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How To Become A Highly Qualified Candidate For CRNA School

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I.C.U. Dreaming About Anesthesia has 11 years experience and specializes in Nurse Anesthetist, CRNA.

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How to become a highly qualified candidate for CRNA School.

1)Graduate from an accredited BSN program. It doesn’t matter how you obtain your BSN but be wary of pass fail programs because they will hurt your GPA. If you already have your MSN you can still go back for CRNA. Hopefully some of your graduate course work will transfer! Keep in mind that your ADN GPA will matter more than your BSN GPA because your ADN has a lot of your core sciences. For example, if you get a 3.0 in your ADN but a 4.0 in your BSN and your average is a 3.5. You might think you are good but then fail to get an interview. It is because they look at your science GPA from your ADN which would not meet the minimum to apply (3.0), or it isn’t competitive enough. I have met a wide variety of CRNA’s with various educational backgrounds, dentistry, EMT, business, accounting, NP, military, just to name a few. So no matter how you obtain your BSN just focus on your GPA as much as possible especially your core sciences.

2)Keep good grades. To be considered competitive for CRNA school you should aim to have a 3.5 or higher. Keep in mind that a lower GPA will still be considered because they look at the candidate as a whole, however there are necessary steps you need to take to be competitive with a lower GPA. Keep in mind that they will look at your core science GPA, like Chemistry, A&P, micro-bio etc... all schools are little different on how they figure out over all GPA. Some only consider your BSN or the last 60 credits along with core sciences and yet others combine all grades(all degrees) to figure over all GPA. Some even look at high school GPA and ACT/SAT scores. Rejection is common regarding lower GPA, so be willing to apply to multiple schools and to go the extra mile to make up for less competitive GPA by retaking courses &/or graduate level courses. Be aware that science grades have to be within the last 5-10 years depending on the school. Another thing to keep in mind is some schools limit how many times you can interview/apply, (two times seems to be the max at schools that set a limit). This is why it is important to reach out and get guidance prior to applying.

3)Obtain critical care experience as a RN, ideally 3-5 years to be competitive. You should always shoot for a level 1 adult ICU (not ER). However in areas that this is not possible a level 2 can still be competitive. If you do not want to work in an adult ICU know that you may struggle more finding a school that will accept your experience but some will accept NICU/PICU/ER. Also note that a lot of schools only require 1-2 years at minimum for ICU experience but to be competitive aim for more than the minimum. Something to make note of is that schools view ICU experience greater than 5 years to potentially hinder your ability to be a “teachable” student again. Do not let this intimidate you but go into the application and interview knowing that you need to make it clear that you are ready and able to be be a novice again. It also helps to have taken a recent graduate level course in which you get an A in, to provide proof that you are ready academically to be a student once again. If you do not have a level I or II hospital near you consider commuting to get this experience. Remember where your program of choice is located, if the school is near a level one hospital you will be competing with those applicants. REMEMBER QUALITY OVER QUANTITY IN MOST CASES!

4)Be a leader in your community, get involved. Seek out learning opportunities, It will help give you a competitive edge. Get extra certifications, (CCRN at minimum even it is not required), be involved in a unit leadership committee, precept students, volunteer or offer to work on a research project with your unit’s CNS.

5)Job Shadow. Do this as much as possible. I think a competitive candidate on average spends 40 hours or more shadowing. Even if they school only recommendations shadowing experience, still DO IT! I have known programs to turn away highly qualified candidates simply because they did not take the time to shadow a CRNA. They want to see you have put a lot of thought into pursuing anesthesia and that you have taken the time to make sure this a career you will thrive in. It can be hard to get this experience, I encourage you to continue to start with your current hospital of employment and if that does not work then reach out to local hospitals or surgery centers. If you still can not find an experience call your program and ask for recommendations.

6)GRE/CCRN. Most schools will require one or the other or even both. If the schools say GRE but do not give you a score, know that to be competitive you need a score of 300 or greater with a 3.5-4 on writing. Some schools will state the minimum GRE to be 290-300, know that getting a 290 or 300 is equivalent to just having a 3.0 GPA in the realm of being competitive, so always aim for more than their minimum. Most schools do not look at CCRN scores but some do, it never hurts to find this information out, you can even use it to your advantage on your resume if you did score high. Lastly, If you have a 3.4 GPA or less having a good GRE score can help admission committees look past this shortcoming. Some schools will require GRE from students with a lower GPA, and even if they don’t, it wouldn’t hurt to take the test as long as you are prepared to do well on it (Only if you have exhausted other measures, like graduate level courses). In my opinion, if they do not require the GRE you would be better off taking more than one graduate level course that will transfer to prove your academic abilities. However, taking the GRE is one more modality to overcome a less than desirable GPA.

