becoming a crna

Below are the steps you need to take to become a CRNA. Curious as to how long it’ll be? With 3 - 4 years to complete a bachelor’s degree,  1 year minimum of ICU experience, and 2 - 3 years of graduate education, it will take 6-8 years to become a CRNA with the minimum experience. 

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step 1

You must have a bachelor’s degree in nursing (some schools may waive a BSN for a bachelor's degree in a related science field). You also must be licensed as a registered nurse.

Associates and Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN) can complete bridge programs.

step 2

CRNA schools require applicants to have a minimum of 1 year (2 years are generally preferred) of full-time critical care experience in the US (US territories and military hospitals outside of the US are acceptable in most instances). Definitions of accepted critical care experience varies by school. 

On average, applicants have approximately 2-2.5 years of ICU experience.

Typical units that are generally accepted as critical care are:

  • MICU = medical intensive care unit

  • SICU = surgical intensive care unit

  • CVICU/CTICU = cardiovascular/cardiothoracic ICU

  • BTICU = burn trauma ICU

  • Neurosurgical ICU

  • Areas such as Pediatric ICU (PICU), Neonatal ICU (NICU), Emergency Department (ED) and Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) are not as widely accepted and each program’s requirements for experience should be consulted. 

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Note: When choosing which ICU to work in, it may be best to obtain your experience in a large ICU (level 1 trauma ). 

It also may be necessary to move to a different ICU prior to CRNA school to obtain experience with:

  • Invasive hemodynamics: swan-ganz (PA) catheters, arterial lines, central lines 

  • EKG Interpretation 

  • Ventilators and airway management 

  • Managing multiple vasoactive infusions 

  • Autonomy and higher-level decision making/critical thinking  

  • Complex patient pathophysiology including devices like continuous veno-venous hemofiltration (CVVH)

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step 3

Standardized tests like the Graduate Records Examination (GRE) or Miller’s Analogy Test (MAT) may be required for admission.  There are select schools that do not require standardized tests or have a GPA-related waiver. 

Many schools also highly recommend (and prefer) that you obtain your CCRN (critical care certification) through the AACN.  As it is becoming more competitive, not having your CCRN or PCCN may reduce your competitiveness in comparison to other applicants.  Other subspecialty certifications in cardiac surgery and cardiac medicine (CSC and CMC) or trauma and emergency can be obtained if you have the related experience. 

At this stage you should be thinking about individuals you can ask for letters of recommendation, preparing to write your personal statement and reviewing your interview skills.

step 4

Enroll and complete a CRNA program.  By 2025, all CRNAs will need a doctorate degree to enter the field of nurse anesthesia. If accepted after January 1st, 2022, you must graduate with a Doctoral degree.

During CRNA school you will be challenged with a rigorous curriculum that includes advanced sciences (physics, chemistry, anatomy and physiology, pathophysiology) as well as the principles of anesthesia covering all body systems, regional anesthesia, trauma, cardiac, obstetrics and pediatrics.

In addition to didactic work, you will be further challenged in the operating room at your clinical rotations or nurse anesthesia residency. Expect frequent examinations, oral board exams and being verbally challenged during your clinical rotations.

Many schools have simulation labs and checkoffs you must pass as well as a final research or doctorate capstone project (depends on Masters or Doctorate program).

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step 5

After graduation from an accredited CRNA Program, you must take (and pass) the National Certification Exam (NCE) after meeting the clinical hour (~ 2000 hours) and case requirements (~ 600 cases) as determined by the council of accreditation (COA) and your school. With the exception of the states of PA and NY, you must obtain licensure as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN).