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How to Become a Chief Nurse Anesthetist: Examining a Career in Nurse Leadership

Certified registered nurse anesthetist, or CRNA, is a specialized role for advanced practice nursing professionals. The healthcare industry — and the nursing field in particular — is undergoing vast changes, creating a plethora of opportunities for experienced nurses with the determination and dedication to advance their careers and become leaders in their field.

nurse standing in operating room with scrubs crossing her arms

For nursing professionals considering how to become a chief nurse anesthetist, this overview highlights the typical steps required for gaining the in-depth knowledge and competencies necessary to work in a variety of medical and surgical settings. There may be additional training, education, certification, or experience required to become a CRNA depending upon the employer, organization, and nature of the position.

What Does a CRNA Do?

CRNAs are responsible for coordinating and managing all nurse anesthesia services and related care. They collaborate with anesthesiologists, nurses, and other physicians and specialists. They provide anesthesia and monitor a patient’s vitals throughout surgical procedures, obstetrical operations, diagnostic exams, and certain emergency services. These are just some of the tasks involved in what CRNAs do each day.

Safety is the CRNA’s main concern when administering anesthesia before surgery. The nurse anesthetist first speaks with a patient about medications he or she is taking, as well as any allergies or chronic illnesses the patient may have. After conferring with the patient’s healthcare team and discussing patient history, anesthetic procedures, and risks, the CRNA administers anesthesia to put the patient to sleep or numb an area of the patient’s body. During the surgery, the CRNA is responsible for monitoring the patient’s vital signs and increasing or decreasing the amount of medication as needed. After surgery, the nurse anesthetist continues to monitor the patient’s recovery and assist with pain management.

CRNAs are an important part of a specialized team. They manage other nurses in the anesthesia department and work with physicians and other professionals in a hospital or medical facility to meet objectives. They may also be responsible for hiring and training nurses in their departments, creating work schedules and assignments, documenting staff and budget needs, ensuring compliance with hospital policies, and acquiring new equipment when needed.

Steps to Become a CRNA

If you have an interest in coordinating and participating in the delivery of primary patient care, learning how to become a CRNA could be the first step toward a gratifying career. A combination of the right education and experience can help you succeed in this advanced nursing profession.

Earn Academic Degrees

A quality education is the foundation for becoming a CRNA, and earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is often the first step. Attaining the position of CRNA also requires an advanced degree. Aspiring CRNAs with a BSN can pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or enroll in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice (BSN to DNP) program to earn a doctorate. Advanced degree programs can help students develop the top leadership and technical competencies CRNAs use on a daily basis. DNP-prepared nurses are equipped to perform advanced primary care duties and can seek opportunities to work in executive roles in healthcare organizations or open their own practices.

Gain Work Experience

Nurses must have at least a year of professional clinical experience to qualify for admission to a nurse anesthetist program. Working in an entry-level position in a hospital, in either the anesthesia department or another department, gives nurses a real-world understanding of the pressures and challenges healthcare professionals face in a clinical setting. As nurses pursue leadership positions, the experience and skills they gained at the beginning of their careers will be beneficial when managing their teams.

Become Certified

Additional training and certification are essential for becoming a CRNA. The National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA) offers a credentialing program to help nurse anesthetists develop skills that promote patient safety and increase the quality of care in the field. CRNAs can attain the initial certification by passing the NBCRNA’s National Certification Examination (NCE), which entails an in-depth education and training program. Certified CRNAs are required to recertify by completing the Continued Professional Certification (CPC) program, which promotes lifelong learning for nurse anesthetists and keeps them current on changes in healthcare, technology, and the field of anesthesia.

Why Become a CRNA?

The reason to become a CRNA is to help a healthcare facility provide high-quality care that can potentially improve patient outcomes. However, the healthcare industry has also reached a critical point when it comes to nursing, thanks in large part to the projected nursing shortage. A combination of an unprecedented number of patients 65 and older and nurses reaching retirement age is chiefly driving this need, which can potentially have a profound impact on healthcare delivery in numerous ways, from patient satisfaction to burnout among nurses compelled to work extended hours to compensate for the shortage.

Becoming a CRNA can help mitigate the impact of the projected nursing shortage, which could have a substantial ripple effect across a healthcare facility. After all, having more qualified nurses on hand can improve a facility’s ability to provide consistent, effective care to its patients, which could make it easier for it to reach its overarching patient care goals.

Nurse Anesthetist Skills

CRNAs must employ a wide variety of skills. For example, they work in high-pressure environments, so they need to understand how to stay calm and focused during surgeries and in emergency situations. Having strong attention to detail will help them use their technical training to provide quality care and keep patients safe. CRNAs also need strong managerial and leadership skills to promote teamwork in their departments and get the best performance from their nursing teams. They must be excellent communicators who can clearly relay information to the healthcare professionals they are working with as well as to patients and their families.

Aspiring CRNAs can develop these diverse skills through a reputable university degree program, such as Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice program. Its curriculum combines in-class coursework with the opportunity to gain experience in a controlled real-world environment, giving students the opportunity to apply knowledge in a manner that allows them to cultivate and refine the core competencies essential to the nurse anesthetist role, thus preparing them to hit the job market with confidence.

CRNA Outlook

Becoming a CRNA requires extensive education and skill development as well as acquiring certifications and work experience. In turn, nurses in this healthcare specialization tend to be well compensated for their expertise. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurse anesthetists working in hospitals, private practices, primary care centers, and other clinical settings earned a median annual salary of $167,950 as of May 2018.

CRNAs and other nurse practitioners will see substantial growth in employment opportunities as a result of the rising demand for healthcare services, a greater need for care for seniors and patients with chronic conditions, an increased focus on preventive care, and the increasing autonomy of advanced practice nurses. The BLS projects the employment of advanced practice nurses, including CRNAs, to increase 26% from 2018 to 2028.

Learn More About Becoming a CRNA

As the need for qualified nursing professionals continues to grow, leadership opportunities for nurses in healthcare are also increasing. Nurses pursuing these higher-level positions should know that expanding their education, experience, and skills can give them an advantage. Learn more about Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice program and discover how earning a DNP can deepen professionals’ scientific knowledge of nursing while helping them build organizational leadership skills to advance their careers.

Recommended Readings

Comparing Leadership Roles and Management Functions in Nursing

Future Trends in Healthcare for DNPs

Tomorrow’s Healthcare: The Future of Nurse Practitioners

Sources:

American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, Chief Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist Position Description

Atlanta Journal Constitution, “What the Nursing Shortage Means for Healthcare”

Maryville University, Advanced Nursing Careers for BSN to DNP Graduates

Merritt Hawkins, CRNA Supply, Demand and Recruiting Trends

National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists, Initial Certification

PayScale, Average Chief Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA) Salary

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners