Stress levels of ICU vs CRNA

Specialties CRNA


I changed careers recently, went through an accelerated BSN program, and I am now working in a CVICU at large university teaching hospital with a level-1 trauma center. We get the sickest and most critical patients, and frankly, I am a nervous wreck going into work every day. I completed a Critical Care Internship Program and successfully completed my orientation (off of orientation for about 3 weeks now) but still feel like these patients are way too much for me to handle.

I am not sure if I should find a small community hospital where the patients aren't as critical. That way I can learn in an environment that is less stressful. But then I start thinking about how stressful being a CRNA is. My question to all the CRNA's out there: is your day-to-day job less stressful as a CRNA than it was while working in an ICU environment? I have had several opportunities to observe CRNA's doing their job while I was in nursing school, and it seemed much less hectic than the CVICU I work in. But I would like some feedback from here to see if my gut feeling that a CRNA job may be less stressful than what I am feeling right now at my job is true. Thanks for any insight you can provide.


88 Posts

Specializes in ER, ICU, Med/Surg, Pedi.

Do not quit. Hang in there whatever you do. It will pay off in the long run. If you need help with your patients buddy up with a more experienced RN. Grab your tech have her help you turn your patients. Get your charge nurse. Ask lots of questions. DO NOT STOP. Stay there hang in. You can do it.:yeah::yeah::yeah:


657 Posts

CRNA is about 1/10th the "stress" of working the ICU and about 1/50th the work load. There are times of stress in Anesthesia but not as bad as the ICU. After all if they weren't pretty much train wrecks they wouldn't be in the ICU.


281 Posts

Thanks for the input, I really appreciate it. Even though this level-1 experience will look good on my application and has been really good experience, I am really not happy working on this unit, or in this hospital. I think I would do much better and learn at a little easier pace if I went to a different hospital with not as critical patients there. I have decided to move back to my hometown of Miami to be with my family there, and I will look for an ICU job there that doesn't have quite the complex cases. I think I will be able to learn at a pace that I can handle. And, I will still get the ICU experience, and I still have the experience with more complex patients, so that will look good on my application. Anyway, thanks again for all your words of encouragement and letting me know that it will get easier.

Specializes in Nurse Anesthetist.

CRNA2BKY; You will need to be the nurse that could handle these Level I trauma patients when you are a CRNA. If you get into school, and you finish (very difficult) you will be responsible for the patient's life on the table. This patient may very well look optimized for the OR, but then all hall breaks loose and you need to be able to be that person that can handle the high stress, sick/dying patient and you need to be able to do it by yourself. As a CRNA, you are not "an assistant" to an anesthesiologist. You are it. You have to save the life. Imagine yourself in a couple of years. You have skated by in the minimum amount of nursing school and experience. You get into CRNA school, pass the bookwork and somehow test great on the boards. But you do not have the life experience to save this person's life. Can you live with yourself?

If you really do want to become a CRNA. Spend 2-5 years (2 minimum) in this Level 1 ICU. You will be such an excellent nurse, that you will have the skills and courage to save a life by yourself.

Personally, I do not think it is in the best interest for nurses to be trained in one year. There is so much more to it than what you actually get in that year. Honestly, you need the life experience now that you have graduated. Take my advise. Save a life.


867 Posts

Specializes in CRNA.
I am a nervous wreck going into work every day.

This is a huge red flag, 'enduring' your ICU experience may get you into a nurse anesthesia program but can you complete it? After working with a lot of nurse anesthesia students over the past 15 years, you will not enjoy anesthesia if you find high acuity patients stressful. I really feel for the student who gets a year into a nurse anesthesia program, and then figures out that it isn't a good fit. Trust me, watching someone administer anesthesia gives you no idea the amount of stress they are under. Every time a patient is induced for a general anesthetic, we take away their ability to breath without any guarantee that we will be able to breath for them. Part of being a good CRNA is to always look cool, calm and in control no matter what.

This is not what you want to hear, but listen to your gut, and if you want to run the other way when there is a crisis on the unit then anesthesia might not be your thing. If you want to run toward the crisis, then go for it.


118 Posts

Specializes in CVICU, anesthesia.

I'm still in my accelerated BSN program, so I don't have years of experience to back my advice for you, but for what my advice is worth: DO NOT GIVE UP!!!!!!!!

