CRNA vs Anesthesiologist: Overview
Anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists both play a vital role in the care of patients before, during, and after surgery. An anesthesia team typically consists of an anesthesiologist and CRNAs. While both professions are responsible for preparing, administering, and monitoring anesthesia, there are some key differences between the two roles.
The main difference between CRNAs and anesthesiologists is that CRNAs are nurses while anesthesiologists are physicians. CRNAs have a three-year degree in nursing while anesthesiologists have a four-year medical degree and spent an additional four years in residency. CRNAs are licensed to practice medicine, while anesthesiologists are licensed to practice nursing. The boards that regulate CRNAs and anesthesiologists are different as well. CRNAs are regulated by the board of medicine, while anesthesiologists are regulated by the board of nursing.
So, what does this difference mean in practice? In this article, we cover the key distinctions between CRNAs and anesthesiologists, such as:
- Workplace Responsibilities
- Education and Training Requirements
- State Laws on CRNA Scope of Practice
- Salary and Job Outlook
CRNA stands for Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. A CRNA is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) who has completed an accredited nurse anesthesia program and passed the National Certification Examination (NCE).
(Interested in exploring CRNA career paths? Check out our article on how to become a nurse anesthetist: training, licensing, and certification requirements.)
Nurse Anesthetist vs Anesthesiologist: Roles and Responsibilities
CRNAs and Anesthesiologists are both qualified to work at hospitals, clinics, surgery centers, private practices, dental offices, and other medical centers. They also perform many of the same duties, such as:
- Assessing the medical histories of patients for conditions and sensitivities relevant to anesthesia and pain management
- Prepping patients for anesthesia and explaining the anesthetic process
- Administering anesthetics, sedatives, and other pain management medications
- Monitoring patients and their anesthetics during procedures
- Overseeing and educating patients recovering from anesthesia
Depending on the state, workplace, and/or anesthesia team, CRNAs will generally be assisting or working under the supervision of an anesthesiologist in performing the duties above. However, in many circumstances, CRNAs can perform these duties independently, without the supervision of an anesthesiologist. The scope of CRNA practice will vary by state and place of work.
Anesthesiologists perform or oversee all of the duties listed above. In team-based models, due to their superior training, education, and experience, anesthesiologists occupy leadership roles, typically overseeing multiple operating rooms at once. Also, since anesthesiologists are physicians, they can fulfill roles such as ICU doctors with additional training.
Anesthesiologists tend to treat sicker patients and handle extreme complications. In most situations, CRNAs work under an anesthesiologist who spends their time delegating and overseeing tasks while personally tending to the most critical patients.
CRNA vs Anesthesiologist: State Laws, Private Practice, and CRNA Independence
There are currently 30 states that allow CRNAs to practice independently. In these states, CRNAs can operate a private practice and perform all anesthetic duties without the supervision of a physician.
In states that do not allow independent practice, according to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, “a written agreement exists that specifies scope of practice and medical acts allowed with or without a general supervision requirement by a MD, DO, DDS…. or direct supervision required in the presence of a licensed, MD, DO, DDS…. or other conditions to practice.”
So, depending on the state, CRNAs require the supervision of a physician to perform certain medical acts. The conditions and scope of practice permitted to CRNAs vary.
Anesthesiologists are allowed to practice independently in all 50 states.
In all states, it is typical for CRNAs to work under the leadership and supervision of an anesthesiologist or other physician.
Education and Training
Generally, anesthesiologists have more training and experience than CRNAs.
CRNA Education and Training Requirements
It takes 7-10 years of education and training to become a certified registered nurse anesthesiologist. Here are the details of the nurse anesthetist schooling years:
- Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing (BSN) – 4 years. A BSN from an accredited nursing program teaches foundational nursing concepts and prepares students for critical care work and CRNA school.
- Critical care/ICU experience – 1-3 years. At least one year of critical care experience is required for CRNA school, although many programs require 2-3 years. Critical care experience includes work in ICUs, trauma centers, and medical-surgical units.
- Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP) – 2-3 years. By 2025, all CRNA programs will be offered at the doctoral level, which takes 3 years to complete. Most CRNA schools currently offer DNP programs. CRNA students will undergo at least 2,000 hours of clinical work before becoming certified.
Anesthesiologist Education and Training Requirements
It takes 12-15 years of education and training to become an anesthesiologist. Here are the requirements:
- Bachelor’s degree – 4 years. Generally, medical schools don’t require students to complete a bachelor’s degree in a specific field. However, they do require competency in the sciences and prior experience in healthcare and/or medical research.
- Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathy (DO) – 4 years. Anesthesiologists train to become physicians at medical school. In the final years of medical school, they focus on elective coursework and sub-internships that prepare them for a residency in anesthesiology.
- Residency in Anesthesiology – 4 years. Residencies typically begin with 1 year of basic clinical training, followed by 3 years of training in anesthesiology. Resident doctors provide direct care to patients, attend educational conferences, and continue to train in doctoring skills and practices.
- Fellowship in subspecialty (optional) – 1-3 years. After Residency, many anesthesiologists choose to further specialize through fellowship programs. Subspecialties of anesthesiology include cardiothoracic, critical care, neurosurgical, obstetric, regional, pediatric, and hospice and palliative anesthesia.
CRNA vs Anesthesiologist: Salary and Job Outlook
CRNAs and anesthesiologists both enjoy high salaries and job security, and they’re both ranked in the top 10 best jobs in the country.
There has been a consistently high demand for nurse anesthetists in recent years, which has resulted in steadily increasing salaries for those in the profession. On average, CRNAs make $175,000-$190,000 a year. Each decade of experience tends to add $10,000-$20,000 to a CRNA’s salary.
U.S. News and World Report rank nurse anesthetists as the #9 best-paying job in the country.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates nurse anesthetists to experience a 45% increase in job outlook over the next 10 years.
Anesthesiologists are in high demand, as a considerable amount of the workforce continues to retire earlier and earlier. Anesthesiologists make on average $250,000-$350,000 depending on location and industry.
The top-paying industries include outpatient care centers, specialty hospitals, general medical and surgical hospitals, and offices of other health practitioners.
U.S. News and World Report rank nurse anesthetists as the #1 best-paying job in the country.
In their Occupational Outlook Handbook, The Bureau of Labor Statistics categorizes anesthesiologists alongside physicians and surgeons, who can expect job growth of 7% over the next 10 years. Others have estimated anesthesiologists’ job outlook to rise 10-20% over the next 10 years.
Getting Into Medical School
For those interested in becoming anesthesiologists, getting into medical school is your first major challenge. Medical schools are extremely competitive and the application process is notoriously involved.
We publish articles that help students with various aspects of the application process, from how to write winning essays to school-specific application guides.
By far, most applicants greatly benefit from one-on-one guidance. We offer personalized medical school admissions consulting that covers everything from overall strategic sessions to reviewing individual secondary applications. Our decades of healthcare and educational experience, along with our proven track record, make us the perfect partner for your journey to medical school and beyond.
Nursing Study Abroad Program
If you’re preparing to become a CRNA, getting real-world pre-nursing healthcare training experience is a must. Medical schools look for applicants with compelling hands-on experience, and early healthcare training broadens your horizons and deepens your understanding of the medical field. The best way to get this experience? A nursing study abroad program.
Nursing study abroad programs offer you a unique opportunity to live and work in a foreign country, learning about the healthcare system and culture firsthand. International Medical Aid’s nursing/pre-nursing internships offer personal mentorship, immersive shadowing, and important opportunities to serve the underserved in community health events.
The program includes medical school admissions support, global health education programs, and much more. We adhere to an ethical, not-for-profit model that helps serve people across the world while ensuring aspiring nurses and physicians have access to quality training and education.
Our interns leave with heartfelt memories, invaluable experiences, and competitive skillsets to pursue a career in healthcare. Go ahead, explore our nursing study abroad program and see for yourself how you can make a difference in the lives of others – and your own!