Pharmacists Vs. CRNAs

A CRNA is sometimes called a nurse anesthetist.

Whether you’re looking for a career change or just starting out, health care careers show every sign of being relatively recession-proof. Employment of pharmacists, for example, is slated to climb 25 percent between 2010 and 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Certified registered nurse anesthetists, or CRNAs, often step in when anesthesiologists are in short supply, especially in rural areas. The Rand Corporation, a research group, expects a shortage of almost 4,500 anesthesiologists by 2020. Many of those positions may be filled by CRNAs.


Pharmacists spend their days filling prescriptions while CRNAs spend their days in operating rooms or post anesthesia recovery, but both are highly educated professionals who make good wages. The average annual salary of a pharmacist in 2011 was $112,160, according to the BLS. Becker’s Hospital Review reports that CRNA salaries in 2011 were considerably higher, at nearly $169,000 annually. Salaries can be affected by experience, longevity with an organization and geographic location. Gender can also affect salaries for CRNAs -- men made about $11,000 more in 2011 than women, according to Becker’s Hospital Review.


If you want to be either a pharmacist or a CRNA, better buckle down to the books. Pharmacists need a doctorate, or Pharm.D, which takes at least three years of undergraduate study, four years at a college of pharmacy and may take an additional one or two years in a residency. Clinical pharmacists and research pharmacists are most likely to need a residency. A CRNA needs at least a master’s degree, but no master’s programs will be accredited after 2015, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, and programs will only offer doctorates by 2022. Since RNs can obtain a license with a two-year associate degree, three-year diploma or four-year baccalaureate degree, becoming a CRNA can take as long as 10 years if you take the doctorate path.


A pharmacist’s primary role is to dispense medications, but pharmacists perform a number of other duties, many of which are focused on medication safety. The pharmacist must make sure a patient has no allergies to the medications a doctor prescribes, educate the patient about side effects or food interactions and make sure there won’t be any medication interactions with a new prescription. CRNAs have two main responsibilities -- giving anesthesia and managing pain. Again, patient safety is the primary goal, and a CRNA performs a careful assessment for potential complications, adjusts the dose or type of anesthesia to the individual patient and manages anesthesia side effects.

Other Skills

Although a CRNA’s patients spend much of their time asleep, both professionals should like helping and working with people. Good customer service skills and the ability to build rapport are valuable characteristics. Attention to detail is critical -- there’s a big difference between 1 milligram of a medication and 1 gram of a medication -- the latter can be lethal. Both must be able to put complex medical terms into layperson’s language and have the patience to explain things more than once to make sure a patient understands.

2016 Salary Information for Pharmacists

Pharmacists earned a median annual salary of $122,230 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, pharmacists earned a 25th percentile salary of $109,400, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $138,920, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 312,500 people were employed in the U.S. as pharmacists.

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