The nurse anesthetist, also referred to as a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), is a sought after and rewarding occupation in the field of advanced practice registered nursing. Those with a desire to work in anesthesia and the drive to work with a high level of autonomy can enter the CRNA pathway via a specialty Master's Degree in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). With campus-based and online options based all throughout the country, becoming a certified registered nurse anesthetist is as easy as picking the right program.

Choosing a Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) School

There are a few key elements to look for when researching nurse anesthetist programs:

Accreditation

Making sure a nurse anesthetist program is accredited is extremely important, and is a great sign that the program is of a high caliber. Prospective CRNA students will want to look for accreditation from the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs, as well as other national organizations such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).

Program Cost

Nurse anesthesia programs typically list tuition cost by credits. While these costs can vary depending on location and school, students can expect to pay anywhere from $1,000 to $1,700 per credit for tuition for both MSN and DNP program options. This usually does not include additional costs such as mandatory school fees, course materials, or books. Financial aid is widely available for well-qualified students.

Program Length

MSN-level nurse anesthetist programs can typically be completed in around 29 months, with roughly 64 credits required. DNP-level CRNA programs take closer to 36 months and can require around 100 credits. Both programs are usually split between classroom-based courses and clinical experiences.

Internship/Externship Opportunities

Clinical residencies are a large part of the CRNA student's learning experience. Most schools will help to arrange internships, externships, and other hands-on rotations at local hospitals and medical centers, as this is a requirement of the program.

Online/Campus Options

To meet the demands of busy students, many programs offer both online and campus-based certified registered nurse anesthetist pathways. Some schools will even offer a "hybrid" program, allowing students to take many courses online but also offering classroom-based lectures and labs.

Nurse Anesthetist Degree Levels Offered

Nurses have two pathways to become CRNAs; they can choose the master's route or the doctoral route. Both programs offer advanced-level core and specialized courses, and also require clinical hours as part of the program of study. Students should consider which type of educational program is right for them when thinking about CRNA education.

MSN Programs

An MSN Nurse Anesthesia program consists of a mix of advanced general nursing courses, specialty anesthesia courses, and lots of hands-on training. Students take courses such as Chemistry and Physics for Nurse Anesthetists, Anesthesia Principles, Research Methods, and more. The clinical practicum is extensive and involves pre-operative interviews, patient assessment, intravenous sedation, and other hands-on experiences. Westminster College in Utah, as an example, offers an accredited MS Nurse Anesthesia program.

DNP Programs

There are roughly 16 DNP Nurse Anesthesia programs available around the country. The DNP goes a step farther than the MSN-based programs to prepare students in nurse anesthesia at the highest level. Beyond the generalized and anesthesia-based coursework, DNP students takes classes such as Leadership Theory, Teaching/Learning, and Economics of Health Care to hone supervisory and leadership skills. The University of Minnesota, for example, offers an accredited DNP Nurse Anesthetist program dedicated to creating advanced CRNAs.

Online Nurse Anesthetist Programs

There are some distance learning (i.e. online) CRNA programs available for students who want the convenience and flexibility of completing coursework from their own homes. These programs usually utilize a hybrid model of delivery, offering some courses online but requiring some labs and hands-on experiences in the classroom.

Advantages of An Online Program

Online learning has numerous advantages. Those with busy schedules and families usually enjoy being able to take the courses from home on their own time. Online programs are also essential for those in rural areas who couldn't feasibly get to a university on a day-to-day basis. These programs can also save on expenses, as online students don't have to worry about the costs associated with commuting, such as gas and parking fees. While hands-on clinical hours in a hospital or medical facility are required, many online programs allow students to arrange these in their local area. Prospective students should inquire with their school of choice to get information on things like on-campus requirements and clinical practicum options.

Program Accreditation

Like classroom-based programs, online CRNA programs can hold accreditations, and students should check to make sure a prospective program is properly accredited. The most important for a nurse anesthetist program is accreditation from the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Education Programs, but ACEN and CCNE accreditations are also ones to watch for.

Costs and Length

Online nurse anesthetist programs require the same amount of credits as their classroom-based counterparts, but allow students to work at their own pace, making length a variable factor. Most online programs require that students finish the coursework in a specified amount of time (for example, within 7 years of starting). Tuition cost is also similar, at $1,000 per credit and up, but overall costs for online students are typically lower, since these students don't have commuting costs and often don't have to pay for as many mandatory fees as campus-based programs. For instance, the Nurse Anesthesia DNP program at Texas Wesleyan University charges $1,150 per credit hour, which includes fees.

What Are the Admissions and Certification Requirements?

Nurse anesthetist MSN and DNP programs typically have the following requirements:

  • BSN or MSN from an accredited college or university
  • Minimum GPA of 3.0
  • Personal statement outlining the student's desire to become a CRNA
  • Three letters of professional reference
  • Resume or CV detailing relevant job titles
  • GRE scores may be required
  • Current RN license in good standing
  • Copy of official university transcripts
  • Current PALS and ACLS certifications

Certification as a CRNA is obtained through the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA). Criteria for the examination includes:

  • Hold an unrestricted RN license
  • Must have completed an accredited nurse anesthesia program
  • Must submit a completed application and an electronically prepared record of academic and clinical experience signed by both the student and a program administrator within 30 days of completing the program

Certification as a CRNA is awarded upon successful completion of the examination.

List of Nurse Anesthetist Schools

A variety of nurse anesthetist programs designed to prepare CRNAs are available from coast to coast, and include the following list.