What Is the Difference Between Nurse Anesthetist and Anesthesiologist?

Are you one of the many students interested in entering the growing field of health care? If so, you may find yourself weighing the pros and cons of certain occupations within the medical industry. This is certainly wise since there are so many different positions within health care that one can assume. Moreover, each of these roles comes with its own issues to consider. Some of these factors include required education, job outlook, and pay, for example.

One of the many sub-fields of the vast healthcare industry is anesthesiology. Anesthesiology is a branch of medicine that deals with the administration of pain-relieving drugs. Anesthesia is usually administered to patients undergoing surgical operations or other major medical procedures. Within the field of anesthesiology are various healthcare providers on an anesthesia team. The two most prominent are nurse anesthetists and anesthesiologists.

What Is the Difference Between Nurse Anesthetists and Anesthesiologists?

The terms anesthetist and anesthesiologist are often used interchangeably outside of the medical field. This is because many people think these two medical professionals have the same duties and responsibilities regarding pain management. Surprising to many, these are two different professionals. Both administer anesthesia and patient care. Yet, they’re very different jobs and have different educational requirements. Individuals interested in pursuing careers in anesthesia should be knowledgeable of both professions.

To get to the crux of the issue, let’s start with two basic questions:

  • What is a nurse anesthetist?
  • What is an anesthesiologist?

What is a Nurse Anesthetist? CRNA vs Anesthesiologist

A nurse anesthetist is a registered nurse or Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) who has completed a nurse anesthetist program. This type of nurse is also known as a certified registered nurse anesthetist or CNRA. These advanced practice nurses work in a variety of settings in the medical field. Examples include hospitals, doctors’ offices, and outpatient care centers. They assist surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other physicians by providing anesthesia to patients. Nurse anesthetists also provide nursing care to patients as well as pain management therapies.

What is an Anesthesiologist?

Like certified registered nurse anesthetists, anesthesiologists also provide anesthesia to patients during surgical procedures. But, they also have other responsibilities. Many anesthesiologists take on leadership roles as the head of an anesthesia care team in a hospital or outpatient facility. They often oversee the work of nurse anesthetists, anesthesiologist assistants, residents, and other healthcare professionals. They may work closely with a patient’s surgeon before, during, and after surgery to ensure the individual’s general health and recovery.

Difference Between an Anesthetist and an Anesthesiologist: Education and Training

There are several differences between certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) and anesthesiologists. But what is the major difference? One of the primary distinctions of a CRNA vs anesthesiologist lies in the education and training necessary for each career path. In this section, we’ll break down exactly how to become a CRNA.

What Is the Difference Between Nurse Anesthetists and Anesthesiologists?

How to Become an Anesthetist (vs Anesthesiologist)

If you’re thinking of becoming a nurse anesthetist, you may be wondering whether you’ll need to attend medical school. The short answer is “no.” Still, there are plenty of education and training milestones you will have to meet. Many of these go beyond an undergraduate degree. For example, an individual interested in becoming a nurse anesthetist must earn both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in nursing. He or she must also pass the NCLEX-RN exam to earn licensure as an RN. Before enrolling in CRNA school for a nurse anesthetist program, the RN must complete at least one year of clinical nursing experience in critical care. Upon completion of these requirements, the RN must complete the nurse anesthetist training through an accredited nurse anesthesia program. He or she must also pass a national certification examination to become national board certified as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA). This certification is available through the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA).

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the current entry-level requirement for a CNRA is a master’s degree. In recent years, though, there has been talk of heightening the educational standards certified registered nurse anesthetists are held to. In the year 2007, the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) made a significant recommendation. They suggested that all nurse anesthetists be required to hold a doctoral credential by the year 2025. Today, many licensed anesthetists have made the decision to return to CRNA school to pursue a doctoral degree in the field. This decision is important for CRNA students to secure their current positions for the future. Moreover, prospective anesthetists are increasingly seeking these doctoral CRNA programs before entering the field.

To meet the CRNA education requirement recommended by the AANA, aspiring nurse anesthetists have two choices. They may pursue one of the following doctoral-level credentials after earning both a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree:

  • Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice (DNAP)
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP): Nurse Anesthesia

When choosing a school and program, it’s important to consider accreditation. This factor can affect one’s ability to become professionally licensed in the field. It’s best to choose a program accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA). According to the COA, there are currently 128 such programs in the United States. This includes 112 programs available via distance education.

Doctor of Nursing Practice in Anesthesia: Curriculum and Courses

What Is the Difference Between Nurse Anesthetists and Anesthesiologists?