It is NORMAL to be a nervous wreck as a beginner in a very high acuity ICU. If you were not nervous, I would be worried. When your patient's lives are on the line, if you are not a little nervous, then there's something wrong. :eek:

It sounds to me like you are just very type-A and want to do a great job, which is difficult to do as a newbie. Every nurse was nervous in the beginning, and if they weren't, they were probably lazy and didn't care if they provided quality care.

Go ahead and move to the slower-paced ICU you had planned on, and stay there until you feel more comfortable and confident. That may take 1 year, or it may take 5 years. Then go on and apply to CRNA school. It drives me NUTS :banghead: when people say everyone should have at LEAST 2-5 years experience before going to CRNA school - everyone learns at a different pace. If you feel confident handling the sickest patients and like you are ready for the huge responsibility of being a CRNA after one year, then GO FOR IT! Don't let anyone stop you from following your dream and don't let them tell you how long it will take you. Just follow your gut, and you'll do great!!! :redbeathe


27 Posts

(Totally off topic, not a CRNA, buuuuut....)

I would agree -- I'm in the ICU, and I completely understand the stress level you are experiencing. I came from an accelerated BSN program, and for a new grad--especially a new nurse--it is totally expected for you to be stressed out. It's sometimes very disconcerting to be a new nurse (I'm only 5 months out myself), and you made a decision to put yourself in one of the most difficult ICUs out there. Don't take it as an indication of your ability/inability to be a CRNA... you're still too new to know. IF, after you've been in an ICU for a while, you notice yourself shying away from the more acute cases, you can always re-evaluate yourself and change your options. That's the beauty of nursing. And good for you, recognizing how unhealthy the ICU environment you were in was for you... I think some may pass if off as a weakness, but there's no need to burn yourself out before you even find your feet. Always time to up the acuity later on, when you're ready for it. :yeah:


37 Posts

Specializes in ICU, MICU, SICU+openheart.


Most ICU nurses know how you feel. When I started in the unit I was young -24- and new without the benefit of a real ICU course. I was put me on night shift with only 3 or 4 weeks of orientation. The worst part about it was the hateful crew that was unsupportive and wasted their own energy to try and break me down. My stomach was in knots for the duration of 5 12hr shifts in a row with them every 2wks. Nurses on day shift quite because of the stress of giving report at shift change ( no exaggeration). I have no idea why I endured 1.5 years on that same shift. It was lonely because there was no extra help( taking 2 very sick or 3 pt's:uhoh3:) since all the nurses in town knew about them and when not to work. The unit was a general ICU so I had to cram the knowledge of neuro, medical, and surgical patients.

Okay, enough of that dreaded beginning. Fast forward 11 yrs and now I am so close to becoming a senior nurse anesthetist intern. That early experience gave me the abs of steel to shake many of the haters I have worked with in nursing and anesthesia. The more hell they give me- the more I can say bring it- is that all you got? I know, it sounds like cheese but I believe that ICU experience is crucial in becoming a good anesthetist. You will meet a lot of interesting and sometimes hateful CRNA's as well as MDA's, surgeons, and even the circulators. I just smie and say thank you, you are so helpful. ( bring it on! in my head as a student of course!)

I advise you to stay and gain as much valuable experience as you can. Use those residents to teach you; I would have started in a teaching instituition if I knew about the difference of a private hospital. My classmates with only 1 yr experience are smart enough to handle the schooling but inexperienced in gut reactions and identifying some things that happen with their patients. Although some are very good too. This schooling would be much tougher for me if I did'nt have the time I spent in the unit. I have been impressed with the skill level of many of the CRNA's I have worked with. They look like they are unengaged texting, soduku but know and hear every single thing happening; it's freaky sometimes.

Not only is anesthesia less stressful on a day to day basis but it's way more fun :wink2::nuke::smokin:. Like someone mentioned earlier, it can be very stressful --10x more than what you have experienced in the unit at times. Anesthesia's motto is , "they have no idea what we do - look smooth!" Anesthetists make it look easy because they are very good at what they do.

Hang in there. The process of becoming a CRNA sucks a$$ sometimes, but I know the career is worth the effort. If you go to that little cozy community unit you risk becoming one of the many h8n nurses who say, " I was going to be a CRNA but..."


16 Posts

Specializes in Anesthesia.

Hang in there. You just need more time and experience to feel more comfortable in the unit. It was a solid year before I started feeling comfortable. Know who and where your resources are in case you need them. I had close to 5 years completed in critical care before i started anesthesia school.

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