Ask the Expert: What is a Nurse Anesthesiologist?

What is a Nurse Anesthesiologist?

When you have a question, it’s always best to turn to a subject matter expert for answers. In our blog series, Ask An Expert, National University staff and faculty members take turns answering challenging questions in their areas of expertise. This time, we asked National University Nurse Anesthesiology Program Director, Bryan Tune, an important question pertaining to the future of healthcare “What is a nurse anesthesiologist?”

According to a recent Association of American Colleges report, demand for physicians is expected to exceed supply by anywhere from 46,900 to 121,900 full-time-equivalent positions by 2032, creating an extreme shortage. With the need for qualified healthcare professionals on the rise, many organizations are turning to advanced practice nurses nursing professionals with a postgraduate education — to help ensure that patients continue to receive safe, high-quality care.

In the important area of anesthesiology, certified registered nurse anesthetists are in high demand. Through advanced training and a graduate degree, CRNAs are helping meet critical needs and control escalating costs in the U.S. healthcare system.

But what exactly is a certified nurse anesthesiologist?

  A Nurse Anesthesiologist Is a Critical Member of the Healthcare Team

Nurse anesthesiologists or nurse anesthetists are advanced practice nurses who administer anesthesia during a variety of procedures in order to provide patients with safe, comfortable care. They may also provide related care before and after these procedures, though the exact responsibilities that a CRNA is expected to perform can vary depending on the role, organization, and care setting in which they work.

For Dr. Bryan Tune, experience working in critical care sparked his career in the field of nurse anesthesiology.

“Driven by a passion in critical care nursing, I knew I wanted to take the next step [in my career],” Tune says. “Autonomy, clinical practice opportunity, and the art and science of anesthesiology fascinated me. As a young critical care registered nurse, I consistently sought out the most complex patients to manage. I had great mentors in my early career that opened the door of nurse anesthesiology to me — showing me it was the next logical step to pursue my passion for critical care and autonomous clinical practice.”

According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) 2018 Member Profile Survey, CRNAs administer more than 45 million anesthetics to patients annually in the U.S. Compared to registered nurses, they tend to work with greater levels of autonomy in healthcare environments, though these roles still typically function as part of a greater care team.

Where Do Certified Nurse Anesthetists Work?

Today, nurse anesthesiologists can be found in a wide variety of healthcare settings, ranging from general hospitals and private practices to military bases.

“CRNAs practice in all facets of anesthesia care, pain management, and education.

They are employed federally and are the number one provider of anesthesia care to deployed and stateside military professionals,” Tune says. “CRNAs are found in all private sectors, tertiary care facilities, community hospitals, rural/critical access facilities, ambulatory surgery centers, and office-based practices. In addition, they are providers of surgical, non-surgical pain, and interventional pain management.”

According to Tune, nurse anesthetists provide more than 65% of all anesthesia care delivered throughout the country. In rural areas, CRNAs play an even more significant role, providing 90 to 100% of all anesthesia care. Consequently, aspiring nurse anesthetists will find that employment opportunities exist in most communities in the U.S., regardless of size.

Nurse Anesthetist Job and Salary Outlook

If you are considering a career in this exciting field, now is a promising time to move forward with your plans. Across the country, demand for certified nurse anesthetists is on the rise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for advanced practice nurses — a category which includes nurse anesthetists — is expected to rise by 31% between 2016 and 2026 in the U.S., a much faster than average rate of growth across industries. This increase is expected to add 64,200 new jobs to the market.

The increased expertise required in these roles is reflected in the compensation. Per numbers reported by the BLS, the mean annual wage of nurse anesthesiologists was $174,790 as of May 2018, but wages be influenced by the setting in which you work. According to the BLS, environments with the highest levels of employment for this role — and their mean annual salary — are as follows:

  • Offices of physicians ($168,140).
  • General medical and surgical hospitals ($187,000).
  • Outpatient care centers ($194,570).
  • Offices of other health practitioners ($166,140).
  • Colleges, universities, and professional schools ($160,850).

How Can I Become a Nurse Anesthetist?

If you are interested in becoming a CRNA, you must complete the following steps to qualify to practice in the U.S.:

  1. Complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing or a related field.
  2. Earn a registered nursing license that is valid in the U.S.
  3. Complete at least one year of nursing practice in the critical care setting. (According to the AANA, the average RN entering a nurse anesthesia program has completed 2.9 years of experience in this area of nursing.)
  4. Earn a graduate level nurse anesthesia degree in a program certified by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs.
  5. Pass the National Certification Examination.

Currently working as a critical care nurse? It may be time to start thinking about advancing your education.

“In order to practice anesthesia in the U.S., a critical care registered nurse must attend an accredited nurse anesthesiology program or a school of medicine,” Tune says. “Potential applicants should seek a program in which they will be trained to practice at the full scope of their licensure and training.”