7)Graduate level courses. If you want to be competitive this is a must. Taking a graduate level stats or Chemistry that will transfer into the program will help boost your application and is a MUST for candidates with less than a 3.4 GPA(in my opinion). Keep in mind that if you have a science grade (undergrad) of a C or less that you may have to take that classes over again. Start by assessing your core science GPA, if you have less than a 3.4 then consider retaking an undergrad science class (if you got a C) on top of a graduate level course. Also consider where you are applying and what their average student GPA is. If you do not know then email the admissions counselor to find out.

8)The interview is KEY. You can have the most competitive application but without a good interview you will not be accepted. So preparing is so so so important. Preparation should start well before you get an invite to interview. All schools have a different interview style. Some hit mostly personal questions (emotional intelligence style), while others hit pathophys/Pharm and some do both along with written CCRN style test, along with math and on the spot short essays. I think it is very beneficial to network and attend open houses and try to talk to current students to figure out what you will be in store for. Open houses are also a great opportunity to talk to the program director and allow you to get to know them which will help take the edge off on interview day when you see a familiar face.

Common concerns:

1)Financial strain.

School is expensive and some programs do not let you work. The ones that do usually limit your hours and only allow this during the didactic portion as long as your grades are maintained at a 3.0 or higher (B). Others highly discouraged their students from working but do not prevent them from doing so as long as it is not the night before class or clinical and their grades are maintained. Keep in mind that if you do not maintain a B average that you can face removal from the program. Between class and clinical most programs average 50-60 hours a week of your time. I have worked with a couple SRNA’s who continued to work during school (only 8-12 hours a week) the majority of students I talk to state they only worked the first 3-5 months into the program before quitting to focus more on their studies (myself included). The only student I know who managed to work during his entire program was as a STAT RN on nights. He would work 12 hours on Saturday night, he was able to maintain this because he said he would either sleep or study the majority of the time while at work. On average most come out of school with 100-150k of student loans. Keep in mind you will be making on average 170k+ a year (some states pay over 250k). My rule of thumb is to keep your income to debt ratio under 100%. The CRNA’s I know who struggle or have had to make major life style sacrifices are the ones with 250-350k of debt... yes I know a CRNA with 350k of student loans (related to a 3rd degree and all private schools)...to put it in perspective I had 150k and they will be paid off in 6 years. We have not had to make any major lifestyle changes to do this. However, my first two years out of school I worked 8-24 hours of OT a week or every other week (I did a 16 and 24 hour shift every week for my 40 hours which allowed extra days to work OT); other than a few nice vacations we lived at the same income level that we did while in school. (this allowed us to pay down 80k of debt.) This did not feel like a huge sacrifice because we had already been doing it for 3 years.

2)Going to CRNA school with kids.

I have known CRNA’s who have had a baby while in school. I definitely do not recommend this, but it can and has been done. You would typically only get 2-4 weeks off before returning to clinical and most will have to work extra (weekends) to make up for lost clinical hours. From talking to moms in anesthesia school, having a baby older than one but younger than 6 years, seems to be the most ideal time. Here is why: they are young enough that they won’t remember you being distracted with your school work or missing events, they will most likely be sleeping for 6 hours at a time most nights, they will not need/want to be involved in extracurricular activities after school. Even if your kids are older I have talked to many parents that say you become an EXPERT at time management. So much so, that they felt like they were better prepared than their classmates without kids. The key to having kids while in school is to have a good support system in place, with family who is willing and able to help out.

3)GPA is too low; I am not smart enough. Yes, the vast majority of students will have a 3.5 GPA (both over all & science), however, determination plays a huge part as well as hard work. If you have a GPA less than a 3.4 (combined &/or science) then you will have your work cut out for you. You will need to retake courses or graduate courses to be competitive (along with several additional application boosters like CCRN, great essays, references, open house attendance & shadowing). Keep in mind, you WILL face more rejection with a GPA less than a 3.4. On a positive note, with persistence and taking the right steps I know becoming a CRNA is POSSIBLE for YOU! I have so many students that are proof of that. So be prepared to work hard and keep your chin up! You’ll get there 🙂

4)I am too old to go back for CRNA. This is just another self limiting belief. I have personally known and heard of so many second career CRNA’s. It is never too late to chase your dreams! You want to be happy, so don’t stop until your are! Even if you will be 50 by the time of graduation that is still 15-17 + working years. That is a long time! Remember on average CRNA’s make an extra 100k a year over a RN salary. Financially, you need to be smart and run the numbers. I wouldn’t take on 200k of debt if you only have 10 working years left but if you can manage to get through school without a lot of debt then it will be well worth it!

I hope these tips and pointers help!

Remember these are just guidelines, nothing is set in stone! Do not let your circumstances leave you feeling discouraged!

If CRNA is your goal than I encourage you to join I.C.U. Dreaming About Anesthesia on facebook and check out CRNA School Prep Academy (www.crnaschoolprep.academy.com) and all it has to offer you!

Cheers to your future!

Jenny Finnell, CRNA

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