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How to Become a Nurse Anesthetist

Do you have an interest in working in the medical field? If so, and if a career in nursing appeals to you, then you’ll want to decide on which specific area of nursing you’d like to get into. After all, you have numerous options, ranging from being a general nurse to a pediatric nurse and anything in between. One area of nursing that is growing in popularity as of lately is that of working as a nurse anesthetist. Read on to learn more about the important role of a nurse anesthetist, what to expect on-the-job, and what steps you’ll need to take in order to be eligible to work in this field.

What Does a Nurse Anesthetist Do?

If you’ve ever had any type of surgery before, there’s a good chance that you’ve have direct interaction with a nurse anesthetist. Specifically an anesthetist is a highly trained professional who provides anesthesia to patients prior to surgical procedures. You’ll find these professionals in hospitals, surgery clinics, doctor’s offices, and even dentist’s offices across the globe.

On any given day, there are a number of responsibilities that the average anesthetist may have, starting off with making sure that all necessary supplies and equipment are present. From there, an anesthetist may administer different types of anesthetics to patients through their veins, through an epidural, or using another method. Upon administering any anesthetic, he or she must also carefully monitor the patient to ensure they do not have any adverse reaction to the drug, as some patients do.

Following the procedure, an anesthetist is also responsible for making sure that the patient returns to health. This may involve monitoring the patient’s vital signs and taking medical actions based on them. Once the patient “comes to,” the anesthetist may also be responsible for creating a postoperative report or filing other important records for future reference.

Salary and Employment Overview

Nurse anesthetists are among some of the best paid professionals in the nursing field. Specifically, the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimates that the average nurse anesthetist makes around $154,000 per year. The other good news is that there is a relatively high demand for professionals in this area of nursing, with more than a 25% growth anticipated by year 2020. Therefore, if you’re looking for a career in nursing that pays well, is rewarding and challenging, and that you shouldn’t have a hard time getting hired into (with the right credentials), this might be the right choice for you.

Step 1: Make Sure You’re a Good Fit

Of course, the first step is to take some time and make sure you’re truly going to be a good fit for a job as a nurse anesthetist. After all, you’re going to need to invest several years of your life or more into becoming an anesthetist, in addition to likely spending a fair amount of money on your education, so you want to be confident that this is the right choice for you in the long-term.

First of all, do you enjoy working with people? As an anesthetist, not only will you be working with different patients every day, but you will also need to work directly alongside other health care professionals. This is not the best job for somebody who prefers to work alone. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that many anesthetists work long hours, especially considering the fact that they often need to oversee patients from their pre-operative state well past their recovery.

As an anesthetist, you will also need to be comfortable with needles and bodily fluids. Many forms of anesthesia are delivered using needles and injections, so this job is not for the faint of heart or those afraid of needles.

Step 2: Become a Registered Nurse

The first formal step to becoming a nurse anesthetist is to enroll in a nursing program that will put you on the path to becoming a registered nurse (RN). This is your “stepping stone” to eventually enrolling in a Master’s degree program down the road, which you will need to become an anesthetist.

Make sure, as you search for the right program in which to enroll, that you choose one that is accredited. Keep in mind that the average program will take about four years to complete, and when you graduate, you will have a Bachelor’s degree in nursing. In order to officially become a registered nurse, you will need to complete and pass your NCLEX exam; this will earn you the certification you need to begin practicing in the nursing field.

Step 3: Gain Experience in Nursing

Once you become an RN, you will have two options: you can either begin working in the field right away to gain experience and put your degree to use, or you can attempt to dive into a Master’s program. Generally, the best thing you can do is to take a year to work in the field upon becoming an RN. After all, many Master’s programs will require that you have at least some experience in the field before they will even consider you for admission into a program.

Not to mention, taking a year to work in the nursing field is a great way to earn money and start paying back some of those student loans, in addition to learning the ropes of what it’s like to work in a hospital or clinical setting. This is experience that will come in handy down the road.

While gaining experience as a nurse, it will also be helpful if you can get hands-on experience in acute care wherever you’re working. This is close to the type of work you’ll be doing as an anesthetist down the road, so it will prove useful and help to prepare you for your Master’s program as well.

