Journal of Nursing

Why Nurse Anesthetists Earn Over $150,000 A Year


Turns out doctors aren't the only medical professionals bringing home fat paychecks. Nurse anesthetists make a whopping $157,690 per year, on average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

We first discovered this while compiling our recent list of the 13 highest-paying jobs for people who don't want to sit at a desk all day. Nurse anesthetist, a job in which people safely put patients to sleep for surgery — and one that most of us know very little about, ranked second.

To learn more, we spoke with Brian Del Grosso, a nurse anesthetist at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, about his day-to-day routine, how he became a nurse anesthetist, and what differentiates his work from the even more lucrative job of anesthesiologist (average annual salary: $235,070).

Del Grosso said that patients put their lives in his hands every day, a fact that makes the nurse anesthetist job valuable on the marketplace, fulfilling for its practitioners, and at times, extremely stressful.

"If something's going bad, we're going to be one of the first ones to know," Del Grosso says. "It's an incredible responsibility."

On a typical day, he meets with anywhere between one and 10 patients prior to their surgeries to gauge how they are feeling and determine which anesthesia drugs to apply and in what doses. He also meets with the patients' families to provide emotional support.

Of course, he's also responsible for administering anesthesia, a process that can take place before, during, or after surgery. Alongside the surgeon, Del Grosso stays in the operating room for the entire procedure, monitoring the patient's vital signs and making sure they are responding to the anesthetics appropriately.

As a result, Del Grosso says, his is a profession best suited for people with "type-A personalities" who are capable of paying attention to details and thinking on their feet. In fact, he says a good nurse anesthetist develops a sort of sixth sense that allows them to immediately infer that something's not right with the patient simply from hearing a heart tone on a monitor.

"You need to be highly motivated, highly educated, and extremely detail-oriented — and on top of that you need to be extremely personable," he says. "You have anywhere from 5-15 minutes to get to know your patient such that they are willing to entrust their lives to you."

Prior to beginning his current job in Charlotte in 2010, Del Grosso completed more than nine years of study: four years getting a bachelor's degree in nursing from Northeastern University, three years of critical care training in the intensive care unit at Boston Medical Center, and nearly two and a half years getting his master's in nurse anesthesia at Northeastern University/Tufts Medical Center.

As an undergraduate, he'd been waffling between going to medical school and becoming a chiropractor until an experience accompanying his sick father to surgery made an impact on him. There, he was struck by the way the nurse anesthetist took time to sit down with his father and explain the process he was about to undergo.

"That compassion really stuck out to me, and I decided to ask a little about the nurse anesthetist job and what I needed to do to become one," Del Grosso said.

It's this level of commitment that makes nurse anesthetists so upset when they are unfavorably compared to anesthesiologists, a group of doctors who perform many of the same functions but have completed four years of medical school and a four-year hospital residency on top of their undergraduate degrees.

Tensions between the two professions have grown as states consider whether to eliminate laws requiring supervision from physicians as a means of reducing health care costs. While anesthesiologists say the process is safer when there's a physician involved, nurse anesthetists point to a recent study finding that the care they provide is just as good.

"It's hard when you have a job you love and someone you don't even know is saying they could do your job better," Del Grosso says, adding that both physicians and nurses provide great anesthesia care.

Otherwise, the hardest part of his job is emotional drain caused by the relationships he develops with patients, many of whom are sick and suffering.

But while these relationships, combined with the stress of high-pressure surgery situations, can be taxing, Del Grosso says they are also the best part of the job.

"It's extremely gratifying to walk up to a patient’s family after a procedure and say, 'Hey the patient did great after the anesthesia we gave' and to see the family relieved like they've had a weight taken off their shoulders," he says. "Every day I know that I have to be on my toes and if I'm off at all, I could harm somebody's loved one. So I love having the knowledge and the know-how, and facing those challenges every day."


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Editor-in Chief:
Kirsten Nicole

Editorial Staff:
Kirsten Nicole
Stan Kenyon
Robyn Bowman
Kimberly McNabb
Lisa Gordon
Stephanie Robinson

Kirsten Nicole
Stan Kenyon
Liz Di Bernardo
Cris Lobato
Elisa Howard
Susan Cramer