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What is a Nurse Anesthetist?

Nurse Anesthetists provide anesthesia and related care before & after surgical, therapeutic, diagnostic, obstetrical procedures.

KU nurse anesthetist studentsThe practice of anesthesia is a recognized specialty within the profession of nursing. Considered an essential role to the health care workforce, nurse anesthetists provide anesthesia and related care before and after surgical, therapeutic, diagnostic and obstetrical procedures. They also provide pain management and emergency services such as airway management.

The independently licensed Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) administers anesthesia for all types of surgical cases, from the simplest to the most complex. CRNAs provide anesthesia in collaboration with surgeons, anesthesiologists and other qualified health care professionals and practice in every setting in which anesthesia is delivered, including traditional hospital surgical suites and obstetrical delivery rooms, ambulatory surgical centers, dentists' offices, pain management clinics, and have long held an important role on the battlefield.

With CRNAs on staff, health care facilities can offer obstetrical, surgical, and trauma stabilization services when otherwise it would not be possible. In some states, CRNAs are the sole providers of anesthesia services in the majority of rural hospitals. In Kansas, CRNAs make up 70 percent of the anesthesia providers, and 83 percent of the hospitals in our state rely exclusively on CRNAs for anesthesia care.

The CRNA credential came into existence in 1956. As advanced practice nurses, CRNAs practice with a high degree of autonomy and professional respect. They carry a heavy load of responsibility and are compensated accordingly. In order to be a CRNA, advanced education and training are required. The field is demanding, and thus the preparation for it must be as well.

Generally, the path to becoming a CRNA begins with a 4-year undergraduate degree in nursing or another field. Although it is not required to possess a degree in nursing, a current license as a registered nurse is required to enter a nurse anesthesia program. After acquiring the necessary experience in an acute care setting, students will enter a doctorate program accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA). Clinical residencies afford supervised experiences for students during which time they are able to learn anesthesia techniques, test theory, and apply knowledge to clinical problems. Students gain experience with patients of all ages who require medical, surgical, obstetrical, dental, and pediatric interventions.

A nurse anesthetistGraduates must pass the national certification examination. Recertification is required of CRNAs on a biennial basis.

CRNAs administer anesthesia and anesthesia-related care in four general categories: (1) pre-anesthetic preparation and evaluation; (2) anesthesia induction, maintenance and emergence; (3) post-anesthesia care; and (4) perianesthetic and clinical support functions.

CRNAs also provide clinical support services outside of the operating room. Anesthesia and anesthesia-related services are expanding to other areas, such as MRI units, cardiac catheterization labs and lithotripsy units. Upon request or referral, these services include providing consultation and implementation of respiratory and ventilatory care, identifying and managing emergency situations, including initiating or participating in cardiopulmonary resuscitation that involves airway maintenance, ventilation, tracheal intubation, pharmacologic, cardiopulmonary support, and management of blood, fluid, electrolyte and acid-base balance.

Administrative and Other Professional Roles

Many CRNAs perform administrative functions for departments of anesthesia. The services provided by these department directors and managers are extremely important to the overall functioning of an anesthesia department and directly affect the efficiency and quality of service provided. These functions include personnel and resource management, financial management, quality assurance, risk management and continuing education.


Some CRNAs have chosen to specialize in pediatric, obstetric, cardiovascular, plastic, dental or neurosurgical anesthesia. Others also hold credentials in fields such as critical care nursing and respiratory care. In addition to their membership in the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA), many CRNAs also belong to a variety of anesthesia and subspecialty organizations, including the following:

  • International Anesthesia Research Society
  • American Society of Regional Anesthesia
  • American Association of Critical Care Nurses
  • American Society of Perianesthesia Nurses
  • Association of PeriOperative Room Nurses
  • American Association of Respiratory Care
  • American Pain Society
  • Society of Office Based Anesthesia
  • Society for Obstetrical Anesthesia Perinatology
  • Society for Ambulatory Anesthesia

National Certification Examination

Graduates of KU’s doctoral degree in nurse anesthesia practice are eligible to take the national certification examination offered by the National Board of Certification and Recertification of Nurse Anesthetists. Successful completion of this exam is necessary to possess the certified registered nurse anesthetist credential required for employment in this field.

National certification is recognized in all 50 U.S. states and allows graduates to apply for licensure in the state(s) in which they seek employment.

Information on this page is a compilation from various sources, American Association of Nurse Anesthetists. Visit AANA's website for more information about the field and helpful resources.

"On my first day, I was assigned with the first call MD. After spending some time getting a tour and locating everything he said that our first case would be at 11:00 and would be a knee arthroplasty. I worked up the patient and almost in passing he asked me if I did any peripheral blocks. After telling him about my experience we gathered the supplies and in a few minutes, I placed a femoral nerve block. His first comment after was, "Well, you sure know what you're doing. Why don't you just do this case." I ended up doing another block that day and have been given my own room ever since. Except in passing or for breaks, I don't even see an MD. This could not have been possible without the guidance and teaching from all of you! Again, thank you all. You may not always realize how important you are to those who leave the program, but I want you all to know from the bottom of my heart that I appreciated everything each of you did in contributing to my getting to this point."
KU School of Health Professions

University of Kansas Medical Center
Nurse Anesthesia Education
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3901 Rainbow Blvd
Kansas City, KS 66160
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