Nurse anesthetists, in one of the four main advanced practice nursing (APRN) roles, administer anesthesia to patients and care for them before and after medical procedures. Students who wish to become nurse anesthetists first become registered nurses through an entry-level nursing program, leading to either a diploma, an associate degree or a bachelor's degree. Any further specialization occurs through work experience and graduate-level education, including the Master of Science in nursing required for all APRNs. The education and work experience required pays off: As of May 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nurse anesthetists made an average of $154,390 annually.
High School Courses
Since nursing training begins at the postsecondary level, there are no required high school courses to become a nurse anesthetist. High school students interested in the field can prepare for later coursework by taking advanced science courses in biology, chemistry, anatomy and related topics. Any relevant volunteer opportunities, job shadowing or work experience, such as at a local hospital or health clinic, can give students some background into the realities of daily nursing work.
Entry Level Nursing Courses
All introductory nursing programs require students to take science courses such as microbiology, anatomy and physiology, and complete clinical rotations through various medical departments. Students also learn nursing skills through classes on mental health treatment, family care, population-focused nursing, pharmacology and related topics. A Bachelor's of Science in nursing provides added training in critical analysis, leadership and communication skills and is a prerequisite to earning an MSN.
Graduate Nurse Anesthetist Programs
RNs who have a BSN, an active license and at least one year of work experience can apply to master's-level nursing programs, which lead to eligibility to work as an APRN. RNs who hold a diploma or an associate degree but wish to pursue a nurse anesthetist position can take advantage of degree completion programs, usually referred to as RN-to-MSN tracks. Another graduate-level option that is increasing in both availability and popularity is the Doctor of Nursing Practice. Though an MSN is generally the minimum requirement to become an APRN, many states and employers feel that the DNP provides better preparation for the complex demands of the role.
Graduate Nurse Anesthetist Courses
No matter the degree type, graduate work in the field of nurse anesthesia involves a combination of clinical work and classroom time. Nurse anesthesia students cover general topics necessary for all advanced nursing roles -- such as nursing research, nutrition, and health statistics -- as well as topics particular to their specialty, including chemistry of anesthesia, pharmacology of anesthesia, pediatric anesthesia and obstetrical anesthesia. Programs may have a minimum number of required residency or practicum hours in the field. There are 113 accredited nurse anesthesia programs in the U.S., according to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists.