In good hands: The quality of nurse anesthesiology experience and education


(BPT) - Did you know that Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs), also known as nurse anesthesiologists or nurse anesthetists, safely administer more than 50 million anesthetics to patients each year in the U.S.? These anesthesia professionals practice in every setting where anesthesia is delivered, including hospital surgical suites, offices of dentists, podiatrists, ophthalmologists, plastic surgeons and pain management specialists — plus U.S. military, Public Health Services and Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare facilities.

CRNAs safely provide anesthesia every day in collaboration with surgeons, dentists, podiatrists and other qualified anesthesia professionals, using their training and experience to independently manage the anesthesia needs of the patient.

"When anesthesia is administered by a nurse anesthetist, the care is recognized as the practice of nursing; when it is administered by a physician anesthesiologist, it is recognized as the practice of medicine," said American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology (AANA) President Dru Riddle, PhD, DNAP, CRNA, FAAN, associate professor of Professional Practice and director of Clinical Education at Texas Christian University School of Nurse Anesthesia in Fort Worth. "Whether your anesthesia provider's educational background is in nursing or in medicine, patients can rest assured knowing that all anesthesia professionals give anesthesia in the same exact way."

How are CRNAs trained?

The education and experience required to become a CRNA is extensive, totaling a commitment of eight years or more in both clinical and educational experience. The minimum education required to become a CRNA includes a baccalaureate or graduate degree in nursing or other appropriate major, a license as a registered nurse (RN) and/or Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) in the U.S. (or its territories), plus a one-year minimum of full-time work or part-time equivalent as a registered nurse in a critical care setting in the U.S., its territories or a U.S. military hospital outside the United States.

The average experience of RNs before they enter a nurse anesthesia educational program is 4.5 years, according to the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists.

In addition to that foundation, a CRNA must then enter and graduate from a program that's accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs. These programs also have admission requirements in addition to the already listed minimums.

Nurse anesthesiology educational programs range from 36-51 months, depending on each university's requirements, and current residents will graduate with a doctorate in nursing degree. These programs include clinical settings and experiences as part of their training. Graduates have an average of 9,369 hours of clinical experience overall, including 733 hours during their baccalaureate nursing program, 6,032 hours as a critical care registered nurse and 2,604 hours during their program.

Finally, before they can become practicing CRNAs, graduates must pass a National Certification Examination.

Because of this extensive training, CRNAs have a unique advantage as nurse anesthesiology residents because they are the only anesthesia providers required to have real-world patient care experience before they can enter an educational program.

"Nurses who pursue this rigorous career path first have a solid foundation in providing hands-on care for patients," said Riddle. "They can then use their extensive expertise and compassion for patients, along with their training in administering anesthesia, to provide more holistic care for each patient. They really get to know their patients and help them throughout the entire process — before, during and after surgical procedures."

For nurses interested in a rewarding career as a CRNA, you can find a complete list of programs at

Access to care patients can rely on

For rural America, CRNAs are even more vital. CRNAs represent more than 80% of anesthesia providers in rural counties, and many rural hospitals are critical access hospitals, which often rely on independently practicing CRNAs for anesthesia care. Half of rural hospitals in the United States use a CRNA-only model for obstetric care, and CRNAs are able to safely deliver pain management care to patients when they need it most.

"It's crucial for many areas of the country where hospitals are few and far between for nurse anesthetists to be available to provide patients with this much-needed healthcare," said Riddle. "CRNAs can ensure quality patient anesthesia care at facilities throughout the country, often saving patients long drives of 75 miles or more."

To learn more about CRNAs, their training and what they do, visit