The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Nurse Anesthetist
Working side-by-side with physicians, surgeons, and dentists, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists play a crucial role in the healthcare team. A specialized subset of online nursing programs, CRNAs fulfill their job duties much like a medically-trained anesthesiologist, but follow a faster track to joining the workforce. Aspiring nurse anesthetists can take advantage of online learning throughout their education, from undergraduate through recertification requirements. This guide informs students of their options for online degrees and how to earn their credentials to get started in this well-respected career.
Successful completion of a CRNA program can open the door to a variety of career options, and allows students to become key team members within the healthcare system. A quality CRNA program should teach the field-specific information needed to excel in the field while preparing students for real-world situations. To help students know which school is the best for them, we have ranked schools with CRNA programs based on factors such as class size, cost and availability of student services. Check out the top CRNA programs here.
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Nurses called to advanced practice usually begin their careers as registered nurses, taking entry-level jobs in healthcare settings. Everyone blazes their own nursing pathway, but the fundamental starting point is in high school where courses in anatomy, physiology, chemistry, mathematics, or computer science can prepare students for the rigors of post-secondary learning. Then, aspiring CNRAs commit to two years or more of nursing education after completing bachelor their degrees. The following example provides key milestones in a typical student’s road to success:
High school Took courses in physics, biology, chemistry, and mathematics.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing Finished four-year nursing degree and passed the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).
First Registered Nursing Job Gained experience as a working RN, spending two years in acute care in an ER.
Online Master of Science in Nursing Completed accredited nurse anesthesia master’s program.
CRNA Examination Passed The National Certification Examination for Nursing Anesthetists.
Start working as a CRNA Landed a job as a nurse anesthetist at in local hospital’s surgical unit.
Earning Your Nurse Anesthetist Education Online
Online nursing programs work to build student-faculty relationships and mentorships unaffected by distance learning. Students and educators communicate through interactive learning tools that include multimedia presentations, streaming and live lectures, social media, voice/text chat, and discussion boards. Course requirements, deadlines, and the class syllabi are all delivered online for tracking progress. Faculty contact, peer collaboration, and library resources are facilitated by 24/7 access to the class presentation software.
Due to the hands-on nature of nursing training, some travel for in-person commitments is required for online degrees. For example, students may be asked to attend orientation workshops or class seminars on their school’s physical campus. At the same time, most students can satisfy the clinical and residency requirements of their nursing program at healthcare facilities and labs near their homes. They may apply their learning for credit in hospitals and clinics where they are currently employed. Some of the primary advantages of online graduate programs include:
Fully Accredited Degrees
University nursing schools and programs that are accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs offer degrees that meet training requirements for the workplace, licensing, and certifications.
Students can log into their classes from any location by computer or smart phone, completing their education while maintaining work and family commitments. Self-paced components are designed to be done at the student’s convenience, whereas live lecture programs are offered by phone/voice conferencing on a strict schedule. Online degree programs may also provide starting dates throughout the school year.
Online programs eliminate most travel and students are not charged for fees including parking, library access, student activities and athletics. Accelerated nursing degree and certification programs may be comprised of short semesters, cutting time to graduation and overall tuition costs associated with traditional campus programs. Accredited nursing schools offer the same federal student financial aid programs to qualified online students that are given to on-campus nurses.
Online CRNA Programs by Degree Level
Online degree programs leading to nurse anesthetist careers begin at the undergraduate level. Students build professional expertise in ever-increasing depth during graduate studies, which include master of science in nursing (MSN) and doctor of nursing practice (DNP) programs offered at medical schools and universities across the nation. The most-common online programs are offered in the following areas:
The online BSN degree is comprised of 120 credits, with 75 credits in nursing core studies and the remaining units in general education. The degree is suited for nurses looking for future graduate work or interested in bolstering their careers to move into advanced roles. Students can expect curriculum in health assessment, data and human resource management, microbiology and chemistry. Courses are completed primarily online, with clinical hours completed at facilities located near the student.
Online MSN degree programs are 60-credit programs open to licensed RNs who hold a bachelor’s degree in the field. Accelerated master’s programs—also known as an Entry-Level Masters degree—are available to students who hold a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing discipline. Typically, the curriculum is built around advanced nursing studies along with electives in the chosen professional specialization (anesthesiology included). General core studies include courses in ethics, pathophysiology and pharmacology. Students also conduct advanced research and produce original scholarship. There may be on-campus visits to complete laboratory simulations, while online students may arrange clinical hours with facilities near their homes.
Online DNP programs with nurse anesthetist specializations take up to two years to complete if the student already holds a master’s degree and can commit to full-time studies. Full-time options typically run for five consecutive semesters, while part-time DNP programs can be completed online in eight semesters. Synchronous distance classes are usually offered in evening hours to accommodate working nurses however self-paced asynchronous classes can be attended at any time. Students are required to complete independent research and practical projects at their chosen clinical location on topics in nurse anesthesia.
