A Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, also called a CRNA, plays a critical role in healthcare, and the CRNA salary is the highest of all nursing salaries.
Given their importance and the amount of money they make, you’re probably curious about what CRNAs do, how to become one, and just how much you could earn if you pursue this nursing specialty.
In this article, we’ll cover all this and more to help you decide if becoming a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist is the right career choice for you.
Table of Contents
- CRNA Salary
- What Is A CRNA?
- What Does A CRNA Do?
- Where Does A CRNA Work?
- Why Should You Become A CRNA?
- How To Become A CRNA
- How Long Does It Take To Become A CRNA?
- How Much Does CRNA Education Cost?
- Advice For Aspiring CRNAs
- Is Becoming A CRNA Difficult?
- Is Becoming A CRNA Worth It?
Meanwhile, the median salary for all Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists is $203,090. The bottom 10% make around $143,870, while the highest earners can make upwards of $300,000 per year.
Why Is The CRNA Salary So High?
The average CRNA salary is so high because the position requires very advanced knowledge and skills.
While many nursing positions only require that you have a Bachelor’s degree, or even an Associate’s degree, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists need at least their Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree.
Soon, a terminal degree will become the minimum educational requirement. In fact, by 2025, all CRNAs will need to possess either a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, or a Doctorate of Nurse Anesthesia Practice (DNAP) degree.
What Effects CRNA Salary?
While CRNAs make more than other nurses on average, there’s a pretty big gap between the lowest and highest earners. In fact, the difference between the lowest and highest earners could be more than $150,000!
The following four factors will determine what percentile of salaries you fall into.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that experience as a CRNA is one of the most critical factors in determining your salary. This is usually true of just about any job, nursing-related or not.
Entry-level CRNAs will typically start out making around $120,000, as the bottom 10% make an average salary of $130,000 per year.
Meanwhile, senior CRNAs are able to leverage their experience to command a higher salary. Most Nurse Anesthetists that fall into the top 10% of earners will have years of experience under their belt, and they’ll likely make over $200,000 per year.
However, gaining experience isn’t the only way to make more money as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist.
2. Work Setting
CRNAs can work in a variety of healthcare settings, and even non-healthcare facilities like colleges and universities.
Importantly, where a CRNA works can have a big impact on their earning potential. Here are the five top-paying industries for Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists:
- Outpatient Care Centers ($254,180)
- Speciality (Except Psychiatric and Substance Abuse) Hospitals ($219,540)
- General Medical and Surgical Hospitals ($212,340)
- Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools ($200,340)
- Offices of Physicians ($194,240)
While any one of the above work settings will provide you with a great salary, if you really want to make as much money as possible, looking for employment in an outpatient care center is the way to go.
Another key factor determining how much a CRNA makes is location.
For example, while a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist makes an average of $227,701 per year in Alaska, they make an average of $173,901 per year in South Dakota.
Be sure to read on to find out where CRNAs make the most money and the average CRNA salary in each state.
4. Staff vs Travel Position
One more key factor determining how much a CRNA can make is whether they hold a staff position or travel nursing position.
While staff positions are traditional, full-time nursing roles, travel positions are temporary. However, because travel nurses are filling critical gaps where demand is extremely high, they’re able to command a much higher salary.
If you’re looking to make as much money as possible as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, or if you simply like the idea of traveling to new places to work, becoming a travel CRNA is a great option.
How Can You Increase Your CRNA Salary?
Now that you know what determines a CRNA salary, you’re ready to take the steps to increase yours!
While the first factor, experience, will take years, you can utilize the other three factors in much less time.
The three best options for increasing your CRNA salary as soon as possible are to:
- Find a job in a high-paying work setting, like outpatient care centers or specialty hospitals
- Look for a position in a high-paying location, like Alaska or California
- Seek travel nursing opportunities as opposed to full-time staff roles
Where Do CRNAs Make The Most Money?
The state that pays CRNAs the highest average salary is Alaska. Here, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists can expect to make an average of $227,701 per year according to data from Salary.com.
