Nurse anesthetists, also known as certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), are the highest-paid professionals in the nursing field. They earn a median annual salary of $150,000. The top 25% of CRNAs are paid more than $180,000 per year. Salaries are high because the work of nurse anesthetists is delicate and the required skill set is broad. Qualified CRNAs are thus in high demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment growth of 25 percent over the next decade, increasing the nurse anesthetist population from 35,000 to 44,000.

CRNAs provide anesthesia for diagnostic, therapeutic, obstetrical, and surgical procedures. The anesthetist begins by thoroughly evaluating a patient’s medical history and discussing illnesses, allergies, and medications that could interact with the anesthesia. After this assessment, the CRNA administers general anesthesia (to put the patient to sleep) or local / regional anesthesia (to numb a specific area of the body). She monitors the patient throughout the procedure and adjusts anesthesia delivery as needed. The nurse anesthetist may also provide some emergency services and pain management.

CRNAs are one type of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). At a minimum, APRNs must hold a master of science in nursing (MSN). Many APRNs hold a doctor of nursing practice (DNP). To enter graduate study for an advanced practice role, candidates must hold a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree and a valid registered nurse (RN) license. Some MSN programs offer a BSN bridge for RNs with an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or a hospital diploma. Conversely, direct-entry MSN programs will admit non-nursing college graduates and prepare them for the RN licensure exam prior to the APRN curriculum.

Graduates of any MSN or DNP program must pass a certification exam in their specialty area before seeking APRN licensure. The National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA) offers the National Certification Examination (NCE) for aspiring CRNAs. Successful candidates must recertify every two years, which includes 40 hours of continuing education.

The journey from registered nurse to nurse anesthetist requires top-notch graduate-level nursing education. Browse our directory to find the best MSN programs in your local area.