If you already have a bachelor’s degree in nursing or a related field, your next step is to enroll in a graduate-level program. Currently, certified nurse anesthetists are required to graduate with a minimum of a master’s degree from a nurse anesthesiology training program. However, that requirement is changing, Tune reports. As of the year 2022, all new nurse anesthesiology residents must graduate from a doctoral-level program.

“The entry into practice degree has shifted to the clinical practice doctorate,” Tune confirms. “Applicants to nurse anesthesiology programs must have a minimum of one year of critical care experience, a bachelor’s degree in nursing or a physical science, a strong science background, and a stellar academic record. The profession of nurse anesthesiology consistently recruits the top 1% of ICU and critical care nurses.”

In a doctoral degree program, you will have the opportunity to take a deeper dive into the study of anesthesiology and develop critical leadership skills. While a   in Nursing program focuses more on research, a Doctor of Nursing Practice — or Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice, in the case of nurse anesthetics — emphasizes the clinical aspect of the field, and typically includes a practicum or other hands-on portion.

Earn Your Nurse Anesthesiology Degree at National University

Ready to launch your nurse anesthesiologist career? Consider advancing your career with National University’s Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice program.

“All nurse anesthesiology programs throughout the country are required to teach the same fundamental content as outlined by the Council on Accreditation for Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs. What makes the National University program stand out is the faculty and the clinical training,” Tune says. “The program is focused and committed to training full practice, independent, nurse anesthesia clinicians who can practice in any clinical situation. The faculty all maintain active clinical practices, and are current, relevant, and experienced educators both in the classroom and in the operating room.”

As the first academic institution in the world to achieve Planetree recognition, National is committed to a student-focused approach and culture that fosters a person-centered approach to healthcare. Designed to accommodate a variety of learners, the program can be completed in as little as three years, through a combination of on-campus and online coursework, and a 15-month didactic residency at National’s Fresno campus.

What Are Some of the Skills I Will Learn in National University’s Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice Program?

When enrolled in the National program, you will learn to manage patients across the entire life spectrum and in all specialty areas, with special emphasis on regional anesthesia, critical care, and specialty anesthesia case training, Tune reports.

In addition to theoretical knowledge and strategies, you will gain valuable hands-on experience during the second phase of the program, which includes clinical courses at an affiliate hospital. During this portion of the nurse anesthesiology program, you will administer anesthesia to patients across different ages and surgical specialties under the direct supervision of an anesthesiologist or CRNA mentor.

“Students consistently tell us that they appreciate being trained to the full scope of their licensure and training,” Tune says. “Although the program is incredibly rigorous, the training and education that graduates receive prepare them for a lifelong and rewarding career in anesthesia.”

After graduating from the nurse anesthetist program, you will be equipped to:

  • Synthesize the latest nursing theories — including physiologic, safety and organizational — in order to enhance patient safety and care quality, and improve nurse anesthesia practice.
  • Analyze relevant scientific literature and apply results in a culturally sensitive manner to improve patient care outcomes and nurse anesthesia practice.
  • Lead others in meeting the challenges of today’s complex healthcare and educational environments.
  • Demonstrate scholarship in the area of nurse anesthesia through accurate and effective publications, leadership activities, presentations and collaboration with other disciplines.
  • Exhibit advanced levels of clinical accountability and judgment within the area of perianesthetic care.

Upon completion of the program, you will additionally be prepared to take the National Certification Exam to officially become a certified nurse anesthetist. The National University class of 2018 had a first time NCE Pass Rate of 100%.

Employment rates are also high for graduates of National’s Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice program. Six months following graduation, the percentage of students employed in each cohort was as follows:

  • Cohort One: 100%
  • Cohort Two: 80%
  • Cohort Three: 100%
  • Cohort Four: 100%
  • Cohort Five: 100%

Am I a Good Candidate for National University’s Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice Program? 

Considering applying to National University’s Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice program? According to Tune, you should have more than one year of critical care experience, a high overall GPA, a high science GPA, and a passion for a career in anesthesia to be a competitive candidate.

You must additionally hold a current unrestricted/unencumbered (clear/active) license as a registered nurse in one of the states of the U.S., with eligibility for licensure throughout all states, and have completed the following prerequisite courses:

  • Pharmacology.
  • Anatomy with lab.
  • Physiology.
  • General chemistry (with lab).
  • Undergraduate statistics.

Ready to get started? Explore our program page and fill out this information form; one of our admissions advisors will contact you soon to discuss how National can help you launch your career as a certified nurse anesthetist.


Dr. Bryan Tune earned his Doctor of Nursing Practice, Anesthesia degree from Arizona State University. He joined National University as an adjunct professor teaching pharmacology and leadership for undergraduate nursing students in 2010. While a faculty member, he identified an opportunity for the development and execution of a nurse anesthesiology program and began the program development process, eventually helping National to launch the fifth Nurse Anesthesiology program in the state of California. Today, he serves as the university’s Nurse Anesthesia Program Director. 

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