This page was last updated in 2022.
Is CRNA a good job? Becoming a CRNA, or Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, is a daunting task. You have to become a registered nurse, work in the ICU for at least two years, and then go back to school for three more years. Additionally, the cost of CRNA school is rising. Aspiring CRNAs need to be sure that they’re making the right decision. Is CRNA a good job, and is it the right job for you?
What does a CRNA Do?
CRNAs, also called Nurse Anesthetists, are nurses that have gone through specialized training to learn how to provide anesthesia. This training includes learning procedures such as performing pain blocks, epidurals, and spinal blocks to prevent pain. They also can insert central lines, IVs, arterial lines, intubate a patient (insert a breathing tube), and monitor the patient during surgery.
CRNAs are the masters of managing pain, as well as being the “guardian angel” for patients during surgery. They are in charge of induction (putting a patient under anesthesia), maintaining anesthesia during a procedure, and emergence (waking a patient from anesthesia). In some states, CRNAs work under the supervision of a physician, while some states allow CRNAs to practice independently.
CRNAs make a great salary compared to other nursing careers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for CRNAs is $189,190, with many CRNAs making over $200,000. That is more than some physicians make! However, this amount varies greatly depending on the state that you live in.
Here is a breakdown of average salaries by state:
If you are researching salaries in your area, it may be helpful to go to GasWork.com to see current job openings and what they are offering. You can frequently find jobs that pay $200,000 and higher on the website. Salary shouldn’t be the only reason you choose to be a CRNA, but it is nice to know that you will have financial stability after school!
Being a CRNA is a highly stressful job. When you are a CRNA, your patient’s life is in your hands. The decisions you make can be life or death. A CRNA needs to be able to think clearly during stressful situations and work well under pressure.
Anyone who is wanting to be a CRNA needs to know their strengths and weaknesses. CRNAs need to be quick about making decisions, must be good critical thinkers, and they have to listen and communicate well.
Brian Del Grosso, a CRNA at Carolina’s Medical Center, says, “You need to be highly motivated, highly educated, and extremely detail-oriented — and on top of that you need to be extremely personable.” This is a job that requires you to be on top of your game at all times. If there is an emergency in anesthesia, seconds matter.
Most of the time there is not an emergency. There is a saying that goes, “Anesthesia is 99% boring and 1% sheer terror.” This career isn’t always stressful, but when something goes wrong the CRNA needs to be prepared.
CRNAs are currently in high demand across the country. There is a shortage of healthcare workers, and that is also the case for anesthesia providers. CRNAs are sought after for their specialized skill set and for being a cost-effective alternative to a physician anesthesiologist.
The current growth rate for Advanced Practice Nurses (this includes CRNAs, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners) is 45%, the second-highest growing field in the entire workforce. This is much faster than other jobs where the average growth is 3.7%.
As the profession is becoming less of a secret, we might begin to see more and more people wanting to become CRNAs. Some are concerned about oversaturation in the job market. Keep in mind that CRNA school is very competitive and there are just a few spots at every school. There is still a huge need for CRNAs, and this will likely continue for years to come!
Maintaining a work/life balance is possible for CRNAs, but this needs to be planned. Where a CRNA goes to work plays a huge part in how demanding the job is. However, CRNAs that work at surgery centers or doctor’s offices may have typical 9-5 working hours with no call.
The area a CRNA is located in can also play a part in how much they work. In rural areas, sometimes there are only one or two CRNAs in a hospital. Those CRNAs will likely work more hours and take more calls. In urban areas, CRNAs often have a team of co-workers that divide call shifts amongst themselves.
CRNAs can also have a lot of flexibility in the hours that they work. Depending on the workplace, CRNAs can work 8, 10, 12, 16, or even 24-hour shifts. CRNAs can work full-time, part-time, or PRN (as needed). Working part-time or PRN can allow for additional flexibility in your schedule.
One difficult aspect of being a CRNA is when you are in the operating room monitoring the patient. There will be times that you may have to stay late or are not able to leave because there is no one to relieve you. You have to be with the patient at all times while providing anesthesia, and this can mean that you may have to hold your bladder, skip lunch, or stay late at work.
As a part of a care team, CRNAs are taking part in procedures and events that help patients in many different ways: delivering children, performing surgery, etc. Not only is this work vital in healthcare, but it is rewarding! However, the job can be stressful, requiring constant vigilance as well as long hours. Taking all of this into consideration, how do actual CRNA’s feel about their job?
A study conducted in Michigan of over 400 CRNAs showed several trends. The first was the time spent practicing as CRNAs: many of the respondents had been practicing as a CRNA for over 20 years and did not intend on retiring once they were eligible. This would imply there was a reason that the subjects did not want to stop being a CRNA.
Another thing the study mentioned were topics that CRNAs felt strongly about. CRNAs felt they were among highly competent peers. They liked who they worked with and trusted them. The lowest-rated part of being a CRNA is related to autonomy. CRNA’s were unhappy with the level of agency they had when disagreeing with physicians. Nurse anesthetists were also frustrated when they couldn’t make certain patient care decisions.
According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA), 89% of CRNAs feel “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their job. Again, one of the larger factors that played a role was the question of autonomy in practice: CRNA’s who practiced independently without a supervisor seemed to rate their satisfaction higher than others.
Is CRNA a Good Job? Conclusion:
So, is nurse anesthesia a good job? There are many reasons why it is a great career for some people. CRNAs can look forward to a high salary and a great job outlook. CRNAs treat patients during their most vulnerable time and prevent them from having pain during their procedures. If you are a caring person that can handle highly stressful situations, this could be a great fit for you.
However, if you don’t handle stressful situations well, would like a consistent work/life balance, or would prefer to work autonomously no matter where you worked, being a CRNA may not be the best fit. It is up to you to determine how comfortable you are with these aspects of the job.
Article written by Catharine Bledsoe, RN, BSN