How to Decide Which CRNA School is Right for You
Oh boy, now for the fun stuff! Deciding which CRNA school is right for you! Time and time again I hear fellow nurses say...
"I'm not picky about where I go to school, I just want to get in!"
I'm not going to lie, this thought definitely crossed my mind once or twice! However, don't sell yourself short!! After interviewing and seeing the diversity between programs and learning how each school operates, it's a good idea to pick the shoe that fits! If you have a more laid back personality, there is a chance you aren't going to have the best experience in an uptight environment, and vice versa. You'll know if it's a right choice for you once you start interviewing and talking with the faculty. In fact, as soon as you sit down in front of the panel, you'll know!
An important factor to consider when you begin organizing your list of top schools is, how far are you willing to move? For instance, I'm from Georgia and all of my intermediate family is still in Georgia. So I knew I wanted to stay in the south east, therefore; I applied to UT-Houston, UAB, MCG (Regents), UT-Memphis, Union, and LSU. Honestly, I wasn't willing to stretch any further than Tennessee and I'm not really a Florida girl so I didn't even look at Florida schools. However, I have several friends who went to USF and they absolutely loved it. Also, the application deadlines heavily influenced the selection of my six schools. All but maybe MCG had deadlines by September and the interviews were shortly after. In the future, I hope the CRNA programs will as a whole become more integrated and unified because it's unfortunate for prospective students to miss out on various schools due to application deadlines.
Next! Think about if you're wanting to apply to MSN programs or DNP programs. Personally, I knew I wanted a DNP program but I applied to two MSN programs as well. UAB and MCG are both great schools and additionally, they are right around the corner from me. [UPDATE: UAB and MCG are both DNP programs as of 2018]. Many MSN programs have a bridge DNP so you can conveniently continue through if you please. Usually, you just apply during your second year. According to the AANA website, having your DNP will not be a requirement until 2025 and if you graduate with your MSN before then, you'll be grandfathered in. MSN programs are usually around two years while DNP programs are three, give or take a few months.
Also, ponder if having a front loaded program versus an integrated program is important to you. Personally, I feel as if there are pros and cons with both. Front loaded gives you a little more confidence once you're in rotations because you'll at least have some sort of "book knowledge" foundation to grow on. Whereas integrated supposedly helps you transition better from rotation to rotation, whether you know what you're talking about or not. With that being said, all but one of my SRNA friends preferred front loaded. I know many programs are moving towards integrated, so it is something to think about if that is a concern for you. In the end, since I haven't experienced either yet, I'm indifferent and I kind of feel like it's comparing apples to oranges.
Another factor in your decision making should be class size. We all know most CRNA programs have an average of 20 students, but some are exceedingly large. LSU, for example, takes approximately 45 students and UAB takes 50-55 students. Unaware of this fact until I interviewed, but LSU also combines their more generalized graduate classes with their nurse practitioner and medical students. That's a pretty large class. Not to mention, many of these classes are taught by med school faculty. Everyone is different, but it was definitely a turn off for me. I'm not a fan of 150 plus class sizes anymore… that's what undergrad is for. Also, LSU combines the med students and SRNAs for some of the simulation labs. No bueno. On the opposite end was MCG, UT-Houston, UT-Memphis. These schools accept anywhere from 18-25 students and are coincidentally ranked a little higher. I did discover in my pre-acceptance research, the smaller the class size = the better ranking the program had. But who knows! I'm pretty sure the ranking system is more of a popularity contest; however, the rankings you see on allcrnaschools are based off of a 2011 survey done by US News and World Report.
On to one of the biggest factors in my opinion; Traveling! One of the many reasons I fell in love with UT-Memphis was because there was next to no traveling for the CRNA students. I have two small dogs and bouncing around every few months for two years wasn't at all appealing to me. You really won't know how much traveling each school requires until you interview and chat with the students. The SRNAs are all blatantly honest and won't hold back from telling you what to expect at that specific school. The LSU students didn't hesitate to tell me that I would be traveling every two months for the last two years of their program. Ouch! If you're having to travel that much, obviously there aren't enough cases/hospitals for all the anesthesia students they have in that region… which brings me to my last point!
Make sure you really take time and research the hospitals and anesthesia competition in each area. What do I mean? Well when I first started interviewing, I didn't even think about this! It wasn't until I was interviewing at UT-Memphis and one of the third year SRNAs kept pressing this particular point. You don't want to pick a school that's located in an area where you aren't going to be well trained or where you'll have an overwhelming amount of competition for cases. Remember, the med students, residents, and fellows will ALWAYS get the better cases. Who wants to get stuck in an OR with bunionectomy procedures all day?! Sure, you'd get to watch the residents and fellows throughout the interesting procedures, but that was exactly the SRNA's point... you'd be watching.
Remember, every school has something unique to offer so really take time and research your schools! What's important to me, may not be as important to you. It's also much easier to be picky once you begin receiving your acceptance letters. But don't fret, your letters are closer than you think ;)