A CRNA Vs. a Physician

Anesthesia may be given by a doctor or a specially trained nurse called a certified registered nurse anesthetist.
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Advanced practice nurses have a great deal in common with physicians. Both prescribe medications, diagnose and treat diseases and injuries and order laboratory as well as other diagnostic tests. Certified registered nurse anesthetists are advanced practice nurses who are most similar to anesthesiologists, and they may be doctors of nursing as well. It can be pretty difficult to determine the difference between these nurses and a doctor such as an anesthesiologist because what they do is so similar.


    The usual educational path for a physician is college, medical school, residency and in some cases, a specialty fellowship. A physician’s education may take 12 years from start to finish. Nurses, however, can begin to practice with a two-year associate’s degree, and some may work as staff nurses while going on for further education as a CRNA. In fact, a nurse cannot enter a CRNA program until she has had at least one year of practice as an RN in an acute care setting such as a hospital, according to MinorityNurse.com. Most CRNA training programs are two to three years long.

Nursing Doctorate in Anesthesia

    The minimum education for an advanced practice nurse is a master’s degree, but some go on for a doctorate in nursing. Although they are entitled to be called “doctor” they are not medical doctors as physicians are. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists Council on Accreditation has mandated that CRNA master’s programs must transition to doctorate preparation by 2022, and that by 2025, all new CRNA graduates must have a doctorate to become certified.

Physician Specialties and Practice Settings

    Physicians may specialize in a variety of areas. They may go into internal medicine, surgery, family practice, pediatrics, orthopedics, geriatrics, and of course, anesthesiology. Physicians may have more options in terms of work settings than a CRNA, who usually works in a hospital, outpatient surgery center or doctor’s office. Physicians may work in any of those places, as well as clinics, private practice and health departments.

About CRNAs

    Like anesthesiologists, CRNAs administer anesthesia during surgery or diagnostic procedures, manage acute and chronic pain and manage pain in women during labor and delivery. CRNAs give 65 percent of all anesthesia in the United States, according to MinorityNurse.com, and almost 70 percent of rural hospitals use CRNAs. They are certified in nursing anesthesia and must recertify every two years. A CRNA generally needs a consulting physician to practice.


    Some physician salaries are comparable to that of a CRNA. According to Becker’s Hospital Review, CRNAs had an average salary of $169,000 in 2011. Anesthesiologists, the physician specialty closest to CRNAs, earned an average of $234,950 in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Family and general practitioners earned $177,330, according to the BLS, while internists earned $189,210 and surgeons earned $231,550. Pediatricians came closest to CRNAs in terms of salary, with an average annual salary of $168,650.

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