When it comes time to choose a career path or shift occupations, one of the top considerations is financial. Will this career provide the income I desire? Is it worth the investment of time and money to get the education I need? The same questions apply to the medical field, specifically the job of a CRNA.
We may be drawn to jobs like that of doctors, nurse anesthetists, and other medical professionals because of their lucrative salaries. But the path to receiving these high-paying positions is comprised of expensive tuition, lost wages while in school plus delayed higher earnings. Is it financially worthwhile to become a CRNA today? Let’s look at the details.
What Are the Costs Associated with Becoming a CRNA?
First, we need to get an idea of what it takes to become a CRNA. In addition to an undergraduate degree in nursing, you will also need a Master of Science in Nursing, and by 2025, all CRNA graduates will be required to earn doctoral degrees as well. Currently, most nurse anesthesia programs range between twenty-four and forty-two months, and each year of tuition typically costs between $40,000 and $60,000.
What does this mean for you? Let’s say a CRNA education takes about two and a half years to complete and costs $50,000 a year. Along with your degree, you’ll also need to pass the certification exam, which costs an additional $725. This means you will pay around $125,000 for your graduate-level education. Once the DNP/DNAP is required, expect to add on an additional six months to a year of tuition costs. You should also factor in the cost of student loans. With today’s average interest rate of 4.45% for federal student loans and 7.81% for private loans, on a 20 year loan you could easily amass over $120,000 just in additional interest! 
While you’re completing your CRNA education, you will also miss out on two and a half years of full-time earned income. Since CRNAs must practice as RNs for at least a year before attending anesthesia school, let’s use the Bureau of Labor statistics for average RN salaries - $73,550.  Over the course of two and a half years, this amounts to $183,875 in lost wages. For many students these lost wages translate into higher student loan debt, since they still need to finance monthly living expenses while pursuing their education. This can easily bring the total student loan debt to $200,000 or more (before interest), especially if you have student loans remaining from your undergraduate degree.
What’s Your Return on Investment?
So, now that you’ve got a good understanding of the costs associated with becoming a CRNA, let’s look at the benefits. To understand your return on investment, let’s compare the average income of an RN and a CRNA. As we stated above, the average annual RN salary is $73,550. In comparison, the average annual salary for a CRNA is $169,450. This means a CRNA earns almost $100,000 more each year than an RN.
Assuming your CRNA salary is close to the national average, you’ll earn around $14,000 per month. After federal taxes (let’s say 24%), your monthly income drops to around $10,640. To repay a $200,000 student loan (at a 7.81% interest rate) within 20 years, your monthly payment would be around $1,650 per month. However, this still means your monthly income after your loan payment is right around $9,000 — considerably higher than the average RNs income of $6,129 per month before taxes.
Minimizing Debt and Taxes
The income factor might be enough to draw you in, but are the initial lost wages, student debt and tax burden worth it? Fortunately, there are strategies to help manage your debt and legally minimize taxes. If you create a budget, stay on top of credit card bills, and avoid additional debt, you might be able to pay off your debt faster, which will save you money in the long run.
There are also a variety of strategies available for reducing your adjusted gross income (AGI) and, as a result, reducing the amount of taxes you owe. Some of these strategies include claiming eligible tax credits and exemptions (such as the Education Credit and Lifetime Learning Credit), deducting eligible business expenses (if you work as a freelance CRNA), and contributing to tax-qualified retirement accounts.
Although tuition costs and certification fees add up quickly, CRNAs have a great opportunity to secure a high-paying salary in an important field. Job opportunities for CRNAs are expected to grow much faster than average over the next decade — 31% for CRNAs compared to 11% for all occupations.
Is A CRNA Career Right For You?
If you are interested in a CRNA career, don’t let the numbers throw you off. By working with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner who specializes in serving the unique needs and circumstances of CRNAs, you can implement strategies to help you build and preserve your hard-earned wealth in a tax-efficient manner. Do you have questions? Schedule a free 15-minute introductory phone call now!
About Jeremy Stanley
Jeremy Stanley is the founder of CRNA Financial Planning®. He has been providing advice and guidance for Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) for over two decades. As a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, Jeremy has met rigorous certification and professional standards set by the CFP® Board. He is committed to adhering to the principles of integrity, objectivity, competence, fairness, confidentiality, professionalism and diligence when dealing with clients.
Jeremy is also the author of The Wealthy CRNA and A CRNA’s Life After Anesthesia. The Wealthy CRNA features insights into becoming a financially successful CRNA and how to start planning for your financial future, and has been prior approved for up to 4 Class A CE credits by the AANA. A CRNA’s Life After Anesthesia serves as your financial roadmap for a smooth emergence into retirement. It reviews recent changes in the CRNA industry along with the new rules of retirement and the final steps of legacy planning. This book has been prior approved by the AANA for up to 2 Class A CE credits.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.
 Assumes a $125,000 loan at 7.8% interest over a 20 year period