Meanwhile, the next four top-paying states for CRNAs are:
- California ($226,901 per year)
- D.C. ($226,001 per year)
- New Jersey ($224,601 per year)
- Massachusetts ($221,001 per year)
CRNA Salary By State
While we just covered the highest paying states for CRNAs, this type of nurse makes a great salary in just about every state.
To get an idea of the difference from location to location, here are the average CRNA salaries for each state according to data from Salary.com.
|Average CRNA Salary
What Is A CRNA?
A CRNA, or Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, is a Registered Nurse with specialized training in anesthesia. This means they can administer anesthesia during various surgeries and procedures.
The purpose of anesthesia is to prevent patients from feeling pain during these procedures. Additionally, there are different types of anesthesia. For example, while some medications put patients to sleep for the duration of surgery, others numb only specific parts of the body.
Since CRNAs play such a critical role in healthcare facilities and require advanced knowledge and skills, they also require the highest level of education of any nurse: a DNP or DNAP.
CRNA vs Anesthesiologist
CRNAs and anesthesiologists are similar, but they have different educational backgrounds.
While a CRNA has a DNP or DNAP degree, as well as certification from the NBCRNA (National Board of Certification & Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists), an anesthesiologist has a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree.
It’s also worth noting that some states don’t allow CRNAs to practice independently. Instead, they’re required to work under the supervision of an anesthesiologist. Additionally, anesthesiologists are more likely to take on leadership roles within healthcare teams.
However, despite these differences, a CRNA and an anesthesiologist both fulfill the same function: administering anesthesia to and monitoring patients.
What Does A CRNA Do?
A CRNA fulfills two main duties: administering anesthetics and epidurals and monitoring patients’ vital signs while they recover from anesthesia.
Additionally, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists need to meet with patients and understand their medical history. Since there are different types of anesthesia and the same medication isn’t suitable for everyone, communication is key to ensure the patient has a positive outcome.
Meeting with patients is also critical in order to make sure they understand the procedure, why you’re administering anesthesia, and how it works.
Finally, one more key responsibility of CRNAs is collaborating with the rest of the healthcare team. Effective communication is vital for ensuring the best possible patient outcomes.
Where Does A CRNA Work?
A CRNA can work in a wide variety of healthcare-related work settings, and even non-healthcare settings like colleges and universities.
The following are some of the many work settings where a CRNA can work:
- Cardiac care units
- Dental offices
- Emergency rooms
- General medical hospitals
- Intensive care units
- Military facilities
- Operating rooms
- Outpatient care centers
- Physicians’ offices
- Public health centers
- Specialty hospitals
- Surgical centers and hospitals
- Universities and colleges
Why Should You Become A CRNA?
Becoming a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist requires quite a commitment, but there are lots of things that make it worth it.
The following are some of the best reasons to consider becoming a CRNA.
1. Highest Nursing Salary
As we mentioned earlier, one of the best reasons to consider becoming a CRNA is that they make the most money of any type of nurse.
While the highest earners can make upwards of $300,000 a year, even entry-level CRNAs can likely make around $130,000 per year.
2. Great Job Outlook
Another great reason to become a CRNA is job security.
While BLS doesn’t provide CRNA job outlook data, only the job outlook for Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives and Nurse Practitioners as a group, the number of jobs for this group is projected to increase 40% over the next ten years. This equates to over 30,000 new jobs for this group each year until 2031.
BLS considers this job growth to be much faster than most other occupations.
3. Schedule Flexibility
Since the demand for CRNAs is so high, it also means you’ll probably have more control over your schedule. In fact, you may be able to choose to work full-time, part-time, or on-call.
Since Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists fulfill a critical role, require advanced training and education, and are in high demand, it means they have more control over the positions they decide to take on.
Depending on the needs of an employer, CRNAs may even be able to work overtime and collect an even bigger paycheck.
4. New Challenges Every Day
If you’re looking for a nursing speciality that presents new challenges every day, becoming a CRNA is a great choice.
Each patient has a different set of needs, and figuring out how to best care for them will require you to think critically and challenge yourself every day. Additionally, as healthcare policy and research progress, they’re will always be new things for you to learn and discover.
