CRNA vs Anesthesiologist: What’s the Difference?

8 Min Read Published November 8, 2023
CRNA vs Anesthesiologist

Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) and anesthesiologists are healthcare professionals administering anesthesia to patients during medical procedures. CRNAs and anesthesiologists are crucial in ensuring patient safety and providing optimal anesthesia care.

But, what’s the difference between a nurse anesthetist and an anesthesiologist? To start, a CRNA is a nurse, and an anesthesiologist is a doctor. Beyond that, there are quite a few role and educational requirement differences between these two roles.

To help you learn more about these two professions, this article explores the differences between CRNAs and anesthesiologists, their responsibilities, scope of practice, educational requirements, and salary.

CRNA vs Anesthesiologist

As we mentioned, a CRNA is a nurse, and an anesthesiologist is a doctor. But let's dig a little deeper into the differences between these two roles:

What is a CRNA?

A certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) specializing in providing patients with safe and effective anesthesia care.

CRNAs work with surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare professionals. But what does a nurse anesthetist do?

Their primary duties include administering anesthesia, monitoring patients during surgical procedures, and managing post-anesthesia recovery. CRNAs ensure patient comfort, manage pain, and maintain physiological stability throughout surgical procedures. 

Some states have CRNA-only models or allow full-practice authority, which permits CRNAs to practice autonomously. Otherwise, an anesthesiologist must supervise practicing CRNAs.

What is an Anesthesiologist?

An anesthesiologist is a medical doctor (MD) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) who specializes in providing anesthesia care to patients. Anesthesiologists are physicians who have completed extensive education, training, and certification in the field of anesthesiology. They play a crucial role in the perioperative care of patients, ensuring their comfort, safety, and well-being during surgical procedures.

Anesthesiologists work closely with surgeons, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to provide comprehensive care before, during, and after surgical procedures.

Unlike CRNAs, anesthesiologists can practice independently anywhere throughout the United States. Anesthesiologists also often supervise CRNAs within their practice. 

>> Show Me CRNA Programs

Nurse Anesthetist vs Anesthesiologist Compared





Obtain BSN and RN licensure, have 1-2 years of critical care experience, then graduate with DNP from an accredited CRNA school.

Obtain a bachelor's degree in a medical-related field, attend medical school, complete a 4-year residency program, and a minimum one-year fellowship.

Level of Autonomy

Required to practice under the direction of anesthesiologists or physicians in many states; however, there is variation in scope and type of relationship depending on the state. 

Full-practice authority can practice independently throughout the US.

Scope of Practice

Administer anesthesia, monitor patients during surgical procedures, and manage anesthesia-related complications. They can provide anesthesia for a wide range of surgeries, including general, regional, and local anesthesia. 

Have the highest level of autonomy and provide direct patient care and anesthesia services without the need for supervision from a physician or other healthcare professional.

Work Environment

Hospitals, outpatient surgery centers, private physician offices, and other medical institutions.

Hospitals, outpatient surgery centers, private physician offices, and other medical institutions.


CRNAs earn a mean annual salary of $205,770 or $98.93 per hour (BLS).

Anesthesiologists earn a mean annual salary of $302,970 or $145.66 per hour (BLS). 

Career Outlook

All APRN professions are expected to grow 40 percent from 2021 to 2031.

Physician career outlooks, including anesthesiologists, will grow at a rate of about 3% between 2021-2031.

Anesthesiologist vs CRNA: Responsibilities

Similarities Between CRNA and Anesthesiologist Responsibilities

Though they're vastly different professions, CRNAs and anesthesiologists have many similar responsibilities. Both CRNAs and anesthesiologists are:

  • Trained and qualified to administer anesthesia to patients. 
  • Responsible for patients' safety and well-being during surgery. 
  • Proficient in various anesthesia techniques, including general anesthesia, regional anesthesia (such as nerve blocks or epidurals), and sedation. 
  • Involved in the perioperative care of patients. They conduct preoperative assessments, develop anesthesia plans, and ensure proper pain management during recovery. 
  • Trained to give emergency care during or after anesthesia to ensure patient safety.

CRNAs and anesthesiologists often work together as part of the anesthesia care team. They collaborate closely with surgeons, nurses, and other healthcare professionals. In addition, they often communicate important medical information, share responsibilities, and even make joint decisions to optimize patient outcomes.

Differences Between CRNA and Anesthesiologist Responsibilities



  • Hold a doctoral degree in nurse anesthesia.

  • MDs or DOs have completed medical school, followed by a residency program in anesthesiology. 

  • May work under anesthesiologists' supervision or independently in specific settings, depending on state regulations and institutional policies.

  • Have a greater level of autonomy in decision-making and anesthesia management. 

  • Lead the anesthesia care team, including CRNAs, and are responsible for supervising and directing the administration of anesthesia.

  • Handle a wide range of surgical procedures but may refer more complex cases to anesthesiologists or work collaboratively in team-based care.

  • Handle more complex and high-risk cases, including major surgeries or patients with significant medical comorbidities. 

  • May specialize in various anesthesiology subspecialties, such as cardiac anesthesia, pediatric anesthesia, or critical care medicine.

  • Focus on perioperative anesthesia care and may have limited involvement in critical care or specialized consultations.

