How to Become a Competitive Applicant for CRNA School
For an easier and less overwhelming read, I'm going to break this down into multiple posts. I'll start off with how to make yourself a competitive applicant for CRNA school and then I'll branch off into the actual application process, how to decide which schools you should apply to, interview preparation, the Academic Common Market, and so on.
So you've been debating about applying to CRNA school?
Where to start, where to start?! First things first! Get yourself into an ICU!! Once you've gotten your foot in the door you can begin focusing on how to become a strong CRNA candidate. For me, I started my career off in a pediatric ER and after a year of being unfulfilled, I realized how desperately I wanted to be a CRNA and quickly jumped ship to an adult ICU. I remember when I was interviewing for cardiac ICUs and I kept contemplating between two hospitals. One was academia and the other was private. Ironically, they are the two largest hospitals in Georgia and they are also each others biggest competitor in relation to anything cardiac. After much contemplation, I chose private. I knew I would have much more of a hands on experience in the private world and this particular unit gave nurses A LOT of autonomy. It was by far one of the best decisions I made and it provided me an incredible foundation for CRNA school. You'll hear many CRNAs say you need to be in a CVICU for your ICU experience. Ehhh, that's debatable. Every ICU is different, especially when it comes to acuity. At the end of the day when you choose your ICU, make sure the unit you choose is of high acuity and will supply you with a solid understanding of vent modes, hemodynamics, and vasopressor/inotrope gtts.
Second! It's better to start early, rather than late! Once you get yourself in the ICU, start getting organized!! Layout which schools you're interested in and their deadlines for the following year. You really need to start this process early because application deadlines for CRNA school are all over the place. I started this process shortly after I accepted my position in the ICU, so about a year and a half before I actually started applying. I separated each school by state, requirements, and deadlines. In hindsight, I wish I would have looked at tuition but since I knew I would be taking out a fortune in student loans, I didn't really focus on costs… but that's another post in itself and believe me, it'll be a good one!
Third! Pump the breaks! Before you go and get too ahead of yourself, really try and embrace your time in the ICU. Get involved!! You need at minimum a year of experience in order to apply to most schools. So in the meantime, sign up for committees and become a superuser for multiple pieces of equipment. Train for relief charge and try to put yourself in a leadership position so you can precept new graduates as well as experienced nurses. After 6 months or so, I joined my hospital's ICU council and a few months after that I joined our individual unit based council. After a year on nights, I was frequently relief charging and precepting new graduates. Over an 18 month span, I became a superuser for CRRT, Zoll Coolguards and Arctic Suns (hypothermia), and Rotoprone beds. The more involved you are, the better applicant you are!! I know many nurses try and rush into applying for CRNA school, but why put yourself through all the stress and hassle of applying if you aren't even qualified enough to interview. When I first started in the ICU, all I could think about was trying to get into CRNA school. Reality eventually hit me like a ton of bricks and I quickly understood why you need a year or more of experience. It takes time to truly learn vent management, hemodynamics, why you should use this gtt over that gtt, and learning how these medications actually work within the body.
But back to getting organized! Once you've laid out your schools and determined exactly how long you have until the deadlines, you will have a clearer idea of when you should register for the GRE and CCRN. I took the GRE about 6 months before I started applying. I wanted to make sure I had enough time to retake it incase I didn't do so hot. I then took the CCRN maybe two months after the GRE. If you read nothing else from my blog, read this… You really, really, really need to get your CCRN! Think of it as being a requirement if you want to interview. It looks great and here's a little secret... Most schools interview using a point system. The more credentials you have, the more points you will receive. If you relief charge, you will receive points. If you precept, you will receive points. See how it works?
Fourth! During your ICU time make yourself positively known on the unit. Learn your docs/fellows/residents/providers on a more personal level. After all, those are the recommendations you'll need once you begin putting your application packet together. And heads up! If your school requires one of your three recommendations be from a doc, read their requirements carefully because some schools will not accept an MD recommendation if it has been written by a resident, even if they are Chief.
Fifth and last but not least! Make sure you start shadowing a few CRNAs and maybe an Anesthesiologist (MDA). I shadowed three CRNAs and one MDA. Be careful shadowing AAs in your facility. I mean this respectfully but I say this because many CRNA professors (those interviewing you) will take this as a slap in the face due to of the politics behind CRNAs vs MDAs and AAs. It's understandable as a nurse you may be unaware of the history behind the CRNAs, MDAs, and AAs. I didn't know the history until I was a CRNA student. With that said, I would steer for safety and shadow CRNAs and MDAs only.