If you’re an RN or nursing student, you may be interested in becoming a certified registered nurse anesthesiologist, and for good reason. CRNAs are in high demand, and the average CRNA salary is higher than that of other nursing professions.
Read on if you’re interested in learning the average CRNA salary, as well as more information about what you can expect from the career and college programs to become a CRNA.
CRNA Average Salary
Certified registered nurse anesthesiologists, or CRNAs, are some of the highest-paid registered nurses in the field.
As of May 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the mean annual salary of a CRNA as $174,790, with a mean hourly wage of $84.03.
Compare this to the average RN (registered nurse) salary of $71,730 per year (or $34.48 per hour) and the average family medical doctor salary of $208,560 per year (or $100.27 per hour).
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthesiologist Salary Range
As with every other career, the salary of a CRNA varies based on numerous factors. The average CRNA salary is a good starting point; but depending on the industry in which you choose to work and where you choose to live, your salary could be significantly higher or lower than the average.
According to the BLS, the estimated range for CRNA salaries is as follows, from the bottom 10th percentile to the top 90th percentile:
- 10th percentile – $116,820
- 25th percentile – $143,870
- 50th percentile – $167,950
- 75th percentile – $198,470
- 90th percentile – $208,000+
Breaking this down, we can deduce that the lowest-paid 10% of CRNAs make $116,820 on average, while the highest-paid 10% of CRNAs (those who make more than 90% of their peers) earn an average of $208,000 or more per year.
The median CRNA salary (the point at which 50% earn more and 50% earn less) is $167,950.
Average CRNA Salary by Industry
One factor that plays a role in this wide range of salaries—leading to some salaries that are about $90,000 more than others—is the variety of industries into which CRNAs can go.
Certified registered nurse anesthesiologists can work in small practices with private physicians or as members or large medical facilities, and everywhere in between.
Here is a breakdown of the top-paying CRNA industries, as reported in May 2018 by the BLS:
- Outpatient Care Centers $194,570
- Home Health Care Services $191,030
- Local Government $187,830
- General Medical and Surgical Hospitals $187,000
- Employment Services $185,050
Average CRNA Salary by State and City
The other major factor that impacts your salary as a CRNA is where you live. Every state has its own average CRNA salary, as does each city or municipality.
The top-paying states for CRNAs—and their respective average annual salaries—are as follows (BLS):
- Montana – $246,370
- California – $212,210
- Iowa – $209,130
- Oregon – $205,730
- Wisconsin – $204,820
As a general rule of thumb, you can expect to earn a higher annual salary in highly-populated cities than in rural areas.
However, this isn’t always the case, as you’ll see below. Nurse anesthesiologists are the primary provider of anesthesiology care in rural areas, while larger cities rely more on anesthesiologists.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the cost of living is usually higher in densely populated municipalities, too, so a higher salary may not always translate to more money to spend.
The top-paying metropolitan areas for CRNAs—and their respective average annual salaries—are as follows (BLS):
- Akron, OH – $285,460
- Columbus, GA-AL – $244,330
- Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL – $243,660
- San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA – $242,890
- Vallejo-Fairfield, CA – $237,260
And the top-paying non-metropolitan areas for CRNAs—and their respective average annual salaries—are as follows (BLS):
- Northeast Iowa nonmetropolitan area $287,210
- Western Washington nonmetropolitan area $252,060
- Southern Indiana nonmetropolitan area $233,730
- Northwest Minnesota nonmetropolitan area $222,070
- West Kentucky nonmetropolitan area $218,120
Career Outlook for CRNAs
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities for nurses—and CRNAs in particular—are expected to be excellent in the coming years.
In 2016 (the last time of reporting), there were 41,800 nurse anesthetists employed in the United States.
By 2026, the BLS projects that there will be 48,600 employed nurse anesthetists in the U.S. This is a projected growth of 16% over ten years.
Career Outlook for Other Advanced Nursing Professions
Job opportunities in advanced nursing positions as a whole are expected to increase even more significantly than jobs in registered nurse anesthesiology.
So if you’re not sold on the idea of becoming a CRNA, you might consider studying to become a nurse midwife (projected increase of 21% by 2026) or a nurse practitioner (projected increase of 36% by 2026).
We Need More CRNAs and Nurses
One of the primary reasons behind the nursing career growing so fast is the large, aging baby-boomer populace. Seniors are the population who require the most medical care, and in the United States, the baby-boomer population (the large generation born between 1946 and 1964) has reached its senior years. Jobs for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), including CRNAs, are expected to grow in industries like hospitals, medical practices and private medical care homes for this very reason.
Additionally, healthcare legislation since 2010 has led to more people having health insurance and an increased emphasis on preventative medical care. This means that people of all ages are more likely to visit the doctor than at any other time in the last decade.
A third and major reason for increasing CRNA job opportunities is that more and more organizations are hiring nurse anesthesiologists in place of anesthesiologists. This is because of the higher availability of CRNAs compared to anesthesiologists (a career which requires medical school), as well as the lower cost of hiring a registered nurse rather than a doctor.
