What to Expect When Interviewing for CRNA School
Alright, alright... let's get down to the nitty gritty!
There are two types of interviewers in the world; the memorable and the forgettable.
We've all had the unfortunate awkward interviews, so my goal is to guide you in the right direction and help prepare you for the interview process. In this post I'll share mine and other's experiences at various colleges, what we would recommend to prepare, and the smaller components no one ever told us about! Before I start, let me give you the biggest piece of advice I can... you are the driver during these interviews. Whatever experiences or topics you bring up, just know they will ask you several relatable questions. So in the most blatant terms I can use, DO NOT bring up anything you wouldn't want to be meticulously questioned on.
Here we go!
There are several excellent online resources you can use to prepare yourself for the interview, such as CRNA CAREER PRO. They have a package you can buy to help you with the entire application, including essay guidance and interview practice questions. Keep in mind every interview will have a different feel and based off that feeling, you'll quickly gather how you should pilot your interview. Surprisingly, I had very few questions repeated in my interviews. Some interviews were extremely laid back and I was only asked about myself and my experiences. In comparison, others were a little less personable and I felt as though I was taking the CCRN all over again.
So how did I prepare?
I bought a great book that was recommended to me by a friend of a friend who just started CRNA school at Boston College. The book is called, Pathophysiology of Heart Disease by Leonard Lilly, MD. Like every nurse, I have a ridiculous number of medical books but this is the book I will always, always, always recommend to ICU nurses even if they aren't applying to graduate school. It's excellent at breaking down medications and explaining exactly how they work throughout the body. In case you haven't heard already, most interview panels will expect you to understand and clearly explain your medications on a cellular level. But don't panic, they only question you on medications relevant to the unit you work on and the ones you may unfortunately bring up in conversation. For instance, let's say you work in a Neuro ICU. More than likely they aren't going to be asking you about an inotrope or the difference between a Beta Blocker and a Calcium Channel Blocker, but rather medications like Mannitol, Decadron, Nimodipine, and intrathecal Milrinone. However, if you work in CCU or CVICU, antihypertensive medications and IV inotropes will be fair game. And just to clarify when I say cellular level, I mean much more than the fact that Milrinone is an vasodilating inotrope and side effects include arrhythmias and hypotension. You can try that, but they are going to want you to know that Milrinone is a phosphodiesterase inhibitor that supports ventricular functioning by decreasing the breakdown of cAMP, leading to an increased intracellular concentration of cAMP in the myocardium and vascular smooth muscle. And I wouldn't be surprised if they dug a little deeper to ask you more detailed questions about cAMP and how it effects Calcium levels, and then how that effects the heart. Dobutamine, Epinephrine, and Dopamine were the only medications I was ever asked about, but I'm 100% positive that's because I'm in cardiac. FYI, they love asking about vasopressors!
Of course I preferred some interviews over others, but that's to be expected. You click with some panels, not so much with others. For me, I prefer more laid back personalities so when I interviewed at UTHSC Memphis, I knew right away I wanted to go there. I originally didn't make the cut to interview at Memphis and was actually called three days before the last interview to see if I was still interested. I'm not sure if maybe they weren't overly impressed with the first interview group or what, but they squeezed me in for 7am on a Friday. Right away I called my nurse manager and he took me off the schedule so I could drive up to Memphis and interview. Did I mention my boss is awesome? He really is! Most managers would never bend over backwards for the nurses who are trying to leave for graduate school, but he's the exception!
I really enjoyed my interview at Memphis. Since my interview started so early and they were still setting up, the program director came out to introduced himself and apologize for the wait. I didn't mind; after all it gave me time to read over my medications in case they started drilling me like previous interviewers had. The program organizer led me back to a large conference room where food and drinks were available along with UTHSC souvenirs. I filled out some additional contact paperwork and talked with a couple of the organizers. Soon after, I was called back for my interview. I sat down in front of three CRNAs; the program director, and two CRNA professors. All extremely nice and welcoming. Throughout the interview, I noticed they were scoring me from 1-5 after each question, which seems to be a common theme with graduate school interviews. Memphis never quizzed me on medications, but rather asked me about myself, my experiences, the units I've work on, my patient population/acuity, my CRNA shadowing, and if I was ready for the commitment. It was a very comfortable interview and I enjoyed hearing about their program and how it's different from others.
By far, my favorite part of every interview was talking with the SRNAs. That's when you really learn about the programs. The schools will have a few of their SRNAs outside the interview room to help calm your nerves and answer any questions you might have. At Memphis, all the students appeared to enjoy the program. They genuinely wanted to be present for the interviews to tell you how much they loved it. There were 5 third years and 4 or 5 first years sitting in a circle, as well as a couple other prospective students. I stayed until almost 11am! That's how much fun we were having!
What did I wear for my interviews?
A suit. No questions asked. Always wear a suit! I wore a cream skirt suit with a light pink under shirt and nude 3 inch closed-toed heels. As nerdy as it sounds, I recently read an article that talked about the best and worst accent colors to wear during an interview. The best? Pale or deep pinks and blues. The worst? Yellows and oranges. Also, make sure you have a copy of your resume and essay with you. They will never ask for it, but I promise that one time you walk into an interview empty handed, they'll ask for a copy and you'll look unprepared.
On top of preparing for the medical questions, my suggestion would be to prepare for the interview like you would for any nursing interview. They are going to ask you about your stress level, how you deal with stress, examples of stressful situations you've encountered, how you resolve confrontation... and so on. Additionally, make sure you've thoroughly researched their program. It shows them you are seriously interested in their school and will impress them. Remember, these programs want people with "easy" personalities, so definitely not someone who is going to cause problems or be difficult to work with. They're also looking for candidates who aren't going to drop out, after all that negatively effects their attrition rates. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a family, but just make sure to show them how badly you want it and how your family and you have prepared for this journey!! Your goal for these interviews should be to stand out in a positive way. You want them to remember you after you leave! Shake their hands... Smile... Make eye contact... Show off that fun personality! You got this!!