What Does a Nurse Anesthetist Do?

4 Min Read Published September 21, 2023
What does a nurse anesthetist do?

certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who administers anesthesia during procedures. CRNAs also assist patients with pain management.

CRNAs are the tenth best healthcare job in 2023, according to U.S. News & World Report. Becoming a nurse anesthetist requires commitment, as you must attend an additional nursing program with a full-time clinical requirement. But what does a nurse anesthetist do that requires so much schooling and skills?

This article explores the reality of life as a CRNA, including the pros and cons of working in this nursing specialty. We'll highlight CRNA duties and responsibilities, including where they can work and their scope of practice. Continue reading to learn more about what CRNAs do.

What Do CRNAs Do? Duties and Responsibilities

What CRNAs do will vary depending on the state and facility you practice in. While all CRNAs have the same abilities, some states don't allow them to practice independently, which may affect your daily duties. 

Patient Care

Nurse anesthetists will spend most of their time in direct patient care. Specific duties include:

  • Administering anesthesia during operating room (OR) cases
  • Performing airway management, including intubation of patients for surgical procedures
  • Administering pain medication and emergency medications during procedures
  • Performing regional and general anesthetic techniques
  • Monitoring patients during surgical procedures
  • Managing recovery from anesthesia
  • Handling all anesthesia reaction emergencies during and after procedures
  • Overseeing patients in the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU)
  • Obtaining lab samples, including ABGs if needed
  • Completing appropriate documentation during and after surgical procedures

Administrative Duties

While admin may not seem like a typical duty for a CRNA, it is essential to their job. To be clear, administrative duties only mean overseeing a department if that is your specific job. The administration tasks we're referring to include most of the other tasks you'll complete that aren't direct patient care, such as:

  • Looking through your patients' chart for warning signs of possible anesthesia reactions
  • Developing an individualized anesthesia plan of care for each patient
  • Obtaining informed consent from patients before procedures
  • Ensuring all equipment is functioning properly
  • Confirming the anesthesia chart is appropriately stocked
  • Confirming the malignant hyperthermia cart is stocked and readily available
  • Educating patients and families on the anesthesia process and pain management strategies

Where Can CRNAs Work? 

CRNAs typically work in locations that have operating rooms, emergency rooms, or intensive care units. Some places where CRNAs can work include: 

  • Hospitals 
  • Urgent care centers 
  • Critical access hospitals 
  • Dental centers
  • Surgery centers 
  • Outpatient care centers 
  • Academia 
  • Government facilities (military hospitals)
  • Plastic surgeon, dentist, ophthalmologist, and pain management specialist  offices

A Day in the Life of a CRNA

Working as a nurse anesthetist can be exciting and rewarding. But, it's also challenging because of the increased responsibilities, especially during surgical procedures. 

Your daily responsibilities will vary based on work location. However, CRNAs work in operating rooms (ORs) and will find their days to be fairly similar.

Prepare for OR Cases

Mornings generally start by changing into OR scrubs and checking the daily OR board. Changing into hospital scrubs helps maintain cleanliness and decreases infection chances during procedures. The OR board lists the patients having surgery daily, including their procedures, surgeons, OR room number, and the CRNA or anesthesiologist on the case.

Some states allow independent practice for CRNAs, allowing them to work without anesthesiologist oversight. In states with CRNA independent practice, you will have a set number of cases listed on the OR board.

If you work under an anesthesiologist, you'll want to touch base with them to determine the plan for the day. This conversation may include any individualized plans for specific patients or procedures.

Gather Equipment

After determining which OR or procedure rooms you will be in, it is your responsibility to check all of your equipment. CRNA equipment includes medication carts, ventilators, gasses, and additional tools and supplies. You'll also need to acquire anything missing or required for specific procedures. 

Provide Anesthesia to Surgical Patients

Once the OR cases start, CRNAs manage all anesthesia and breathing equipment for the patient while asleep. You'll be responsible for putting the patient to sleep, intubation, IV access, pain management, and titration of medications throughout the surgery. 

Repeat for Each Case

You'll repeat the entire OR process for each patient. Some days you may have one lengthy OR procedure, while others offer quicker turnaround with many patients. It all depends on which OR you are assigned and where you work. 

Pros and Cons of Being a CRNA 

Like any career in nursing, there are nurse anesthetist pros and cons. Before becoming a CRNA, weighing each pro and con and considering your responsibilities is essential. 

For example, most CRNA schools don't allow students to work once the clinical portion begins. You may consider waiting to become a CRNA if you aren't financially prepared to do this yet. Here are some other nurse anesthetist benefits and drawbacks to help make the best decision for you:


  • High earning potential 
  • Career stability 
  • Fast-paced 
  • Work in a variety of settings 
  • Job opportunities 
  • Professional Respect 
  • Patient Focused
  • Structured
  • Help others 
  • Schedule flexibility 
  • Independence/Autonomy 


  • Demanding career 
  • Education expense 
  • Advanced certification 
  • Job competitiveness 
  • Long hours 
  • Responsibility 
  • Length of school 
  • Unable to work during school
  • Many clinical hours

Next Steps to Becoming a CRNA

CRNAs perform various vital healthcare services, including anesthesia administration, managing anesthesia recovery, and overseeing patients in the PACU. As a CRNA, you'll enjoy many benefits, like high levels of autonomy and, in some states, independent practice. 

If you're ready to take the next steps toward becoming a CRNA, start by preparing your CRNA school requirements. Remember to consider all your options before applying to a CRNA program. They are highly competitive and only offer acceptance to dedicated and outstanding nurses.

Kathleen Gaines
Kathleen Gaines
News and Education Editor

Kathleen Gaines (nee Colduvell) is a nationally published writer turned Pediatric ICU nurse from Philadelphia with over 13 years of ICU experience. She has an extensive ICU background having formerly worked in the CICU and NICU at several major hospitals in the Philadelphia region. After earning her MSN in Education from Loyola University of New Orleans, she currently also teaches for several prominent Universities making sure the next generation is ready for the bedside. As a certified breastfeeding counselor and trauma certified nurse, she is always ready for the next nursing challenge.

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