How to Become a CRNA
If you’re considering a career as a certified registered nurse anesthesiologist, there’s more to take into account than just the average CRNA salary. The road to certification as a CRNA is long and requires significant time—and financial—investment.
Below are the five steps you’ll need to take as part of the traditional route to becoming a CRNA:
Step 1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing
To become a CRNA, you need a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, which is a four-year degree.
There are several different routes to becoming a registered nurse (the most common being an Associates Degree in Nursing, which only takes two years).
However, a BSN is the best choice if you’re pursuing a more advanced career path.
Many nursing students choose to pursue a BSN after earning their Associates Degree and RN licensure (see below).
Step 2. Become a Licensed RN
Next, you need to acquire licensure as an RN.
Optionally, you can complete this step before you finish your BSN degree if you first earn an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN).
Many nurses choose to earn their ADN and enter the nursing career right away, and then pursue an RN-to-BSN degree program. This degree path is also referred to as a BSN completion program.
This route offers the potential benefit of employer tuition assistance if you sign a contract with your workplace.
After completing either your ADN or BSN program (depending on which route you choose), you must pass an RN licensure exam. This exam is the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) and is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.
Licensure through passing this exam is accepted in all 50 U.S. states, and it requires periodic renewal. To maintain your licensure, you must participate in continuing education programs.
Step 3. Complete One Year of Work Experience in Intensive Care
Most CRNA educational programs require you to have a minimum of one-year working experience in acute medical care as an RN (usually in an intensive care unit or E.R.).
Optionally, you can pursue a Critical Care Registered Nurse Certification (CCRN) during this stage. A CCRN certification can give you a leg up when you’re applying to nurse anesthesiologist programs.
Eligibility for a CCRN includes a valid RN license, passing an exam, and at least 1,750 hours of critical care over the past two years.
Step 4. Get Admitted to and Graduate From an Accredited CRNA Program
Next, you must complete an accredited nurse anesthesia educational program. Depending on the intensity of the program and the school which you attend, the program can take between two and four years.
The Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs lists approximately 113 accredited programs in the U.S. at about 2,200 active clinical training sites.
Step 5. Earn Your Credential
After completing your program for nurse anesthesiology, you will need to earn your CRNA credential from the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthesiologists (NBCRNA).
Is a CRNA Salary Worth the Student Debt?
Becoming a CRNA may be rewarding, but it’s also a long path and a significant investment. All told, you’ll spend a total of about seven or eight years in school and clinical practice before finally earning your licensure as a CRNA.
With the intensive curriculum of a CRNA program, you’ll most likely be unable to work during school. That means you either have to save up beforehand or be OK with accruing a good amount of student debt. Luckily, the average CRNA salary of $174,790 per year makes this a still highly viable option.
The student debt load of a graduate degree nurse (including advanced practice registered nurses like CRNAs) ranges from $30,000 to $100,000 or more, taking into account a four-year degree in nursing, an RN certification, and a graduate degree program.
According to a 2017 study by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the median student debt load anticipated by graduate nursing students was between $40,000 and $54,999.
Compare that to the average medical school debt (2016) of $190,000, with an average general practice doctor earning about $208,560 per year, and we can see that the debt load-to-salary ratio is similar.
To minimize the amount of debt you take on during your pursuit of a CRNA career, it’s essential to pursue scholarships in nursing every step of the way.
How Long Does it Take to Pay Back CRNA Debt?
The length of time it takes you to repay your student loans from nursing school depends on what kind of loans you have and what type of repayment program you choose.
Private loans will need to be repaid in full. But if you received federal loans (which should always be your first choice), you have the option to enroll in an income-driven repayment plan like IBR (income-based repayment).
Under one of these plans, you can make payments based on your income for 20 to25 years. The amount will usually be 10% of your income every month.
After making qualified payments for 20 to 25 years under an IDR plan, you can apply for student loan forgiveness. But keep in mind that if your application is approved, the forgiven amount will be taxed as income for that year.
Alternatively, you could choose to make larger payments each month and pay your loan off more quickly, but have a lower amount forgiven after your IDR plan reaches maturity.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness as a CRNA
One of the many benefits of a career in nursing is that you can qualify for loan forgiveness.
This can be an aid in repaying your student loans, but it may also mean you settle for a lower salary for a while. To qualify, you must work as a nurse in a qualifying industry, such as the local, state, or federal government or a non-profit 501c organization.
Under PSLF, you can have your federal student loans forgiven after ten years of work with a qualified employer and 120 monthly payments under an IDR plan. Best of all, the forgiven amount is not taxable as income under PSLF.
CRNA Salary Summation
According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA), nurses first began administering anesthesia during the Civil War, when they were tasked with treating wounded soldiers at the front lines.
Nurses have been providing anesthesia care for over 150 years, and the official CRNA credential first came into existence in the late 1950s.
Today, credentialed nurse anesthesiologists not only have a wide variety of industries to choose from in their careers; the average CRNA salary is also the highest amongst all nursing professions.