Whether online or in-person, doctorate programs in anesthesia require high-level coursework. This coursework includes classes in the broader field of healthcare and in the specific discipline of anesthesiology. The number of credit hours required and the length of study will depend on the student’s prior academic background. Some doctoral programs in anesthesia require applicants to hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Others admit only those who have already completed a master’s program.

To earn a doctorate in the field of nursing anesthesiology, students will be required to complete coursework relevant to their career paths. This is in addition to a predetermined number of clinical hours. Below, we’ve listed some sample course titles affiliated with current doctoral programs in the field.

Sample Courses:

  • Principles of Nurse Anesthesia Across the Lifespan
  • General Anesthesia and Healthcare Policy
  • Human Factors and Patient Safety in Healthcare
  • Evaluation and Decision Making for Health Services Programs
  • Advanced Pharmacology
  • Techniques and Technologies in Nursing Anesthesia
  • Airway Management

Clinical Component

All doctoral-level programs for nurse anesthetists feature a large clinical component in pain management. This rule ensures that graduates of these programs have the hands-on experience required to be successful in their chosen career paths. It is not uncommon for programs to require 2,000 to 3,000 hours of clinical experience before graduation. Even online doctorate in nursing anesthesiology programs have on-site clinical requirements.

Next, you’ll learn the steps required to become an anesthesiologist. You’ll see there are quite a few differences in the training required for an anesthetist vs anesthesiologist.

How to Become an Anesthesiologist

What Is the Difference Between Nurse Anesthetists and Anesthesiologists?

Becoming an anesthesiologist is a large commitment. Specifically, it requires several years of education at an accredited medical school. Unlike anesthetists, who are nurses, anesthesiologists are medical doctors. To enter an anesthesiologist program, the candidate for medical school must have both a bachelor’s and master’s credential as well as experience working in critical care or pain management. Ultimately, anesthesiologists must earn a medical degree from one of our nation’s accredited medical schools to practice medicine. Still, their chosen path can lead to either a general medical doctor (M.D.) or a doctor of osteopathic medicine (D.O.) credential.

After completing his or her degree programs, the aspiring anesthesia provider must then pass both a state and national licensing exam to earn a medical degree. Additionally, the aspiring anesthesiologist must complete a residency program through their medical school. This component of required education and training takes at least one year to complete. After residency, the anesthesiologist may focus on a specific specialty in a fellowship program. Possible specialties include obstetric anesthesiology, pediatrics, critical care, and cardiac. When all the training is completed and the candidate has graduated from medical school, he or she may earn certification through the American Board of Anesthesiology by taking a national certification exam. According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, it takes between 12 and 14 years to complete the training and educational requirements necessary to become an anesthesiologist.

Skills and Qualities Required of an Anesthetist and an Anesthesiologist

What Is the Difference Between Nurse Anesthetists and Anesthesiologists?

Many of the skills and qualities necessary for the two positions overlap. Still, there are some unique traits required for the CRNAs vs anesthesiologists and vice versa.

Traits of Successful Anesthetists (CRNAs)

There are many distinct qualities that make a successful CRNA. Many of these traits can’t be learned in a medical school degree program or CRNA programs. Here are a few:

Self-Driven But Able to Follow Directions

Anesthetists are in a unique position in the healthcare system. They have risen to the top of their professional field, but they still play a somewhat subservient role. Some CRNAs practice independently. But many also work under direct physician supervision from a licensed anesthesiologist. Precise expectations may depend on their specific roles as well as the preferences of their lead anesthesiologist. Even so, these advanced practice registered nurses must be able to perform their duties without too much oversight. At the same time, they must also be willing to provide a detailed report of their work to a superior. While it may sound fairly straightforward, this can actually be a delicate line to toe.

Detail-Oriented

Anesthetists must provide detailed accounts of their work to their lead anesthesiologists. Plus, nurse anesthetists must pay close attention to detail when administering anesthesia. A wrong move with the needle or a miscalculated dosage could have dire consequences for their patients. This is why the best nurse anesthetists are extremely serious about their work. They take care to maximize focus during their work hours.

Dependable

Nurse anesthetists are in high demand. That’s because of the growing number of people in need of surgical operations. When an anesthetist is late to work or doesn’t show up, these procedures have to be delayed or canceled. This causes problems for both patients and the medical facilities that provide the operations. Thus, it’s imperative that nurse anesthetists be reliable and keep a regular work schedule.

Qualities of Successful Anesthesiologists

What Is the Difference Between Nurse Anesthetists and Anesthesiologists?