Step 4: Enroll in a Master’s Program

The next step in becoming a nurse anesthetist is to get accepted into a Master’s program in nursing (MSN). This is a requirement for all RNs looking to become certified in working with anesthetics. Again, you will need to make sure you enroll in an accredited program (look for programs that are accredited specifically by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Programs).

Also, keep in mind that getting accepted into a Master’s program often requires a bit more work than getting accepted into a Bachelor degree program. You may need to fill out extensive applications, obtain references and recommendations letters, and even write essays to be considered. However, so long as you have your RN license up-to-date and show a strong desire to learn, you should be able to find a program that you can be accepted into.

On average, completion of a Master’s degree in Nursing takes around two to three years. This will vary depending on the course load with which you’re comfortable taking and the specific program in which you enroll. Many registered nurses will work part-time while they go to graduate school full-time, or vice versa, so you can change your schedule to accommodate your specific needs.

Step 5: Pass the National Certification Exam

Even once you’ve finished all of your Master’s degree coursework, you won’t be certified to work as an anesthetist until you’ve taken and passed the national certification exam. this is known as the National Certification Examination and is run by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA). If you don’t pass the exam the first time around, the good news is that you can re-take it as often as you need until you are able to pass.

However, it’s also worth noting that you will need to pay a fee each time your register for the exam, so the sooner you can pass it, the better of you’ll be. Plus, the sooner you can begin working in the field. If you’re worried about being able to afford your certification exam, you might want to consider checking with your school to see if they offer any assistance programs. Many college and university career services centers offer financial assistance for these types of exams for those who meet certain income or other requirements. This can be a great way to help offset the cost of getting certified, especially if you need to take the exam more than once.

Step 6: Begin Applying for Jobs

Once you’ve passed your certification exam, the good news is that you’ll be able to begin practicing as a nurse anesthetist right away! With your certification, you’ll be eligible to practice anywhere in the United States. The nice thing about this is that it gives you the freedom to decide where you’d like to work. With so many opportunities, job openings, and the high demand for nurse anesthetists, you can choose to move just about anywhere you want without having to worry about the availability of work.

It is worth noting, however, that the pay for nurse anesthetists can vary in different regions of the country, so you may want to keep this in mind as you decide where you’d like to work and practice. For example, these professionals tend to be paid higher on the western coast of the United States, whereas those in the areas of Louisiana tend to have lower salaries. Of course, it’s also a good idea to consider the average salary versus the cost of living when deciding where to go.

Before applying for jobs, be sure to put together a detailed resume that includes all of your professional certifications in addition to your formal education and experience. Here, you can (and should) include any clinicals you were involved in, the work you did in the year before you started your Master’s program, and the like.

When looking for jobs, it can also be useful to look in areas where there are major universities with their own medical/healthcare systems and hospitals. These areas tend to have many job openings due to their large size. However, looking in rural areas where there may not be much qualified staffing available can also be a wise decision for those just starting out and looking for jobs in the field.

Step 7: Prepare to Be Re-Certified Every Two Years

As a nurse anesthetist, you should also be aware that you will need to re-test for your certification once every two years. This is done to ensure that you are staying up-to-date on any and all changes in the industry, thus providing your patients with the highest standard of care. The process of getting your certification renewed involves proving that you have obtained at least 40 hours of continuing education credits in your field; these credits may be in the form of classes taken, training provided by your workplace, participation or attendance at a related conference, or direct patient experience.

Most nurse anesthetists who work full- or even part-time shouldn’t have an issue with keeping up with their 40 hours of continuing education. Just be sure to carefully document your education, as the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists will ask for detailed documentation that includes dates, times, and perhaps even signatures of supervisors.

Overall, working as a nurse anesthetist can be a very enjoyable and rewarding career. On top of paying well, many anesthetists enjoy the fact that they get to play a vital role in ensuring a patient’s comfort and well being in any number of circumstances, such as preparing them for surgery or any other major procedure.

Of course, working as a nurse anesthetist isn’t for the faint of heart, so you should make sure that this is the job for you before going through any of the formal education steps of the process. Upon becoming a licensed RN, completing a couple years in a specialized Master’s degree program, and passing your certification exam, you’ll be ready to work as an anesthetist anywhere in the United States, whether it be in a hospital, physician’s office, or just about any medical facility in between.