From patient interactions to figuring out the right medications to administer, no two days as a CRNA will ever be the same.
5. Work Setting Options
Earlier we listed several different possible work settings for CRNAs. This is a great benefit because it allows you to work with the type of patients you want to work with.
Additionally, having lots of different work setting options allows you to choose a career path suited to your needs, interests, and personality.
For example, if you prefer a more laid-back work environment, you may choose to practice in a dental office. On the other hand, if you want a less predictable environment where you can help patients in critical conditions, you may want to seek employment somewhere like an intensive care unit.
6. Play A Key Role For Patients
Finally, one more key reason to consider becoming a CRNA is that you get to play a vital role in improving patients’ lives and health.
While every nurse is key in providing successful patient outcomes, CRNAs fill a critical shortage in the healthcare industry. After all, without qualified professionals to administer anesthesia, there can be no surgery!
So, even though the demands and prerequisites for becoming a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist can seem overwhelming, the impact you can make could make it all worth it.
How To Become A CRNA
Due to the complexities of the position, becoming a CRNA requires a lot more education and training than most other nursing specialities.
While there are different routes you can take to become a CRNA, below we detail the most common way to go from a high school education to a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist.
1. Earn Your BSN
The first step to becoming a CRNA, or any Registered Nurse for that matter, is to earn your Bachelor’s of Science of Nursing (BSN) degree.
While you technically only need an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) to become an RN, it’s definitely best to go straight for your Bachelor’s degree.
Since you need to get an advanced degree after becoming an RN, a BSN will set the academic foundation you need to successfully pursue postgraduate study.
2. Become A Licensed RN
After completing your undergraduate degree, you’re ready to take the NCLEX.
Upon passing the exam, you’ll officially be a licensed RN. This means you can start looking and applying for entry-level nursing positions.
3. Gain Critical Care Experience
After becoming a licensed RN, you’ll need to gain some nursing experience. Most aspiring CRNAs should look for positions in settings like intensive care units or emergency rooms. One to three years of critical care experience will be a prerequisite for becoming a Nurse Anesthetist.
These critical care positions teach up-and-coming CRNAs how to administer medical interventions to patients in critical condition.
You may also consider going for a Critical Care Registered Nurse Certification. This can help you stand out from other applicants when applying to jobs or graduate-level education programs.
4. Enroll In A DNP or DNAP Program
While an MSN used to be satisfactory for becoming a CRNA, by 2025 all Nurse Anesthetists will require a terminal-level degree. Therefore, MSN programs with a specialization in anesthesia are no longer accepting applications.
This means you’ll want to look for BSN-to-DNP or DNAP programs to obtain the minimum education requirements. Alternatively, you could get your MSN first if you’re not sure you want to commit to the CRNA path.
However, if you’re certain you want to become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, going straight from BSN to DNP will be the most efficient route.
5. Pass The CRNA National Certifaction Examination
The final step to become a Nurse Anesthetist is to pass the CRNA National Certification Exam (NCE). The exam lasts three hours and can include between 100 and 170 questions.
One-third of the exam includes questions on body systems, like anatomy and physiology, while the remainder of the test covers the principles and processes of administering anesthesia.
In 2021, 3,259 NCE’s were administered, and 2,636 were first-time test takers. Of those taking the exam for the first time, 84.1% of them passed. A total of 2,628 CRNAs became certified.
Once you pass the test, you’re officially a licesned CRNA! Your certification is valid for two years, and at the end of that period you must show that you’ve worked as a Nurse Anesthetist and completed at least 40 anesthesia-related continuing education hours.
How Long Does It Take To Become A CRNA?
It takes about eight to ten years to become a CRNA with no prior college degree.
First, getting your BSN will take about four years.
From there, you’ll need at least one year of critical care nursing experience in a setting like an ICU, trauma center, or medical-surgical unit. However, some programs will require you to have at least two to three years of critical care nursing experience.
Finally, earning your DNP or DNAP will take an additional three years.
Remember, these are general guidelines. It could take more or less time depending on factors like your current level of education or whether you attend school full-time or part-time.