  • Provide critical care services, including management of patients in intensive care units (ICUs) or critical care settings.

>> Show Me CRNA Programs

Anesthesiologist vs Nurse Anesthetist: Scope of Practice

Certified Nurse Anesthetist Scope of Practice

  • CRNAs can practice independently in many states. However, there is variation in scope and type of relationship depending on the state. See the NCBSN's map below and check with individual states for more details on their regulations.

  • CRNAs are trained to administer anesthesia, monitor patients during surgical procedures, and manage anesthesia-related complications. They can provide anesthesia for a wide range of surgeries, including general, regional, and local anesthesia.

Where Can CRNAs Practice Independently?

CRNA independent practice map

Image Source: NCBSN

Anesthesiologist Scope of Practice

  • Anesthesiologists have the highest level of autonomy and provide direct patient care without needing supervision from any other healthcare professional.

  • They have a broader scope of practice that encompasses providing anesthesia and overseeing the perioperative care of patients.

  • They may also provide pain management services, consult on complex cases, and specialize in specific areas such as cardiac anesthesia or pediatric anesthesia.


CRNA Education

The educational path to becoming a CRNA takes a minimum of about seven years to complete.

  • Step 1: Obtain a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN) 

  • Step 2: Obtain registered nurse (RN) licensure

  • Step 3: Gain clinical experience: CRNA programs typically require candidates to have at least one year of nursing experience in critical care environments. You can earn this experience from working in an intensive care unit (ICU) or the emergency room (ER).

  • Step 4: Complete a CRNA Program

  • Step 6: Become Certificated as a CRNA

>> Related: CRNA Schools by State

Anesthesiology Education

The educational path to becoming an anesthesiologist is intensive and can take 12-14 years or more.

  • Step 1: Obtain a bachelor's degree in a science-related field. 

  • Step 2: Attend medical school

  • Step 3: Pass the Medical Licensing Examination 

  • Step 4: Complete residency training

  • Step 5: Complete a fellowship (optional) 

  • Step 6: Earn board certification

CRNA vs Anesthesiologist Salary

The average CRNA salary is $205,770 or $98.93 per hour, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

However, salary depends on the state where you live and the type of facility where you work. For example, the BLS reports that CRNAs who work in outpatient care centers earn a higher mean annual wage of $246,980!

The BLS reports that anesthesiologists earn an annual salary of $302,970 or $145.66 per hour on average. In addition, anesthesiologists who work specifically in outpatient care centers earn a mean annual salary of $373,720!

Career Outlook Difference Between CRNAs and Anesthesiologists

The BLS projects that CRNA jobs will grow by 9% between 2022 and 2032, which is faster than most other professions nationwide.

Comparatively, the BLS only projects anesthesiologist career growth at 3% for the same period. This is slower than average compared to other professions; however, there will still be a need for an additional 1,000 anesthesiologists in the coming decade.

>> Show Me CRNA Programs

CRNA vs Anesthesiologist: Which is Right For You? 

Understanding the difference between an anesthesiologist and a CRNA is the first step toward determining which is right for you. Still, deciding which pathway to take can be very challenging and requires a lot of consideration.

However, there are questions you can ask yourself to help determine whether you should go to nursing school to pursue a career as a CRNA or choose medical school to become an anesthesiologist.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you willing to commit to the extensive education and training required for both professions?

  • Are you interested in becoming a nurse and obtaining a DNP degree to become a CRNA or pursuing a medical degree (MD or DO) to become an anesthesiologist? (keep in mind the pathway to anesthesiology is significantly longer).

  • Do you prefer a more hands-on approach to patient care, with direct involvement in the patient’s daily activities as a nurse?

  • Would you be comfortable overseeing patient care and leading a medical team as an anesthesiologist?

  • Are you comfortable working as part of a team, taking direction from physicians, and implementing plans established by the anesthesiologist?

  • Would you prefer having a wider scope of practice and more autonomy?

  • Are you interested in having a broader medical practice that includes patient care beyond anesthesia, such as diagnosing and treating other medical conditions? 

Hopefully, these questions serve as a starting point for making the best decision for you. It is also in your best interest to speak with professionals in the field and gain firsthand experience through shadowing or internships to make a well-informed decision about your career path.


  • Is it better to be a CRNA or an Anesthesiologist?

    • This depends on individual preferences and career goals. Anesthesiologists have a more extensive education path and higher autonomy and responsibility. CRNAs have a shorter educational path but can only practice independently in some states.
  • What can an anesthesiologist do that a CRNA cannot?

    • An anesthesiologist can independently manage more complex cases, perform advanced procedures, and provide comprehensive perioperative care. They have a broader scope of practice and can specialize in various subspecialties. CRNAs also often work under the supervision of anesthesiologists.
  • Is CRNA school harder than med school? 

    • Comparing the difficulty of CRNA school versus medical school is difficult because they have different challenges and requirements. Both are incredibly challenging and require a lot of determination and grit. However, medical school is generally longer and more academically intensive, covering a wider range of medical topics.
  • How long does it take to go from CRNA to anesthesiologist?

    • Going from CRNA to anesthesiologist would require completing a 4-year medical degree, a 4-year residency training in anesthesiology, and a one-year fellowship training. As of now, there are no CRNA to anesthesiology programs to shorten the process.


Go to the top of page