What is a CRNA?

Anesthesia students work in a lab at Sacred Heart Hospital

CRNAs (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists) are registered nurses trained and board certified to provide the full scope of anesthesia services. CRNAs hold either a Masters or Doctoral degree and have at a minimum of two years of critical care nursing prior to the pursuit of their advanced degrees. Many people wonder at the difference between an anesthesiologist and a CRNA. Anesthesiologists are physicians with training in the specialty of anesthesia science; when an anesthesiologist provides an anesthetic, it is considered the practice of medicine. A CRNA is an advanced practice nurse trained in the specialty of anesthesia science; and when a CRNA provides the same anesthetic it is considered the practice of nursing. The same science is learned and the same anesthetics are performed, it is simply a matter of title and educational path. Several studies have demonstrated equality of safety between provider types including a 2014 Cochrane Review that found no difference in the safety of anesthesia care and outcomes between CRNAs and anesthesiologists.


Nurse anesthetists were some of the first anesthesia providers dating back over 150 years. Currently, there are over 50,000 CRNAs in the United States who provide over 43 million anesthetics each year. CRNAs are recognized under Medicare Part B as providers and can bill and be reimbursed independently for anesthesia services. Seventeen states, including Washington, consider CRNAs independent providers of the full scope of anesthesia services. This allows CRNAs to practice in those states independent of a physician’s supervision, which plays a crucial role in providing competent and affordable anesthesia services to most rural communities in those states.  Please see CRNA fast facts for more information.

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