What is a CRNA?

What is a CRNA? CRNA stands for Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. A CRNA is a specialist in the field of anesthesia and within the nursing profession. A CRNA is responsible for providing necessary anesthetics to patients during medical procedures such as surgery. A CRNA also monitors the patient during the medical procedure to ensure that the anesthetics are being administered correctly and safely. Today there are over 48,000 CRNAs practicing in the United States.

What is a CRNA Job Description and Duties?

According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, CRNAs administer anesthesia-related care in the four below categories:

  • Preanesthetic preparation and evaluation
  • Anesthesia induction and maintenance
  • Postanesthesia care
  • Perianesthetic and clinical support

Within these four broad categories, CRNAs have many complex job functions. From performing anesthetic assessment and evaluations, to selecting and administering the appropriate drugs and fluids, to managing recovery and side effects from anesthesia, CRNAs are responsible for making surgery as safe and pain-free as possible. Some examples of specific clinical responsibilities of a CRNA from a typical job description include: requesting diagnostic studies, practicing sedation techniques, starting and maintaining epidurals, performing diagnostic and therapeutic nerve blocks, venous catheter placement, and acute pain therapy. CRNAs must have a broad knowledge base in order to function efficiently within their field. They can and often do work independently as the sole providers of anesthetics to medical facilities, but they can also work together with anesthesiologists and surgeons to monitor patients and maintain safe and functional anesthetics. CRNAs also work closely with patients and their families to ensure proper patient care and comfort before, during, and after a medical procedure.

What are the Professional Roles of a CRNA?

Providing Anesthetics
CRNAs play many very important roles in patient care. The first, and primary, role is that of providing anesthesia services. They must be detail-oriented and very well-educated in their field in order to adequately perform these duties. They are responsible for proper administration of critical anesthetics which allow patients to undergo many important and sometimes life-saving procedures. CRNAs are prepared for all situations and are responsible for making quick and efficient technical decisions as they monitor a patient throughout the course of their procedure.

Providing Emotional Care and Support
While the main job duties of a CRNA are often very technical and clinical in nature, they also experience the ups and downs of taking care of people during stressful and vulnerable times. They often attend to patients who are experiencing childbirth, serious illness, or major surgery. These are emotional experiences, and CRNAs are often looked to as providers of not only safe anesthetics but also reassurance and comfort to families and their loved ones. They can provide anesthesia care to all ages, from babies to the elderly, and for all kinds of different procedures, from the routine to the emergency. A CRNA should be able to function both as a competent medical professional as well as a compassionate personal presence. Giving comfort during a difficult time can be a very rewarding experience. The fact that CRNAs deal with so many different kinds of patients makes the job of a CRNA both challenging and fulfilling.

Performing Administrative Duties
CRNAs are often also called upon to perform the role of an administrator or other professional roles at their place of work. CRNAs may provide their departments with administrative services related to scheduling, human resources, reporting, risk management, and resource management, to name a few. These responsibilities, while not strictly clinical, are nevertheless fundamental for the smooth functioning of all anesthesiology departments and are an important part of the job for many CRNAs.

Characteristics of a Successful CRNA

With so many different and challenging roles to juggle, CRNAs need to be very special people. The process of becoming a CRNA is time-consuming and rigorous. Obtaining certification as a CRNA requires someone to be dedicated, driven, and goal-oriented. Being a CRNA requires continuing education so a successful CRNA should be motivated and hard-working in order to keep up with others in the field.

CRNAs should also have a passion for helping people and be able to show compassion to people who are going through difficult times and may not be at their best. Successful CRNAs are able to work well under pressure and have strong critical thinking skills which enable them to make good decisions quickly in stressful situations. CRNAs are often motivated individuals with excellent communication skills and a vigilance that gives them the ability to provide and advocate for the best care possible for their patients. While CRNAs will learn the clinical skills necessary to become certified through their schooling and experience, they will likely find more success and enjoyment in their career if they already possess some of these important personality traits.

Where do CRNAs work?
A CRNA can work wherever anesthesia services are provided. The most obvious places for employment are hospitals and medical centers. The United States Military medical system also employs many CRNAs. CRNA services are needed in specialty clinics such as surgery centers and obstetric clinics, as well as at dentists and plastic surgeons offices. CRNAs generally work alongside anesthesiologists, but in some rural or military settings where full-time anesthesiologists are not on staff, CRNAs provide all anesthesia-related care.

Can CRNAs work independently?
CRNAs are often hired by hospitals or medical facilities as full-time employees; however, CRNAs can also find work as “Independent Contractors.” This type of work often occurs in dentist offices, podiatrist offices, or ambulatory surgery centers where having a full-time CRNA on staff is not necessary. It is generally recommended that a CRNA who has recently graduated and become certified start out with regular full-time employment for at least several years. It is important to establish experience in the field before pursuing work as an independent contractor. It is also important to remember that as an independent contractor a CRNA would need to maintain his or her own malpractice insurance as well as take care of his or her own billing, health insurance, and taxes. The ability to find independent work outside of a large medical facility is a benefit to experienced CRNAs looking for more flexibility and control over their work schedules.

What are the Challenges of being a CRNA?

As with any career, the CRNA profession has specific challenges inherent within the profession. One of the main challenges is the schooling and certification. There are many prerequisites for admittance to CRNA school and many of the programs are very competitive. In addition to their initial schooling, CRNAs also have to complete continuing education credits throughout their careers in order to remain certified. The practice of the administration of anesthetics is an ever-changing science so the education and certification requirements are constantly being updated.

CRNAs also face many of the same challenges as other medical professionals. They are, however, more likely to be familiar with these challenges before choosing to become CNRAs because of their experience as RNs. They may be required to work long or irregular hours as well as on holidays. Due to the intense nature of their work, they may experience physical or mental exhaustion. They may also experience more job-related stress because they are responsible for their patients’ well-being and because they work so closely with people in stressful situations.

Highlights and Rewards of being a CRNA

Despite the challenges, there are many rewarding reasons to be a CRNA. One of the most tangible rewards is a good salary. A career as a CRNA was ranked as one of the best jobs by CNN Money in 2024 with predicted 10-year job growth at 19%. In addition, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median national salary for a CRNA in 2024-15 is $148,160. While the salary may not be the most important factor in determining job satisfaction, it is certainly a benefit.

According to CNN, a career as a CRNA ranked high for personal satisfaction as well as the benefit to society. CRNAs take high levels of personal satisfaction and pride in their jobs because they are doing very important work. CRNAs often help sick or injured people as they undergo the necessary diagnostic procedures and surgeries. They also give comfort to patients who are about to have surgery and are feeling afraid. A CRNA often focuses on one patient at a time, working with them through their whole surgical procedure and providing for them physically and emotionally. Helping patients get better and feel comfortable before, during, and after surgical procedures is a very rewarding component of a CRNA’s career.

CRNAs provide one of the most important aspects of care during a surgical procedure. They assure that a patient is kept pain-free throughout the procedure and they are responsible for helping a patient recover from anesthesia in a safe and comfortable manner. CRNAs are highly respected members of a surgical team and often function together with other medical professionals. They are also able to function independently and have a higher level of professional autonomy than most RNs. CRNAs are often given the ability to make high-level decisions because of their in-depth knowledge and training and are relied upon to be expert anesthesia providers.

If you were wondering what is a CRNA, we hope you’ve found this article helpful. Nurse anesthesia is a valuable and important part of the healthcare system. We hope you’ll consider a career as a CRNA as it can provide high levels of personal satisfaction, financial well-being, and professional growth and achievement.