The National Board of Certification & Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists has established the continuing education (CE) requirements of 40 hours of credit to be completed every two years to maintain certification. They may be taken at any time prior to application for recertification. CE must be in the postgraduate areas of advanced clinical practice, nurse-anesthetist education, program administration, or independent research. Online learning, per the Board, can include credit for synchronous and asynchronous teleconferences and webinars—however, CNRAs are also required to attend weekend or long-term (14 consecutive days) courses at NBCRNA-approved institutions totaling 40 hours. Students should also explore possible CE requirements through their state medical boards.
Key Online Coursework for Nurse Anesthetists
At the heart of online nurse anesthetist degree programs are studies related to patient assessment and the safe delivery of anesthesia in clinical practice. The curriculum allows students to focus on their own research in anesthesia theory and practice as well as branch out into areas including health policy, administration, and nursing leadership. Here are five courses that students can generally expect to encounter, sampled from current online nurse anesthetist degree programs:
Basic Principles of Anesthesia
A foundational review of patient-centered care and concepts of providing safe anesthetic treatment that minimizes complications.
Pain Science & Practice
Advanced studies in patient assessment, pain neurobiology, pharmacotherapy, pain management and interventional techniques.
Over three semesters, students dedicate time to research an original study on an issue in anesthesiology and a scholarly approach to creating evidence-based solutions.
Healthcare Policy for the Doctoral Prepared Nurse
Students explore the role of the doctoral prepared nurse in planning, policy, program access, financing and regulation.
Nurse Anesthesia Clinical Practicum
Students integrate theory with practice in a range of clinical diagnostic or surgical procedures.
Find the Right Online Program for You
In narrowing down a list of possible online programs, nursing students should begin by determining whether the institution holds accreditations accepted by the professions. The section below covers the nuts and bolts of accreditation. Once accreditation has been confirmed, students may follow this checklist to further narrow schools into working list for applications:
Does the program culminate with the end-degree that best suits your career goal – beginning, mid-career, and management? Undergraduate programs should be compatible with providing useful theoretical and practical nursing skills. Does the prospective school prepare the graduate for licensing or certification examinations?
What are the passing rates on National Certification Examination (NCE) for graduates of the program?
Do the courses satisfy general education requirements for students entering the field, or for those transferring to bridge or BSN degree programs?
How long does it take to complete the degree and what is the full cost of tuition and labs?
What are the entry requirements for the program? Graduate programs can be highly competitive.
Have you completed pertinent clinical experience and educational prerequisites? Do you hold current licensing in nursing?
What is the institution’s track record? What has been its graduation rate? Has the faculty earned scholarly or clinical distinctions?
How does the program support your educational and distance learning objectives? What are institutional requirements for clinical practice or residency? Is the program entirely online or delivered in a hybrid format requiring campus visits?
What support services are available in the form of job placement, career planning, employment fairs, and student aid (loans, grants, scholarships)?
What is the application format, especially if an interview is required? Is the interview conducted in person, by telephone, or online?
Nurse Anesthetist Program Accreditation
Accreditation is the voluntary process through which nursing degree programs are vetted by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA) for academic quality, faculty benchmarks and student support. The COA is the only independent organization for nurse anesthetist program accreditation recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Institutions without COA accreditation may not be eligible to provide federal student aid programs and graduates are disqualified from registering for the national certification exam.
The Department of Education maintains a database of accredited colleges and universities, and prospective students can search for specific school accreditations. In addition, the Council of Higher Education provides details on recognized Regional Accrediting Organizations. The following organizations offer accreditation specific services for nursing and nurse anesthesia degree programs:
The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) As part of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. The CCNE is an accrediting organization for schools offering four-year undergraduate, graduate and residency programs in nursing.
Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA) Voluntary accreditation by the COA provides nurse anesthesia graduate programs evaluation of educational quality and recommendations for improvement.
Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) The ACEN establishes and evaluates specialized accreditation of education programs that lead to postsecondary and graduate degrees in nursing.
National League for Nursing (NLN) The NLN Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation serves an accreditation agency for undergraduate (vocational, diploma, associate, bachelor), master and DNP education programs.
Getting There: Your Path to Becoming a CRNA
Students can begin preparing for a career in advanced practice nursing in anesthesia as early as high school by focusing on courses in physics, biology, chemistry, and computer science. To enter the nursing profession, students will need to complete a two- or four-year undergraduate degree. A four-year bachelor’s of science in nursing is a pre-requisite for entry into nursing graduate school, while students with bachelor’s degrees in non-nursing subjects are eligible to enroll in EL-MSN programs. Prior to practicing as a registered nurse, students must pass the national licensing examinations (NCLEX-RN). It’s important for aspiring nurse anesthetists to complete at least one year of acute care practice before taking their graduate record examination and formally applying to an accredited master’s nursing program.
