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Becoming a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) can be a daunting journey, and it’s often difficult to know where to even begin.
From the moment you decide that CRNA is the career for you all the way to the glorious finish line, there are 8 strategic steps you can take to ensure that you are as highly qualified as possible before you apply to CRNA school.
1) Graduate from an accredited BSN program
It doesn’t matter how you obtain your BSN, but be wary of pass/fail programs because they will hurt your GPA. If you already have your MSN you can still go back for CRNA. (Hopefully some of your graduate coursework will transfer!)
Keep in mind that your ADN GPA will matter more than your BSN GPA because your ADN demonstrates your competence in core sciences. For example, if you get a 3.0 in your ADN but a 4.0 in your BSN and your average is a 3.5, you might still fail to get an interview. This is because they look at your science GPA from your ADN which would not meet the minimum to apply (3.0), or it isn’t competitive enough. I have met a wide variety of CRNA’s with various educational backgrounds, dentistry, EMT, business, accounting, NP, military, just to name a few.
So no matter how you obtain your BSN just focus on your GPA as much as possible, especially your core sciences.
2) Maintain good grades
To be considered competitive for CRNA school you should aim to have a 3.5 or higher. Keep in mind that a lower GPA will still be considered because they look at the candidate as a whole.
However, there are necessary steps you need to take to be competitive with a lower GPA. They will evaluate your core science GPA, like chemistry, A&P, micro-bio, etc.
Overall GPA is calculated differently in each school. Some only consider your BSN or the last 60 credits along with core sciences. Others combine all grades (all degrees) to figure overall GPA. Some even look at high school GPA and ACT/SAT scores.
Rejection is common regarding lower GPA, so be willing to apply to multiple schools and to go the extra mile to make up for a less competitive GPA by retaking courses and/or graduate-level courses.
Be aware that science grades have to have been completed within the last 5-10 years, depending on the school.
Another thing to keep in mind is some CRNA schools limit how many times you can interview/apply, (two times seems to be the max at schools that set a limit). This is why it is important to reach out and get guidance prior to applying.
3) Obtain critical care experience as an RN
Before you apply to CRNA school, ideally you should accumulate 3-5 years of experience to be competitive. You should always shoot for a level 1 adult ICU (not ER). However, in areas that this is not possible a level 2 can still be competitive. If you do not want to work in an adult ICU know that you may struggle to find a school that will accept your experience. (Some will accept NICU/PICU/ER.)
Also note that a lot of schools only require 1-2 years at minimum for ICU experience, but to be competitive aim for more than the minimum.
Schools often determine that ICU experience greater than 5 years could potentially hinder your ability to be a “teachable” student again. Do not let this intimidate you, but go into the application and interview knowing that you need to make it clear that you are ready and able to be a novice again.
It also helps to have taken a recent graduate-level course in which you get an A to provide proof that you are ready academically to be a student once again.
If you do not have a level I or II hospital near you, consider commuting to get this experience. Remember where your program of choice is located, if the school is near a level one hospital you will be competing with those applicants.
Remember quality over quantity in most cases.
4) Be a leader in your community—get involved
Seek out learning opportunities. It will help give you a competitive edge.
Get extra certifications, (CCRN at minimum even if it is not required).
Be involved in a unit leadership committee, precept students, volunteer or offer to work on a research project with your unit’s CNS.
5) Job Shadow
Do this as much as possible. A highly competitive CRNA candidate on average spends 40 hours or more shadowing. Even if the school only recommends shadowing experience, still DO IT!
Some programs turn away highly qualified candidates simply because they did not take the time to shadow a CRNA.
They want to see you have put a lot of thought into pursuing anesthesia and that you have taken the time to make sure this is a career in which you will thrive.
It can be difficult to get this experience. I encourage you to continue to start with your current hospital of employment.
If that does not work, then reach out to local hospitals or surgery centers.
If you still can not find experience, call your program and ask for recommendations.
6) Take the GRE/CCRN
Most schools will require prospective CRNA candidates to take one or the other or even both. If the schools say they require the GRE but do not give you a benchmark score, know that to be competitive you need a score of 300 or greater with a 3.5-4 on writing.
Some schools will state the minimum GRE to be 290-300. Know that getting a 290 or 300 is equivalent to just having a 3.0 GPA in the realm of being competitive, so always aim for more than their minimum.
Most schools do not look at CCRN scores, but some do. It never hurts to find this information out ahead of time- you can even use it to your advantage on your resume if you did score high.
Lastly, If you have a 3.4 GPA or less, having a good GRE score can help admission committees look past this shortcoming. Some schools will require GRE from students with a lower GPA. Even if they don’t, it would be in your best interest to take the test as long as you are prepared to do well on it (and only if you have exhausted other measures, like graduate level courses).
In my opinion, if they do not require the GRE, you would be better off taking more than one graduate-level course that will transfer to prove your academic abilities.
However, taking the GRE is one more modality to overcome a less than desirable GPA.
7) Take Graduate level courses
If you want to be a competitive candidate for CRNA school this is a must.
Taking a graduate-level stats or chemistry that will transfer into the program will help boost your application and is a MUST for candidates with less than a 3.4 GPA.
Keep in mind that if you have a science grade (undergrad) of a C or less that you may have to take that class over again.
Start by assessing your core science GPA. If you have less than a 3.4 then consider retaking an undergrad science class (if you got a C or lower) on top of a graduate-level course.
Also consider where you are applying and what their average student GPA is. If you do not know, then email the admissions counselor to find out.
8) The interview is KEY
You can have the most competitive application, but without a good interview you will not be accepted by a CNRA school. So preparation is of vital importance.
Preparation should start well before you get an invite to interview. All schools have a different interview style.
Some hit mostly personal questions (emotional intelligence style), while others hit pathophys/Pharm. Some do both along with a written CCRN style test (math, and on the spot short essays).
It is very beneficial to network and attend open houses. Speak with current students to determine what to expect.
Open houses are also a great opportunity to talk to the program director and allow you to get to know them. This helps take the edge off on interview day when you see a familiar face.
By following these 8 steps, you can ensure that you will stand out amongst a sea of applicants and be well on your way to reaching your goal of becoming a CRNA!
While you will face a number of challenges along your path, you are not alone in this journey. Check out the CRNA School Prep Academy. Membership provides access to a powerful community, individual instruction, and accredited guidance. Another helpful resource is the 4,500+ member Facebook Group, I.C.U. Dreaming About Anesthesia.
Cheers to your future!