Raising the Bar in CRNA Education: What the 2025 Deadline Means
With increasing complexity in cases, the demand for advanced education among nurse anesthetists has increased. By 2025, all new Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) will need to hold a doctorate degree. Francis Gerbasi, Ph.D., CRNA, CEO of the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs, states that other healthcare professions such as pharmacy and physical therapy have already shifted towards requiring practice doctoral degrees.
A Doctorate Degree for Entry CRNAs
This trend towards advanced education for nurse anesthetists began in 2004 when the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) published a position statement advising its member colleges to transition to the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. Joan Stanley, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, CRNP, CNL, chief academic officer at AACN, states that this move was necessary due to the growing complexity and knowledge within healthcare.
In 2007, the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) approved a position statement mandating that entry into the CRNA profession must be a doctorate by 2025, although the type of doctoral degree was not specified. To support this, the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA) voted to require nurse anesthesia educational programs to transition to a doctoral framework in 2009, with 91 of the 121 accredited programs approved to grant doctoral degrees.
The two doctoral degrees approved by the COA for entry-into-practice nurse anesthesia programs are the DNP and the Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice (DNAP). The minimum length for these programs is 36 months and requires full-time enrollment, although some programs may allow student registered nurse anesthetists (SRNAs) to work part-time as registered nurses.
What Degree Do Current CRNAs Need?
Current CRNAs are not required to return to school to obtain a doctorate, but Gerbasi notes that early career CRNAs may want to pursue a doctorate to stay competitive and to meet potential future regulatory requirements. 24 educational programs in the US currently offer a CRNA completion degree for nurse anesthetists with a master’s degree, with much of the education being delivered through distance learning.
Will the Doctorate Change CRNA Jobs?
Gerbasi reports that there has been a steady increase in the number of nurse anesthesia programs and graduates over the past decade, with 121 programs graduating approximately 2,500 CRNAs. AACN did not advise certified and licensed nurse practitioners (NPs) to go back to school for a doctorate, but many NPs have still enrolled in post-master’s DNP programs or BSN-to-DNP programs.
The COA surveys nurse anesthesia programs annually and reports that on average, all of their graduates are employed within 6 months of program completion as CRNAs, with an average annual salary of $180,000. The job market for nurse anesthetists is strong.
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