Surveys show that job satisfaction among CRNA’s is higher than anywhere else in nursing. We have a strong organization that fights effectively for our profession. And certainly, ours is the highest paid specialty in nursing today. There is (and for the foreseeable future, probably will be) a shortage of anesthesia providers nationally. When you add all this up, it becomes obvious why anesthesia generates such interest among nurses. As a CRNA, hardly a week goes by that I am not approached, either on line or at work, by a nurse (or even someone who is not a nurse) who wants to know more about the profession, and how one goes about becoming a CRNA. As a professional who loves his profession, I am more than happy to answer all questions. Wherever possible, I am also happy to provide any assistance I can to potential applicants. But, until now, there is one kind of assistance I have been a bit reticent to provide. And that is the honest, blunt, straightforward kind of assistance. So, here it is.

To begin with, all the interest in the field translates into a lot of people applying for slots in anesthesia schools. Regardless of the class size, most schools of nurse anesthesia have anywhere from two to five applicants for each class seat. None are given out on a first come, first served basis. That being true, competition for those seats is very tight. Given the litigious nature of the US, program directors must be very careful to have criteria that they can “hang their hat on” in deciding who will fill their class seats. There is very little wiggle room. They must have standards, and must ensure that each student meets those standards, lest the school gets sued by someone who did meet the standards but wasn’t selected.

Most schools require a minimum 3.0 GPA in undergraduate work. If you don’t meet the minimum standard, don’t bother to apply. Your application will go into the trash, but you won’t get your application fee back. You may be able to check with the university that granted your undergraduate degree to see if there are things you can do to raise your GPA. But be prepared. Many (but not all) universities have a policy that once a degree is granted, the GPA earned stands, regardless of classes you may take later.

If you meet the GPA requirement, go back and look at how you did in the various types of classes you took. Anesthesia is a field that requires a solid grounding in the sciences. If your grades reflect that you did well in things like the humanities, but barely squeaked by in your science classes, that’s going to hurt you badly. Anesthesia schools are not in the business of accepting applicants with a high potential for failure. And if you struggle with math and the sciences, that is exactly the kind of applicant you are. Anesthesia is an art, but an art completely grounded in hard science. You cannot perform the art without a firm understanding of the science behind it.

Assess yourself and your work habits. Post-graduate programs, particularly those in anesthesia, are nothing like what you did in your undergraduate work. I don’t care how smart you are, you will not be able to “get by” with limited or no studying. You are going to be spending two to three years in an anesthesia program. In that time, you are going to have to commit to spending a minimum of two hours studying for every hour you spend in class. You are going to have to participate in study groups, and you are going to have to discipline yourself to spending a great deal of time studying alone. Opportunities to party in anesthesia school are almost non-existent. It ain’t a social club, and it won’t be treated like one.

A word about the ICU requirement: Most anesthesia programs require a minimum of one year in an ICU for application to the program. They don’t accept ER, PACU, or OR experience in place of the ICU requirement. That’s usually non-negotiable. You can complain here all you want about how you did everything an ICU nurse did in the ER, and what an ER stud you were. Don’t waste your time, it won’t help. Suck it up, and go to the ICU for at least a year.

In short, getting into an anesthesia program is difficult. Passing it (and boards) is even harder. I’m not trying to dash anyone’s hopes. But, if you don’t meet the minimum requirements, you can spend a lot of time and money pointlessly spinning your wheels. You are not going to get in. If you just barely meet the minimum requirements, remember that you are competing against people who exceed those requirements. Getting in won’t be impossible for you, but it won’t be easy either. Competition for school seats, even with more schools of nurse anesthesia opening, is fierce. You too can spend a lot of time and money in a fruitless pursuit.

Why am I being so blunt and seemingly discouraging? Because you must be honest with yourself. As I have said, applying to anesthesia schools can be a time consuming, expensive process. You can find yourself out several hundred dollars with nothing to show for it. Worse, if you get in and don’t make it, anesthesia schools can be very expensive. You can find yourself back in staff nursing, making a staff nurse’s salary, with the school debts of a CRNA.

Finally, a cautionary note to those who are in a program: We all know of anesthesia students who have not done well, clinically, scholastically, or both. We know of students who have cheated on exams. We know of students who for one reason or another have failed. Sometimes, these students have filed or threatened to file lawsuits to be allowed to complete school. Before taking this step, think long and hard. Examine why you flunked out, being very critical of yourself. Usually, "lawsuit card" is unsuccessful, but it occasionally works. It doesn’t matter, because you still must pass boards. You can't sue the AANA because you flunked boards. Repeatedly. Even if you pass that hurdle, you will have given yourself a black mark that will be very hard to overcome. The community of nurse anesthetists is very small. Certainly in the area where you went to school, everyone will know about it. You will be forced to move, because it’s highly unlikely that anyone in the area where you went to school will hire you. We have people’s lives in our hands, and you can’t sue a patient for dying on you. We won’t want you around. Just something to think about.

Kevin McHugh