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-hearts”. 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 awarded”. 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 Requirements” of each program? Some schools require Organic and Inorganic chemistry, which is definitely a hard requirement to meet. Finally, lets talk about the “GRE” (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 Experience”. 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 greet” 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.
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.
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!
Standing out through your CRNA application is much easier than people think. Let’s begin with the most time consuming portion; the dreaded essay. It’s not just you! Every nurse despises this part. We aren’t writers and when we do write, it’s usually short handed, choppy medical lingo. Unfortunately, we all have to start somewhere and graduate school is full of writing. Remember, every program is different with their essay requirements so make sure you research how long your essay should be, how many you need, etc. Like many novice applicants, I failed to do this and when I was applying to MCG, they wanted two. One essay about my failures and how I’ve grown from them and the other about why I wanted to be a CRNA. Usually you can just use your “Why I want to be a CRNA” essay for all your applications and be done, but some schools like to make you work a little harder than others.
Writers block? My advice would be to open your essay with how you were exposed to the anesthesia world, focusing on a particular situation or CRNA who left an impression on you. Hint Hint, this is good place to insert one of your shadow experiences and don’t hold back on the details! I concentrated on a particular shadow experience with a pediatric CRNA who sold me years ago. To bulk up your essay, be sure to include your achievements through nursing school and especially your nursing career. Don’t hesitate to brag on yourself! You’ve worked hard to get where you are!
More examples? Well, I used pretty much an entire paragraph stressing the high acuity ICUs I’ve worked in and the amount of experience I have with various gtts/meds, vents, and equipment (iabps, vads, impellas, ecmo, crrt, and so on). I also spent a good portion of my essay focusing on my leadership skills and positions I held like relief charging, precepting, and committee involvements. For my last paragraph, I took some of my own personal qualities and related them to what I think it takes to become a successful, well rounded CRNA. I also talked about the kind of CRNA I wanted to be for my patients, using your typical “nurse-y” adjectives. Once I was finished, I forced several coworkers and family members to read it and give me their opinion on grammar and fluidity. To me, it was also really important to let my personally shine through my essay. Don’t forget, you want to stand out any way you can!
Moving on to your resume/CV! Through my research, several websites recommended to avoid making your resume and essay too similar; however, I found this near impossible. Afterall, you’re going to want to stress all your nursing experience and achievements on both. I also think it’s irrelevant whether you choose to have a resume versus a CV. Obviously you’re already going to have a resume made from when you applied for your ICU position, so you might as well just tweak that a little and move on. Make sure to add all of your certifications, including your CCRN. If you don’t have your CCRN yet, make sure to write “scheduled” next to it so they know you intend on taking it. I can’t stress it enough… get your CCRN. It’s shows you’re serious about your career and not to mention, most schools won’t consider you unless you have it. GPA, you say? Depending on where you’re applying, the GPA recommendations will vary anywhere from a 3.0 to 3.3 minimum, and a 3.4 or higher to be competitive. But again, this is all school dependent. You’ll also find some schools calculating a separate GPA just for sciences and statistics. If you received a “C” in any of those classes, I would strongly consider retaking them at a local college if you have time. If you don’t have time, don’t worry. Just focus on the other important pieces of the application and emphasize all your amazing strengths!
Okay, so now let’s talk GRE. Oh the agony! I hated this test. Absolutely hated. From my experience, the GRE isn’t anywhere near as big of a deal as people make it out to be. Honestly, I think it’s just one of the many hoops graduate schools make you jump through to weed out the “not-so-serious” applicants. Unless you’re applying to a top-notch school, don’t sweat it. My score was nothing impressive- a 150 in verbal, a 152 in quantitative, and a 4 for writing. The school where I accepted, UT- Memphis, recommended a 144 quantitative, a 153 verbal, and a 4.5 writing to be a “competitive” score. I had friends who scored anywhere from 307 to 311 with 4.5 writing scores, and they weren’t asked to interview at the same places where I was… so who knows. Bottom line, just don’t kill yourself stressing over it. Study wise, I seriously studied for maybe two months and lollygagged for atleast five. I used two Kaplan books but spent most of my time reteaching myself formulas and completing Kaplan’s online practice tests. Personally, I learn best by answering practice questions and then reviewing them afterwards, even the ones I got right. Additionally, I’ve heard good things about Barry’s review for the quantitative section, and then the yearly ETS review books for overall study material and practice questions.
With all that being said, here are a couple more suggestions… Apply early, early, early! I truly feel like this makes a huge difference. The schools look at applications as they receive them. You don’t want to be that person who applied the last week and sadly slipped through the cracks because they already had enough qualified applicants to interview. Also, be mindful that some schools, like MUSC, require the CRNAs you shadow to fill out a special “proof of shadow” sheet while you’re there. And like I said in my previous post, you should be requesting your recommendations before the applicantion portal even opens. Leave yourself plenty of time to have all your paperwork turned in so you aren’t stressing yourself out over something that was easily preventable.