn your APRN license. Licensing processes vary from state to state, but you generally need to earn a passing score a national certification exam.
For the specialty of nurse anesthesia, that exam is the National Certification Examination (NCE) from the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA). Every four years, you will have to complete a Continued Professional Certification (CPC) Program to maintain your credentials. Some states have different certifying bodies for nurse anesthetists, so it is important to find out what the specific requirements are in your state.
There are currently more than three times as many nurse practitioners (155,500) working in the United States as there are nurse anesthetists (41,800).
The Work of a Nurse Anesthetist
There’s a reason that it takes so much time, coursework and clinical experience to become a nurse anesthetist: the responsibility is tremendous. Nurse anesthetists administer the anesthesia, or pain-controlling medicine, that is used to put patients at ease during surgeries and painful medical procedures. Too little anesthesia could leave patients in the horrifying position of feeling extreme pain but being unable to communicate, while too much could be deadly. Because of the high stakes if anesthesia administration goes wrong, it’s important for the nurse anesthetist administering the medication to fully understand the risks and the options as far as which medicine to give and how to give it safely. This responsibility may seem daunting, but it’s all part of being a nurse anesthetist.
Nurse anesthetists are with their patients from beginning to end. Before administering any anesthetic, they talk to the patient to understand any concerns such as allergies or other medical conditions the patient may have as well as any medications the patient has taken that could affect the anesthesia. Based on the patient’s individual situation, the nurse anesthetist must determine what medicine the patient needs, prepare the medicine and the equipment needed to give it and administer that medication carefully. Some patients need to be put to sleep under general anesthesia, while for others, a regional anesthetic that numbs just a part of the body will do. Throughout the time the patient is under anesthesia and the time it takes for the patient to wake up, the nurse anesthetist is there to ensure that the anesthesia is working correctly and that the patient’s vital signs remain healthy.
The big responsibility of a nurse anesthetist comes with a big salary — $165,120, according to the BLS.