Become a Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) – Education, Licensure & Salary

Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) are a vital part of the healthcare system. They are highly trained and experienced nurse anesthetists who provide anesthesia and pain management services to patients of all ages. The American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology estimates that over 50 million patients receive care from CRNAs annually. In rural communities, up to 80 percent of the anesthesia providers are  CRNAs. 

CRNAs can work independently and often work with other healthcare providers to ensure that patients receive the best possible care in various settings, including hospitals, surgery centers, and doctor’s offices. 

A career as a CRNA can be very rewarding. CRNAs are responsible for administering anesthesia and providing care before, during, and after surgical, therapeutic, diagnostic, and obstetrical procedures. They can also provide pain management and some emergency services. Becoming a nurse anesthetist requires a significant amount of education, including an undergraduate degree in nursing and a graduate degree in nurse anesthesia. Most nurses complete a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree in nurse anesthesia. However, if they already hold a master’s in another field, they can complete a post-master’s certificate. 

Once the necessary education is completed, aspiring CRNAs will need to sit for the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA) and apply for a license from their state’s nursing board to have the authorization necessary to practice. Certification details and a state-by-state licensing guide can be found below.  

Job prospects for nurse anesthetists are expected to be excellent in the coming years, with employment growth of 12 percent from 2021 to 2031, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Nurse anesthetists are among the highest-paid nurse practitioners, with an average annual salary of $202,470, according to the BLS (May 2021).

If you are interested in becoming a nurse anesthetist, use the guide below to help you discover the necessary steps, licensure requirements by state, and daily job duties.

How to Become a Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

Step 1: Complete High School Or Equivalent (Four Years)

Completing high school or earning a GED is the first step toward becoming a CRNA. This base level of education is required for additional nursing studies and demonstrates a student’s ability to complete an educational program. Students should focus on science, math, and psychology classes to help prepare them for the next step. 

Step 2: Attend A Nursing Program At An Accredited School (Two to Four Years)

All CRNAs are nurses first. To become a nurse, a student must complete an associate of science in nursing (ASN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). These general nursing education programs teach all the base skills required to provide quality patient care. Students will take didactic courses alongside clinical rotations to gain hands-on skills as a nurse. 

Step 3: Pass the National Council Licensure Examination Practical Nurse Exam (NCLEX-RN) (Timeline Varies) 

After graduating from an accredited nursing program, students are eligible to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination Practical Nurse Exam (NCLEX-RN). This comprehensive exam evaluates a candidate’s readiness for entry-level work as a nurse.   

Step 4: Obtain Entry-Level Work Experience (Timeline Varies) 

Most CRNA programs require applicants to have at least one to two years of work experience in a critical care setting to be considered for admission. This entry-level work provides nurses with the skills they will need to complete additional studies and helps determine their suitability for this line of work. 

Step 5: Complete a Graduate Nursing Degree (Two to Four Years)

With an undergraduate degree, a current RN license, and a few years of work experience, a nurse will be ready to apply for a graduate degree in nurse anesthesia. To become a CRNA, an RN must earn either a master’s of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree. 

Alternatively, if an RN holds a master’s degree in another field, they can complete a post-master’s certificate. Students in the program learn about the various types of anesthesia, how to administer anesthesia safely, and how to monitor patients during surgery. They will also cover the pharmacology of anesthesia drugs, the physiology of the human body, pain management, and postoperative care.

Step 6: Obtain Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) National Certification (Timeline Varies) 

To demonstrate a high level of competency in this field, aspiring CRNAs can earn certification through the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA). Requirements for this certification include holding a current RN license, completing an accredited nurse anesthesia educational program, and passing the NBCRNA certifying examination. 

Step 7: Meet The Requirements For State Licensing (Timeline Varies) 

A license as a CRNA or advanced practice nurse practitioner (APRN) is required to practice. Requirements will vary by state. See the state-by-state guide below to learn about the necessary qualifications in each jurisdiction.

What Does a Nurse Anesthetist Do?

CRNAs typically work in hospital settings but may also find employment in other healthcare facilities such as pain clinics, ambulatory surgery centers, and long-term care facilities. In addition to traditional medical settings, CRNAs may also find work with the military, government agencies, or research organizations. The specific duties of a CRNA depend on the employer but generally involve:

  • Monitoring patient’s vital signs
  • Administering general and local anesthesia
  • Adjusting anesthesia as necessary during treatment
  • Discussing medications and allergies with patients
  • Reassuring concerned patients
  • Providing pain management
  • Offering emergency services
  • Maintaining patient records

How Much Do Nurse Anesthetists Make?

The 43,950 CRNas across the US earn $202,470 per year on average (BLS May 2021). The percentiles for wages were:

  • 10th percentile: $131,840
  • 25th percentile: $164,860
  • 50th percentile (median): $195,61
  • 75th percentile: $>$208,000 per year
  • 90th percentile: $>$208,000 per year

Please note that the BLS does not give specific figures for ranges in excess of $208,000.

Nurse Anesthetist Certifications

To ensure CRNAs have the skills and knowledge necessary to practice they must obtain certification from the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA). The eligibility requirements to sit the National Certification Examination (NCE) include:

  • Complete a nurse anesthesia educational program accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA) within the past two years
  • Hold an active and unencumbered RN license

Candidates will need to submit a completed application along with documentation of eligibility to be approved to sit for the exam. The feed for the exam is $995. 

Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) Licensure Requirements By State

State Licensing Authority Eligibility & Details Renewal Requirements

Alabama Board of Nursing

To practice in Alabama, CRNAs must:

  • Hold an unencumbered registered nurse license in Alabama
  • Have a master’s degree or higher from an institution with a curriculum designed to prepare nurse anesthetists
  • Hold a national certification from the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA)
  • Pay a $175 application fee and a $3.50 transaction fee

CRNAs who are licensed in Alabama must renew their license when their national certification expires or when their RN license expires, whichever comes first.

Renewals must be accompanied by 24 hours of continuing education from an approved provider, including six hours in pharmacology.

Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson


Kimmy Gustafson is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about nursing careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning, which drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.