How to become a nurse anesthetist
Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) — typically just called nurse anesthetists — provide anesthesia and pain management services just as a physician does. In fact, the majority of anesthesia providers in rural areas are nurse anesthetists. If this career is your goal, you have several hurdles to jump: become an RN, get a master’s degree in nursing anesthesia, obtain a new license and become certified in your field.
Unless you already have an RN, you’ll start by completing an associate degree, nursing diploma or bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). If you already know your ultimate goal is nursing anesthesia, go for the BSN, as you’ll need one anyway to get into a master’s program. The other advantage of a BSN is that many employers prefer or require a BSN, and you’ll need at least one year of clinical experience before you can apply to a master’s program in nursing anesthesia. The BSN increases the chance of a good job opportunity right from the start.
As of this writing, a master’s degree is the minimum legal requirement to practice nursing anesthesia. However, many professional organizations are calling for a doctorate as minimum preparation, so it would be wise to take that into consideration. If you can afford the time and money, and if you have many years to practice, it might be wise to set your sights on a doctorate. You also have the option of completing your master’s and then going on for a doctorate while working as a CRNA.
To apply to a master’s program in nursing anesthesia, you must have a current RN license and at least one year of nursing experience. Although it will increase the time to reach your goal, there are advantages to working for several years. Nursing anesthesia is an extremely complex field; clinical skills, nursing judgment and the ability to make swift patient assessments are vitally important. These are skills gained and honed by working — especially in a critical care environment — for several years. A year or so in a medical-surgical environment followed by at least two years of critical care experience will provide you with a solid base to practice nursing anesthesia.
Once you graduate, you must apply for a new license. You will not need to take another exam for the license, although you must provide proof of your educational attainments. You will, however, have to take the national certification exam, which is required for CRNA practice in all states. The certification must be renewed every four years.
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