Becoming a CRNA was my career goal that I’ve had since I began nursing school.  I graduated with my fingers crossed, hoping I’d get hired in a CVICU and I did!  From there I had my goal in mind, and pressed on.  It was wonderful making money, only working 3 days a week, but I wanted more out of my career and my life so it was essential that I made my dream a reality.

Getting into CRNA school wasn’t easy, however it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. For those already in critical care, here’s what I recommend to get you on track to becoming a Nurse Anesthetist.

1. SHADOW!

I cannot stress this enough.  Although being a CRNA may sound great, it’s definitely not for everyone.  I’m a firm believer in doing things that you love and not for the money.  While the paycheck will be fabulous, I can’t imagine waking up every morning doing something I hate, just to have a more cushioned lifestyle.  It’s important that you shadow, and shadow enough to see if it’s a great career fit or not.  I shadowed about 20-30 hours before I even applied to school to make sure this career was actually for me.  Some people think that it’s boring, the OR is too cold, and they need more excitement.  Myself, on the other hand, loved the adrenaline rush I felt while I was merely watching a difficult intubation.

I shadowed CRNAs in labor and delivery, outpatient, and general surgery. It is good to get a diverse look at the career, as different areas have different roles for the CRNAs and some are definitely more interesting than others.  It is also important to keep in mind how the practice is set up.  Some places have an Anesthesiologist in the OR at all times, at other facilities, they’re only there for the intubation and check back periodically.  CRNAs may not even be employed by the hospital but by the Anesthesiologists.  Ask those questions when you shadow and don’t assume the structure is the same everywhere you go.

When you finally decide to shadow it is beneficial to brush up on your critical care knowledge. Know your vasopressors/inotropes, basic anesthetics and ventilation management.  I used Bojar’s Manual of Perioperative Care in Adult Cardiac Surgery  and Duke’s Anesthesia Secrets, 5e to prepare for shadowing and for my interview. A good CRNA will quiz you and won’t let you sit back and relax the entire time.  Grab some gloves, get involved, and ASK QUESTIONS (even the “stupid ones”).  Many schools require that you get a recommendation from the person you shadowed even if it’s only for an 8-hour day.  It’s your job to utilize those few hours to make a lasting impression to get a good recommendation.

2. GET IT TOGETHER!

I’m assuming you know what schools you’ll like to attend.  I only applied to one. Yup, just one! I threw all my  eggs in one basket but there was a specific reason why.  I didn’t want to move away from my family, so I made it my mission to get accepted, or I was going to wait until I was ready to move elsewhere.

This is a general overview of the basic admission requirements, and what stats I had when I applied:

  1. Your BSN or MSN and respective nursing license in good standing
  2. A great GPA to back that thang up! (>3.0, 3.5 for some schools)
  3. GRE or MAT*
  4. Organic Chemistry*
  5. 1-2 year minimum experience in critical care (specialties vary, but I highly recommend a CVICU)
  6. ACLS/BLS/PALS
  7. CCRN
  8. Recommendation Letters (number may vary, but it’s usually 3)
  9. Personal Essay
  10. Resume or CV
  11. Transcripts of all colleges attended
  12. Application & Fee (varies)

Through research I learned that some schools may require a background test and drug screening as well.

*some schools don’t require this

These were my stats at the time of my application:

  • ~ 2 years of nursing experience in the CVICU at a level 1 trauma center
  • 3.8 overall undergraduate GPA
  • 306 GRE (decent, but not a great score. I used MAGOOSH to prepare.)
    • Verbal: 149
    • Quant: 152
    • Writing: 4.5
    • Recommendation letters from:
  • Current Nurse Manager
  • Assistant Dean of my Nursing School (we were basically BFFs )
  • CRNA that I shadowed and was also a graduate of the school I applied to (brownie points)!
  • ACLS/BLS
    • I did not get PALS because I had to pay for it out-of-pocket and it was not required for admission. *Update, I finally got my PALS a week before clinicals started*
  • CCRN and CSC
    • The CSC is the cardiac surgery subspecialty certification that is offered through the AACN.  I wanted to have one more thing that would make me stand out from other applicants and also help me in clinical practice.  If you are in a CTICU/CVICU I would highly recommend that you get your CCRN and CSC prior to starting school.
  • Essay
    • Make sure you follow the guidelines for the essay.  If they give you a set number of questions to answer, make sure you discuss them all. If they say it can be no longer than 2 pages or 600 words, don’t send them a 5 page essay!  You don’t want to get your application tossed in the trash! Also, after you’ve written your essay, read it aloud, then have two to three more people read your essay.  It’s beneficial to have a lot of input to ensure that your essay meets the requirements and doesn’t have any silly typos!
  • Application
    • A year prior to applying, I logged into the application system and printed out the application so I knew what questions they would ask.  Know your license #, expiration dates of your certifications, reference names/numbers, extracurricular activities and skills. I scanned all of my certifications/licenses/transcripts (using my Doxie scanner) and saved them as .pdf files into a dedicated “CRNA Application” folder on my computer.  This saved me a lot of time when I applied because all I had to do was copy & paste my information into the system. My school had rolling admissions so it was imperative that I got my application in as soon as the application opened.

3. PLAN!

Going to CRNA school will take away your social life and important time with your family.  Be sure to discuss this with your significant other (if you have one) and family members to make sure you have a great support system that will understand why they basically won’t see you for the next 2-3 years.

In addition to that, it’s important to have a solid financial plan PRIOR to applying for school.  CRNA school is not cheap and it will be very difficult for you to work after those first few semesters.  If it’s all loans or not, make sure you won’t put yourself or your family in a financial crisis.  No one wants to eat ramen for 3 years straight…this isn’t undergrad!

4. INTERVIEW PREP!

Don’t wait until you receive an invitation to interview to start preparing.  Once you have your GRE, CCRN and application tackled, it is time to start preparing for your interview. Having the information fresh from your CCRN is extremely helpful, so don’t delay.  I’ll be posting about my interview experience and useful tips soon!

Thanks for reading!