The demand for healthcare services is increasing as the American baby boomer population grows and ages. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs in the industry are currently growing much faster than average. Specifically, employment prospects in healthcare will expand by 15 percent in the decade spanning 2019 to 2029, adding nearly two and a half million new positions for trained healthcare professionals.
One of the most in-demand subfields of the growing healthcare industry in the United States is the discipline of anesthesiology. The BLS predicts that positions for nurse anesthetists will grow by 14 percent by the end of the decade, making it one of the fastest growing jobs for registered nurses.
Would-be healthcare professionals would be remiss if they didn’t at least consider pursuing the occupation of a nurse anesthetist. After all, jobs in this specialty aren’t just in demand; they’re also quite lucrative. In 2020, these types of nurses earned more than $183,500 on average. That makes them some of the highest paid nurses in the country. But what exactly does a nurse anesthetist do?
What Is a Nurse Anesthetist?
A nurse anesthetist is an advanced practice nurse who holds a master’s degree and has specialized training in the administration of anesthesia to patients undergoing surgical procedures, childbirth or other medical procedures that cause significant pain. Nurse anesthetists, especially those who work in hospitals or other larger health care facilities, typically work under the direction of a licensed anesthesiologist—a medical doctor who specializes in the administration of anesthesia. It is important to note, however, that a number of states have changed their laws around advanced practice nurses such as nurse anesthetists in recent years. These changes give the nurse anesthetists more authority to practice their craft independently, which makes their services more valuable in ambulatory care, hospital and emergency center settings.
Overall Job Outlook
In 2019, there were about 44,900 nurse anesthetists practicing in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). By 2029, that number is expected to increase to 51,000 for a total of 6,200 new job openings over the 10-year period. This amounts to a 14 percent increase in total employment numbers, which is much faster than the expected growth for all occupations. The BLS reports that each year from now until the end of the decade, about 2,900 new job opportunities for nurse anesthetists will be posted across the country. Although most of these positions will be required as a result of a healthcare professional retiring or otherwise leaving the field, some of them will be a result of increased demand for this particular healthcare profession.
Job Outlook By Setting: What Industries Are Hiring Nurse Anesthetists?
Though their duties may be similar, not all nurse anesthetists work in the same environment. Nearly half of all nurse anesthetists in the U.S. work in doctors’ offices, while 27 percent are employed by hospitals. Not surprisingly, most of the job growth for nurse anesthetists will also be in doctors’ offices and hospitals. This includes private physician’s offices as well as rural and community hospitals, emergency hospitals, research and university hospitals, and trauma hospitals. Freestanding birth centers will also hire more nurse anesthetists, especially in areas where there are few hospitals that offer maternity care. Other top employers of nurse anesthetists will include outpatient care centers as well as the offices of other health practitioners such as chiropractors, and optometrists, for instance. A small percentage of nurse anesthetists will be hired by colleges and universities to teach classes for those aspiring to enter the field.
To summarize, the following industries will be responsible for employing the nurse anesthetists entering the field within the next decade:
- Doctors’ Offices
- Health Practitioners’ Offices
- Postsecondary Schools
Job Outlook By Location: Which States Are Hiring Nurse Anesthetists?
When deciding on a career to pursue, geography should always be a consideration. That’s because some areas of the country have a higher demand for certain healthcare professions than others. Thus, if you already live in a certain area of the United States or you’re willing to relocate for employment purposes, you may have better job prospects than the average nurse anesthetist. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for nurse anesthetists is especially good in underserved areas. This includes rural and inner-city settings. The states employing the largest number of nurse anesthetists include Texas, North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, and Florida. States with the highest concentration of nurse anesthetists based on their total populations include South Dakota, West Virginia, Alabama, North Carolina, and South Carolina. To drill down further, the metropolitan areas in the U.S. with the most nurse anesthetists include:
- Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, Florida
- New York-Newark-Jersey City, New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania
- Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, Michigan
- Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin
- Houston-The Woodlands-Sugarland, Texas
Presumably, there is a high demand for healthcare in these places, and there are not enough doctors to serve the patients. Nurse anesthetists can provide direct patient care and stretch the hospital’s ability to provide anesthesia to patients who are in need of this medical treatment.
What Is Fueling the Growth in Jobs for Nurse Anesthetists?
There are several factors fueling the growth of jobs for nurse anesthetists. The most important reason for the growth in this area of expertise is the aging of the American population. The large Baby Boom generation is getting older, and they have a high prevalence of chronic diseases. Many chronic diseases require procedures and tests that involve anesthesia. A nurse anesthetist may be able to perform the sedation or anesthesia necessary for a colonoscopy or biopsy. An overall increase in chronic diseases in Americans also means that nurse anesthetist services are needed throughout all ages.
Nurse anesthetists perform a critical role in the hospital setting. They augment the services of physician anesthesiologists in order to provide comprehensive, thorough and critical patient care. Discovering the answer to the question, “How is the job outlook for nurse anesthetists?” could help a degree holder decide where to live or whether or not to choose this area of specialty practice when earning an advanced degree in nursing.
How to Become a Nurse Anesthetist
For students interested in healthcare as a major, the occupation of nurse anesthetist has all of the characteristics of an appealing career path. That is, there are plenty of jobs available, and these positions are associated with six-figure-plus salaries. This combination could leave some scratching their heads and asking: Where’s the catch? While there’s not a catch, per se, one potential deterrent for would-be anesthetists may be the hefty educational requirement associated with this occupation.
To become a nurse anesthetist, there is more than one proverbial hoop one has to jump through, and the requirements are currently becoming even more stringent. First, students must become a registered nurse (RN) and earn a bachelor’s as well as a master’s degree in nursing with a specialty in anesthesiology. In addition to completing a nurse anesthetist program, these advanced practice registered nurses must also pass a certification exam administered by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA). After successfully passing the exam, RNs will be awarded the title of Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA).
The current educational requirements for nurse anesthetics include challenging coursework as well as thousands of clinical hours of field experience. As extensive as the plan of study is, it’s about to get even more rigorous. That’s because the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology (AANA) has recommended that all nurse anesthetists complete a doctoral program in their respective field prior to the year 2025. Of course, this higher standard of education for nurse anesthetists will require a bigger investment of both time and money for students who plan to follow this particular career path. It will also make nurse anesthetists in the United States some of the most educated nurses in the world.
Beyond Nurse Anesthetist: Other In-Demand Jobs for Healthcare Professionals
If you’re looking for a fast-growing occupation in the field of healthcare, the job of a nurse anesthetist is an appealing choice, but it’s not your only option. Not surprisingly, there are several other positions in the field that are currently experiencing a boon. Some of these job titles are listed below along with a brief description.
Dieticians and Nutritionists
Dieticians and nutritionists are trained healthcare professionals who provide education and counsel to individuals regarding the relationship between food and health. They may help clients improve their overall wellness, manage medical conditions, and prevent disease. As people become more aware of the impact that obesity and other diet-related issues can have on their health, the demand for dieticians and nutritionists is growing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for these allied health professionals are expected to increase by 8% between 2019 and 2029. To become a dietician or nutritionist, a minimum of a bachelor’s degree is required.
Like nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners (NPs) are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). NPs perform many of the same duties as primary care doctors, including performing medical evaluations and tests and issuing prescriptions. Nurse practitioners increasingly work independently, but many operate under the supervision of a physician. Job opportunities for nurse practitioners are growing exponentially. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a 52-percent increase in positions by the end of the decade.
Another type of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), a certified nurse midwife (CNM) performs gynecological and obstetric care for women. Their specific duties encompass services such as prescribing birth control, conducting exams, and even delivering babies. The field of nurse midwifery is a small but growing field. The BLS projects a 12 percent increase in employment of CNMs over the coming decade. To practice as a licensed nurse midwife, a minimum of a master’s degree in midwifery is required. Prospective midwives should look for academic programs accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education (ACME).
Genetic counseling is another subfield of healthcare that’s currently experiencing faster-than-average growth. According to the BLS, jobs for genetic counselors will expand by 21% by the year 2029. These types of healthcare professionals use their knowledge of genetics to evaluate a patient’s risk for certain inherited disorders and conditions. They may perform tests, counsel and educate patients, and advise other healthcare professionals. To practice as a genetic counselor, a minimum of a master’s degree in genetics or genetic counseling is required. Interested students should seek a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling.
Occupational therapist jobs are growing slightly faster than those for nurse anesthetists, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Occupational therapists are not nurses, but they do provide patient care for individuals who suffer from illnesses, disabilities, and injuries. These trained healthcare professionals provide occupational therapy in order to help their patients recover mobility and other functions necessary for work and life. Educational requirements are similar to those for nurse anesthetists, too. A master’s degree is required for entry into the field, but in some cases, a doctorate may be preferred.
Are Anesthesiologists Also In Demand?
With the extensive education and training regimen required for nurse anesthetists, one may consider whether or not it’s worth going the extra mile to become a licensed anesthesiologist. It’s a valid question, but information regarding the grim employment prospects for these medical doctors could be a deciding factor. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the occupational atmosphere for anesthesiologists will remain stagnant over the next eight years, with no significant increase in job opportunities for these types of physicians.
The lack of demand for anesthesiologists may be due in part to the heightened demand for nurse anesthetists. As CRNAs gain more autonomy in the field, they are able to perform more of the tasks that were once the responsibilities of anesthesiologists. Since anesthesiologists make over $270,000 per year on average (much more than their nurse counterparts), hospitals can save money by hiring more anesthetists as opposed to physician anesthesiologists.
New technology may also play a role in the bleak job projections for anesthesiologists. As medical advancements make it possible for some parts of their job to be automated, anesthesiologists can become more efficient in caring for patients, which ironically decreases their demand.