How Much Does CRNA Education Cost?
The cost of becoming a CRNA depends on several factors. Generally, however, you can expect that a CRNA program will set you back close to $100,000.
Keep in mind that it will be more expensive to get your degree at an out-of-state, private university. The cheapest way to get your degree is online, which also provides you with more schedule flexibility. This can be especially important for working nursing students.
Also, remember that you’ll also need to pay for your undergraduate nursing degree if you don’t yet hold a Bachelor’s degree. However, if you’re an ADN-educated nurse, you have online BSN program options that allow you to get your degree in the most cost- and time-efficient way possible. These programs not only provide you with the flexibility of online learning but also offer a streamlined and cost-effective way to earn your degree while preparing you for the pursuit of online MSN programs in the future.
Advice For Aspiring CRNAs
If you’re considering becoming a CRNA, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind.
This will help you determine if it’s the right career path for you.
If you want to become a CRNA, you should start getting used to independent decision-making and thinking.
Guidelines, order sets, and protocols are all important and useful. However, you’ll also need critical thinking skills supported by your knowledge. It’s the only way to choose the right course of action for your patients in the most vital moments.
Explaining Your Practice
You should also get used to constantly and properly explaining the nature of your practice to people who don’t know much about it. Importantly, that doesn’t only include patients.
In fact, many physicians, surgeons, and other nurses don’t properly understand the capabilities, background, and knowledge of a CRNA. However, anesthesia and surgery rely on teamwork, so individual egos are not important.
Research The Profession
Nurses with the goal of becoming a CRNA should research the profession first. Shadowing a few CRNAs in various kinds of practice is a great idea.
After all, you want to know what it’s like to work in a hectic urban trauma center. At the same time, you’ll also want the experience of providers in more rural areas with small communities. You need to understand your new profession completely, and that requires going through different practices.
Furthermore, working in critical care is essential for developing crucial CRNA skills, like:
- EKG interpretation
- Ventilator settings
- Comprehension of laboratory results
This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to CRNA knowledge.
A professional CRNA knows all of these things and the related pathophysiology. Plus, working in critical care areas like the ICU is great for obtaining critical thinking skills.
When Things Get Difficult
Applying for CRNA programs when you’re ready is more important than doing it after you’ve met the minimum requirements.
When it gets hard (and it will), consider how much your career will benefit when you become a CRNA. In fact, it will be catapulted onto an entirely new level.
The advancement of anesthetic drugs is making a vast number of new procedures possible across the country. There’s nothing more rewarding than knowing you’ve ensured the comfort and safety of countless patients when they’re in their most vulnerable state.
Getting to the point where you can perform all CRNA duties requires a lot of hard work. It’s something you should keep in mind, even while you’re working towards your Bachelor’s degree.
Make sure you’re going after the highest possible grades. Excellent academic work will give you better odds when you start applying for Nurse Anesthesia programs later on.
Leave Pride Behind
Finally, if you want to be a successful CRNA, you’ll have to leave your pride behind. This career path will feature plenty of humbling moments.
You’ll constantly rely on fellow nurses to do your work. If you want them to give you the respect you deserve, you’ll need to keep in mind that it’s a two-way street.
The fact that you’ve managed to become a CRNA doesn’t mean you have nothing more to prove. It means you now have the chance and duty to prove yourself every single day.
Is Becoming A CRNA Difficult?
Becoming a CRNA is probably the most challenging of all nursing specialities. This is due to the extensive knowledge and training required to fulfill the position.
However, becoming a CRNA is more than doable. While there’s a lot to learn, there’s also a lot of benefits that come along with it.
Is Becoming A CRNA Worth It?
Becoming a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist requires a huge dedication of time, effort, and money. However, given the numerous benefits that come along with the position, like a great salary and job security, you’ll likely find that the investment is worth it.
If you’re interested in performing this vital role, then you need to take the first step: building your educational foundation.
To find a nursing degree program suited to your needs and interests, click here!
Miranda is a practicing CRNA with almost 20 years experience in nursing. Miranda aspires to produce health and medical content for both businesses and consumers that is relevant and relatable.