You like being an RN so well that you’ve decided you want to become an anesthesiologist. It’s a big jump in many ways -- education, the time commitment, scope of practice, level of responsibility and money are all considerations. Even if you’re an advanced practiced nurse who administers anesthesia, formally known as a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), it’s likely to be a long and winding road.
RNs can sit for the licensure exam with one of three educational credentials: a nursing diploma, an associate's degree or a bachelor’s degree. Doctors, however, need four years of college, four years of medical school, and -- for anesthesia -- a minimum of four years in residency. In medical school you can expect to study such topics as neurosciences, microbiology, pathology and physiology. You'll delve into clinical psychiatry and behavioral medicine, human anatomy, genetics, clinical ethics, biochemistry, pharmacology, and human development. At the end of your first two years in school, you'll take the United States Medical Licensing Exam in order to go on to the third year. In the third and four years of medical school, you'll begin to spend time in the clinical areas, covering all sorts of topics that prepare you for a career in medicine.
Residency is where you'll really begin to put the pieces together as you take on clinical responsibilities and learn how to administer anesthesia. You'll learn to care for patients who have serious medical conditions and to manage them through the course of surgery as well as postoperatively. Anesthesia is an equipment-intensive specialty, so you'll learn how to use intubation equipment, perform infusions and manage complex anesthesia machinery. Seasoned anesthesiologists and clinical instructors will guide you through the process as you study different types of anesthesia and medications.
There’s a reason the average medical school graduate has $158,000 in debt by the time she graduates, according to a July 2012 article in “Anesthesia and Analgesia.” It takes big bucks to go to medical school, and it may not be something you can do while continuing to work as an RN, although the article does note you could moonlight as a physician. Medical school tuition can be as high as $54,000 or more a year at a private college, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges. Even public school can run as much as $44,000 a year, and that doesn’t include living expenses.
CRNAs have an expanded scope of practice that includes anesthesia administration. Although a CRNA might have a doctorate in nursing, she is not a medical doctor. To become an anesthesiologist, even the CRNA will have to go back to school. She should be able to skip college, as she already holds a minimum of a master’s degree, which is required in all states. She’ll still have to complete medical school and residency, however -- no getting around that educational requirement. She does, however, have the advantage of being familiar with anesthesia equipment, techniques, and medicines, which will help her through the process of medical school and residency.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Registered Nurses
- Anesthesia Zone: General Information on Anesthesiologists
- Anesthesia and Analgesia: Anesthesiology Residents' Medical School Debt Influence On Moonlighting Activities, Work Environment Choice, and Debt Repayment Programs: A Nationwide Survey
- American Association of Medical Colleges: Private Medical Schools - Tuition and Fees First Year Medical Students 2012-2013
- American Association of Medical Colleges: Public Medical Schools - Tuition and Fees First Year Medical Students 2012-2013
- American Association of Nurse Anesthetists: Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists at a Glance
- Peterson's: A Brief Synopsis of Medical School - Medical School Requirements
- Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai: Program Overview
- Keith Brofsky/Photodisc/Getty Images