The following outlines an example educational track for an aspiring CRNA to achieve their goals:
Time to Complete
Step 1 Graduate high school or earn a GED
Step 2 Complete a undergraduate degree in nursing and pass licensure exam (NCLEX-RN)
Step 3 Accrue at least one year of acute care experience in ER or ICU environment.
1 to 2 years
Step 4 Take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and apply to an accredited nurse anesthesia educational programs
6 to 12 months
Step 5 Enroll in program of choice with a concentration in nurse anesthesia
2 to 3 months
In addition to following the established timeline in pursing undergraduate and graduate nursing degrees, students may also take steps on their own to bolster their application credentials. These include:
Volunteer From high school onwards, nursing aspirants can volunteer to work in nursing homes and care facilities, at emergency aid shelters, civic or spiritual organizations, and non-profit groups. Service looks outstanding on a resume or application.
Take advantage of independent learning Free online courses are available in science, mathematics, healthcare and health policy. Students can kick-start their learning and, in many cases, take advanced courses in core subjects required for the nursing professions. Many online classes are developed and led by professors from major universities and medical schools such as Stanford University, MIT, UC Berkeley, and Harvard .
Start networking Job networking can begin as soon as students begin their professional nurse training at the community college or undergraduate levels. Student clubs and associations in science or nursing can offer students many opportunities for building lifelong professional connections or finding mentors. Nursing association may offer discounted student memberships in national, regional or campus-based chapters (find our list of professional nursing associations under the Resources section).
CRNA and Related Healthcare Careers
Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) are highly skilled practitioners who provide diagnostic pain management and anesthesia care in clinical settings. They provide a majority of anesthesia services in rural healthcare, where they represent cost-saving alternatives to physician anesthesiologists. Practice settings include surgical and obstetrical facilities, critical care facilities and hospitals. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has forecast a 19 percent increase in employment of CRNAs during the 2014-2024 decade, opening up an estimated 7,400 new jobs.
According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, CRNAs have an employment advantage in an era when healthcare organizations are cutting costs. For one thing, the AANA says, it costs the same amount to train eight CRNAs as it does to educate one medical anesthesiologist. Consequently, advanced practice nursing is rapidly taking up positions traditionally reserved for physicians – some with comparable earnings. The following graph presents the range of career options available for advanced practice nurses, respective earnings and minimum educational requirements for the field:
NATIONAL MEDIAN ANNUAL SALARY (2014)
MINIMUM EDUCATION & LICENSURE
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
Nurses with CRNA certifications work in assessment, intervention and treatment of patients with anesthesia and other pain managing medications in clinical settings.
Master’s degree, NBCRNA nursing certification
Registered Nurse (RN)
RNs work in clinical and rehabilitation facilities providing patient care under the supervision of doctors and specialists.
Undergraduate nursing degree, State licensure
Nurse Practitioner (NP)
NPs are advanced practice nurses working independently of physicians to provide direct patient assessment, care, and treatment.
Master’s degree, American Academy of Nurse Practitioners National Certification
Certified nurse midwives are primary care providers for women from puberty to menopause.
In order to practice as a nurse anesthetist, graduates of advanced nursing practice programs must hold a current state nursing license and pass the certification exam administered by The National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists. Because each state board of nursing establishes its own set of regulations, students should plan on satisfying licensing requirements in their practice area in addition to national nursing licensing protocols.
NCE Recertification Every two years, CRNAs need to recertify. Requirements include 40 hours of accredited continuing education, current state licensing and proof of substantial anesthesia practice. Recertification is offered through the NBCRNA.
Similar Online Nursing Programs
There are basic nurse-training programs and degrees available online for students just entering the profession. Students can test LPN programs that can be completed in a year or less in order to enter the field. Or they can pursue online undergraduate degree nursing programs that take two to four years to complete and lead to broader career options and higher earnings.
Online RN programs can take from two to four years to complete and lead to an associate or bachelor’s degree. Class lectures and exams are delivered to distance students entirely online, with practical studies and clinical work arranged with healthcare facilities in the student’s community.
Online LPN-to-BSN programs –sometimes called “bridge programs”—are typically accelerated pathways of study that can be completed in one to two years. Because students are already licensed nurses, the curriculum is focused on advanced nursing training, cutting the time to completion.
Online LPN/LVN programs can prepare students for entry-level nursing positions in a year or less. These programs can offer beginning students an opportunity to survey the nursing field before committing to an RN program.
The following links lead to professional and non-profit organizations representing college accreditation, standards for career preparation and continuing education programs for licensed nurse anesthetists:
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