Although many simple surgical procedures can be performed under local anesthetics, the majority require an anesthesiologist or a nurse anesthetist to provide general anesthetic. Anesthesiologists are fully-trained medical doctors, with special expertise in anesthesia and respiratory issues. Nurse anesthetists are experienced registered nurses, who have taken a graduate degree in anesthesia. Both are capable of providing anesthesia services during surgery, and both are well compensated for their efforts. Nurse anesthetists are among the highest-paid of all nurses, with salaries approaching doctor-like levels.
AANA 2009 Survey
The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists performed a detailed survey of members' salaries in 2009, releasing their results the following year. At that time, respondents reported an average salary of $182,000 per year for Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, or CRNAs. The lowest-paid 25 percent reported salaries of $150,000 or less, while the top 25 percent earned $218,000 or more. At the 90th percentile, respondents reported salaries of $250,000 or more. The survey reported a median income of $180,000 per year, just slightly lower than the average.
A report issued the same year by medical recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins reported an average salary offer of $189,000 per year for CRNAs, with a low of $125,000 and a high of $250,000. More recently, a 2012 salary survey from staffing firm Locum Tenens reported an average salary of $167,607 per year for CRNAs. The American Medical Group Association's 2012 survey of member companies' employees reported a median salary of $170,465 per year for nurse anesthetists. Although these numbers vary, they're consistently high in comparison to other nurse salaries.
CRNA vs. RN
The salaries of CRNAs are much higher than the figures for registered nurses in general. For example, the average yearly salary for a registered nurse in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2011 figures was $69,110, or $113,000 less than the AANA's figure for anesthetists. Registered nurses at the 25th percentile earned up to $53,770 per year, while their colleagues at the 75th percentile earned $80,390 or more. The top 10 percent of registered nurses reported incomes of $96,630 or more. The 2012 AMGA study showed median incomes of $103,373 for nurse midwives and $96,372 for nurse practitioners, two other groups of advanced practice nurses.
CRNA vs. Physician
A more interesting comparison pits nurse anesthetists' salaries against those of physicians and other providers. A 2011 special issue of "Modern Healthcare" magazine reviewed physician salary surveys, collecting and comparing their results. The average incomes reported for family physicians ranged from $162,908 to $221,196, very similar to the range reported for CRNAs in the AANA survey. Average salaries for internists were as low as $188,500 or as high as $236,544 per year, and pediatricians averaged $161,732 to $229,041. Overall, the salaries of nurse anesthetists compare well with those of doctors in primary-care specialties.