Successful anesthesiologists come with various strengths and weaknesses, but some qualities are crucial. Many of these important traits have to be learned through experience, not from medical school. Here are a few of those vital characteristics:

Bedside Manner

As the head of an anesthesia care team, it’s usually up to the anesthesiologist to speak to patients before a procedure. He or she is often tasked with educating the patient. For example, the patient will want to know what to expect when the anesthesia is administered and the operation or medical procedure has begun. Effective anesthesiologists are able to put patients’ fears and concerns at rest before undergoing anesthesia. This requires a calm demeanor and the excellent bedside manner characteristic of all good doctors.

Leadership Skills

Administering anesthesia before a surgical operation may be the first task associated with anesthesiologists. But their duties are actually two-fold. Besides providing patient care, anesthesiologists often take on leadership roles within larger anesthesia care teams. In these roles, anesthesiologists may be required to train nurse anesthetists or anesthesiologist assistants on new procedures. They may also be called on to conduct job performance reviews, and give constructive feedback to other members of the care team.

Good Under Pressure

Like surgeons, anesthesiologists must be able to perform well under pressure. That’s because there are many things that can go wrong during a procedure or operation that requires anesthesia. When a problem does arise, anesthesiologists must be able to remain calm and focused. With pressure mounting, they must be able to watch for the slightest changes in a patient’s vital signs and alter the dose of anesthesia if necessary. Doing so requires incredible skill and clarity of mind.

Career Outlook & Wage Potential for Nurse Anesthetists vs. Anesthesiologists

Maybe you’re convinced you want to work in anesthesia, but you’re on the fence about whether to become an anesthetist or anesthesiologist. If so, take notice. The following information about job prospects and pay may help you make your decision.

What Is the Difference Between Nurse Anesthetists and Anesthesiologists?

Job Prospects for Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) and Anesthesiologists

We’d like to say that both CRNAs and anesthesiologists are in high demand. This simply isn’t the case, though. Unfortunately, only nurse anesthetists will see an increase in job opportunities over the next decade. This is according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Between the years 2020 and 2030, employment prospects for qualified nurse anesthetists will expand by 13 percent. This growth will result in approximately 5,600 new jobs for nurses trained in the proper administration of anesthesia through a CRNA program. Why are jobs in this particular field growing? As the demand for better healthcare services increases, so too does the need for medical professionals with skills in the operating room.

Interestingly, this demand does not transfer to the role of an anesthesiologist, though. The BLS reports that over this same timeframe (i.e., 2020-2030), job prospects for these types of physicians will remain stagnant. Any new openings will contribute to negligible growth for the specialty. According to the BLS, this sluggish market for anesthesiologists can be attributed to advancements in medical technology. These advances make tasks more streamlined. Essentially, they enable anesthesiologists to care for more patients in less time. It could also be explained by the increased demand for nurse anesthetists. After all, anesthetists can perform many of the same tasks at a lesser cost to the hospitals they work for.

Average Salary and Wages for Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) and Anesthesiologists

What Is the Difference Between Nurse Anesthetists and Anesthesiologists?

In terms of job outlook, nurse anesthetists are in higher demand right now than anesthesiologists. But, anesthesiologists make significantly more than anesthetists. Still, both types of health care professionals earn good wages. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurse anesthetists made approximately $195,610 on average in May 2021. Anesthesiologists made an average salary of over $331,000 that same year. That’s a difference of roughly $135,000 annually. Plus, anesthesiologists are the highest-paid type of medical doctors in the United States. Even so, anesthesiologists have to pay for medical school whereas CRNAs do not.

Choosing a career as a medical professional can be demanding, challenging, and yet very rewarding. Whether you choose to pursue employment as nurse anesthetists or anesthesiologists is a personal decision. Either way, those who choose to be part of a surgical team often find their careers entail some very exciting and lucrative work.

Frequently-Asked Questions About Nurse Anesthetists vs. Anesthesiologists

Q: Who makes more—a nurse anesthetist or an anesthesiologist?

A: Anesthesiologists make significantly more than nurse anesthetists. But both professions are highly lucrative. Plus, anesthesiologists must foot the bill for medical school.

Q: Will I have better job prospects as a nurse anesthetist or anesthesiologist?

A: Right now, nurse anesthetists have better job prospects. This occupation is currently growing much faster than average. Growth projections for anesthesiologists over the next decade are negligible.

Q: Are anesthetists medical doctors?

A: No. Nurse anesthetists increasingly need a doctoral credential for employment. This is in addition to their registered nurse license. Yet, they do not need to attend medical school, and they are not considered medical doctors. Instead, they are classified as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs).

Q: Does it take longer to become an anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist?

A: Both career paths require a significant investment of study time. But, it does take several years longer to complete medical school and become an anesthesiologist.

Q: Does an anesthetist and an anesthesiologist perform the same duties?

A: Yes and no. Both types of healthcare professionals administer anesthesia. But, anesthesiologists have more management and supervisory responsibilities.

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