As one of the highest-paying nurse specialties that also touts great job satisfaction, nurse anesthesia is a highly desirable and competitive career. It is also one of the lesser-known advanced practice nursing specialties that has been around for over 150 years. If you’ve gone under the knife, there’s a high chance that a CRNA administered your anesthesia and was there with you in the operating room for your entire surgery.

What is a crna?

A CRNA is a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist or Nurse Anesthesiologist (descriptor used by some CRNAs). They are specialized advanced practice nurses who safely administer anesthesia independently or in collaboration with other healthcare providers such as surgeons and physician anesthesiologists. They carry a very heavy load of responsibility as they can administer general and regional anesthetics while monitoring patients throughout their surgery or procedure. There are approximately 54,000 Nurse Anesthetists in the United States who administer approximately 45 million anesthetics every year¹

What do they do?

CRNAs practice with a high level of autonomy.  In some rural areas, in the military and other facilities, CRNAs are the sole providers of anesthesia.  With or without physician supervision they are responsible for*:

  • Reviewing patients’ medical history, counseling patients and performing a preoperative evaluation to determine the proper anesthetic plan.

  • Preparation of drugs for sedation, anesthesia and pain management.  They also are responsible for checking and preparing invasive/non-invasive monitors and equipment. 

  • Performing critical non-surgical procedures such as IV insertion, intubation and airway management as well as critical procedures such as central and arterial line insertions. 

  • Performing regional anesthesia such as neuraxial anesthesia and nerve blocks. 

  • Administration of analgesic and anesthetic agents, adjuvant drugs, fluids or blood products as appropriate. 

  • Monitoring the patient throughout surgery including ventilator management and facilitating emergence and recovery from anesthesia.  

  • Manage the patient’s vital signs during emergency situations such as surgical complications and life-threatening situations utilizing advanced cardiac and pediatric life support techniques as well as emergency airway interventions. 

*Scope of practice varies depending on the facility and anesthesia model.

where can crnas work?

CRNAs practice in a variety of settings.  This includes:

  • Hospitals including large academic centers, critical access hospitals and veterans’ hospitals 

  • Delivery rooms (OB)

  • Ambulatory Surgery Centers

  • Offices of dentists, plastic surgeons, ophthalmologists and podiatrists 

  • Pain management or Ketamine clinics 

  • US combat zones


A CRNA’s work schedule can vary. However, it is not unusual to be mandated to work holidays, weekends and be on-call. There are many scheduling options depending on the facility.