You are more than welcome to share any advice or suggestions that you have on applying to CRNA school. I know a lot of applicants would like to hear them.
1. Start Building Your Resume While in Nursing School
While in nursing school you will need to continue to stay focused on your GPA. I can't stress this enough. Schools will look at this, so put in the study time and try to get those good grades. In addition to your GPA, you also need to get involved with extracurricular activities. Schools like to see that you are well rounded and work well with others. Look for a list of organizations that are offered through the school and nursing program. I would also recommend looking at organizations and service work provided by the NSNA (National Student Nurses Association). They have 60,000 members nationwide, and they mentor the professional development of future registered nurses and facilitates their entrance into the profession. (Source: National Student Nurses Association)
2. Work in the Right ICU
Every CRNA school wants the most qualified applicants in their program, but what does qualified mean? It means they want students that have work experience that will aid them in the field of anesthesia. This type of experience is only gained by working in the ICU setting, and that is why most schools require at least one year in this area. Realistically, you need 2-3 years, but it is possible to be accepted after only one year. So are all ICUs created equal? The answer is no. You want to be in the surgical ICU (SICU). Surgical ICU is preferred for a number of reasons, but the biggest is they work with patients that just had a CABG also known as post-heartsâ€. Working in SICU will give you an in-depth knowledge of physiology, anatomy, pharmacology, and top notch assessment skills. Being in surgical ICU not only helps you get an interview, it will help you during the interview as well. Look at your work experience as a chance to study. Most of the interview questions will come from clinical scenarios and work related topics.
3. Research CRNAs Schools
You need to take a systematic approach when you are researching schools, so that you do it efficiently and with little effort. There are a few factors to consider when deciding on schools to apply too. One of the most important is how difficult is the CRNA school to get into. Here is a list of things that can help you to answer this question. First, Number of applicants vs. positions awardedâ€. You can see how two CRNA school can differ greatly in the number of students they accept each year by comparing Texas Wesleyan University and Newman University. "Texas Wesleyan University accepts 100+" while "Newman University accepts 22 students each year" (Source: CRNA School Search). Some schools have hundreds of applicants and only offer 10-15 spots each year. The chances of getting accepted to these types of programs by the average applicant are very small. Next, what are the Educational Requirementsâ€ of each program? Some schools require Organic and Inorganic chemistry, which is definitely a hard requirement to meet. Finally, lets talk about the GREâ€ (Graduate Record Exam). Almost every school has a minimum GRE score that they want you to meet. Schools with a higher GRE requirement are naturally harder to get into. Another thing to consider is Required Work Experienceâ€. This is what the school considers acceptable areas of work. Most programs, but not all of them, only accept ICU as an acceptable area of work. There are a select few that will allow ER or Pediatric ICU, but they are very few. The best thing you can do is to play it safe and work in ICU. Don't count on ER or Pediatric ICU to get you an offer from a CRNA school.
4. Job Shadow CRNAs the Correct Way
Most schools require you to job shadow at least once with a CRNA and have documented proof. Some schools will provide you with a questionnaire on their website. The CRNA will fill out this form and you will send it in with your application packet. In addition, some schools will want one of your reference letters to be from a CRNA. You need to go beyond what is required by schools and job shadow multiple CRNA's in multiple settings such as Labor and Delivery, OR, Day Surgery, etc. This will give you the chance to be exposed to various types of anesthesia that you be able to talk about later when you're writing your personal essay. Because you shadowed the CRNA multiple times you will be able to get to know them, and create a good rapport. By doing this, you will ensure that their letter will include all positives remarks and most likely cause the CRNA to elaborate on your eagerness to learn, professionalism, critical thinking, communication skills, and your passion for the profession.
5. Join Organizations That Strengthen Your Resume
CRNA schools want to see that you are an active member in the medical community. The AACN (American Association of Critical Care Nurses) is an organization for critical care nurses. This is where you will sign up for things like the CCRN, CMC, and CSC exams. Next is the ENA (Emergency Nurses Association), which is the same type of organization as the AACN. The difference is that this one is geared towards emergency room nursing. Even if your not working in the emergency room you can join this organization. I promise you, VERY few applicants will have both of these certifications.
6. Obtain the Certifications Schools Want
The CCRN (Critical Care Registered Nurse) certification is a credential granted by the AACN Certification Corporation. It validates your knowledge of nursing care of acutely/or critically ill patients to administrators, peers, patients, and most importantly, to yourself. Some schools do not have the CCRN requirement, but I am telling you right now that if you want to get accepted into a CRNA program, get the CCRN certification. Other certifications that look good to schools include the TNCC (Trauma Nursing Core Course) CMC (Cardiac Medicine Certification) and CSC (Cardiac Surgery Certification). Both the CMC and CSC are additions to your CCRN. Once you have acquired your CCRN, you are eligible to these test. Very few applicants will have these certification, so it makes your application stand out. (Source: AACN Website)
7. Start Saving for School
This really doesn't count as a tip for getting into CRNA school, but it can make your life A LOT easier once you start an anesthesia program. You will not be able to work once in school, so the more money you have saved, the easier it will be when the time comes to start the nurse anesthesia program. Start now by opening up a savings account and deciding how much you can put away each month. The earlier you start doing this, the more money you will have while in school. The majority of CRNA school will be paid with student loans, but that is a whole other topic.
8. Your Personal Essay Needs to be Perfect
Most schools require a personal essay that will vary in length and topics. This is a great opportunity for you to brag about your accomplishments. Schools want to know why you think you are qualified to enter their program. You are essentially selling yourself to them, so feel free to elaborate on your work experience. First, you will need to speak in-depth on the acuity of the patients you routinely take care of. Second, discuss your experience with ventilators, vasoactive drips, Swanz Ganz, etc. Also be sure to include anything you were a part of such as precepting, code teams, rapid response teams, etc. Be sure to have someone proofread you essay before sending it. Grammatical errors will really hurt your application.
9. Practice for The CRNA School Interview
The interview is your time to really impress the school and secure your spot in their program. In order to do this you are going to have to really prepare, because I can promise you, that all of the other applicants will be at the top of their game. Some programs are known to have interviews that are more of a meet and greetâ€ interview. These types of interviews are very laid back and don't generally involve a whole lot of in-depth clinical based questions. However, most schools usually ask a lot of pharmacology and anatomy based questions that will really make you think. The CCRN really helps you prepare for this, so bring out your old CCRN study material and brush up on the material. I recommend focusing on cardiovascular, pulmonary, and renal. It seams like schools pull a lot of questions from these areas. You can even take a Interview Practice Test that will show you how well you would do in a CRNA school interview. I liked using this because, it showed me what type of questions that I would see in a CRNA school interview.
10. Make Sure They Remember You
Here is a cool little tip to help make sure the CRNA school remembers you. Have thank you letters already written and ready to send off the day after the interview. This little gesture not only shows gratitude, but places your name in their head one more time.
Please share any tips or strategies that worked for you.
I hope these tips work as well for you as they did for me. I applied to 3 schools, interviewed at 2 of them, and received offers from both. It isn't an easy road but if you apply yourself and stay motivated you will find that being a CRNA is well worth the effort.
I wish everyone the best of luck!