The journey to becoming a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist is neither quick, nor easy. However, for those who have the passion, drive, and determination to complete the process, the field of Nurse Anesthesia is extremely rewarding. Individuals interested in becoming a CRNA, can plan on spending between 8 to 13 years (on average) to complete all of the necessary schooling and work-related experience that is required to become a CRNA. We have put together a comprehensive overview of the 5 necessary steps you will need to complete in order to become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist.
1. Obtain A Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN)
The journey to becoming a CRNA must start with a successful and solid foundation in the field of nursing. Though 2 year degree programs for nursing are available, an admission into Nurse Anesthesia School will require you to have a BSN, a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing.
The coursework that will be covered in the BSN process, will preparatory nursing topics such as pharmacology, pathophysiology, anatomy, biology, psychology and other subjects related to the field of nursing. In addition to the coursework, students must also complete clinical rotations in multiple health areas such as pediatrics, surgery, mental health, etc.
Maintaining the highest GPA throughout your undergraduate degree process will be critical for those with the ultimate goal of becoming a CRNA. The majority of CRNA programs require a minimum GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale for admission consideration. However, given the competitiveness of the application process for CRNA School, applicants will likely need a much higher GPA (3.5 and above) to remain competitive.
2. Obtain A Registered Nursing License
After obtaining a BSN, individuals are required to take, and pass The National Council Licensing Exam for Registered Nurses, also known as The NCLEX-RN. You will not be allowed to practice nursing in the United States without first securing a nursing licensure. Depending on the state you live and work in, you may also be required to meet additional criteria before you are allowed to practice as a licensed nurse. It will be highly important to maintain and keep your license in good standing, as it is required by all Nurse Anesthesia programs.
3. Experience As Critical Care Nurse And Certifications
There are many different health areas that a registered nurse can practice in, however, for a nurse who would like to eventually become CRNA, you will need to gain experience working in a Critical Care setting. Most Nurse Anesthesia programs will require a very minimum, one years worth of experience in Critical Care nursing, however many programs prefer applicants who have at least 2 to 3 years of experience in a Critical care setting.
Acceptable Critical Care experience typically includes: ICU (Intensive Care Unit), SICU (Surgical Intensive Care), MICU (Medical Intensive Care), CVICU (Cardiovascular Intensive Care), PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit), CCU (Coronary Care Unit), or CTICU (Cardio Thoracic Intensive Care Unit). Experience that is typically NOT accepted by most CRNA Programs include: OR (Operating Room), PACU (Post Anesthesia Care Unit), NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care), Cardiac Step-down, Telemetry, or Emergency Room (ER). Most CRNA Programs want candidates who are accustomed to managing gravely ill patients on ventilators, with invasive monitoring, vasopressor infusions and other resuscitative efforts. It will be highly important to make certain that your experience working as a nurse is preparing you for what will be needed and required to be successful in Nurse Anesthesia School.
In addition to gaining valuable Critical Care nursing experience, most CRNA schools want their applicants to have some specific certifications, which verify your knowledge and competence in the respective areas. The following certifications may not all be required by every Nurse Anesthesia Program, but many are. Even if some of the following certifications are not a requirement for a particular program, they are most certainly always preferred: ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support), PALS (Pediatric Advanced Life Support), BLS (Basic Life Support), and CCRN (Critical Care Registered Nurse).
4. Obtain A Master of Science in Nurse Anesthesia or Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice.
Master of Science in Nurse Anesthesia
The typical Master’s Degree Program in Nurse Anesthesia, is a full-time, 2 years and 3-5 month long (average) commitment. There are numerous schools across the country that offer a Master’s Degree Program in Nurse Anesthesia; each program is different in course and clinical structure, as well as cost, and eligibility requirements. All Nurse Anesthesia programs are extremely competitive, and will likely have a rigorous application process, which includes multiple interviews (phone and in person) for each qualified candidate. Since many of the applicants are similar in academic standing and Critical Care experience, you will want to be prepared to stand out by highlighting your passion, experience, skills, and/or knowledge. During their time in Nurse Anesthesia School, students will be expected to complete a course load that includes classes in anesthesia specific biochemistry, pharmacology, pathophysiology, obstetric, pain management, and more. In most programs, students will also spend a majority of their time in a clinical setting, learning to provide anesthesia for every type of surgical patient including thoracic, cardiovascular, neurological, transplant, trauma, obstetrics, etc.
Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice
The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) has announced its support of doctoral education for entry into nurse anesthesia practice by 2025. However, all students who obtain a Master of Science in Nurse Anesthesia before 2025 will be grandfathered in, and thus will not be required to obtain a Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice (DNAP or DNP). Many schools across the country are already starting to make the transition from a Master of Science in Nurse Anesthesia to Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice. The typical Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice program, is a full-time, 3 year long (average) commitment.
5. Take And Pass The National Certification Exam
All graduates of an accredited Nurse Anesthesia Master’s or Doctoral program will be required to take and pass, The National Certification Exam (NCE), administered by the National Board of Certification & Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA). This exam will test the accumulation of everything you have learned in your Nurse Anesthesia program. All individuals will need to pass this exam in order to become a practicing CRNA. Graduates typically spend months studying and preparing for this exam, and many will even attend exam specific review courses to help them prepare.
Working As A CRNA
Once you are a CRNA you will be required to maintain a valid RN license, and complete 40 hours of approved continuing education every 2 years.