I recently came across an NYTimes column about straight A students or rather, the issue of students who obsess over getting straight A’s in school. There’s a brief anecdote in the story involving a student who breaks down in front of his professor because “I just got my first A-minus.” The article continues on about how the link between academic success and career performance is tenuous at best. From a completely anecdotal perspective, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve seen students who are strong didactically struggle with their clinical skills and I’ve seen students who have struggled academically crush it clinically.
This NYTimes article should be required reading for all incoming student nurse anesthetists. It’s not a stretch to say the majority of students who enter nurse anesthesia school have this ridiculous obsession over being the best student and having the best grades in class. I remember in 2012 when I first started my program, there were several individuals in my class who wanted to make a point of letting everyone know that they were the alpha student.
When we first started our Facebook study group, one individual went so far as to proclaim that he read the entirety of Barash’s textbook before the program even started. Another individual would answer questions in a smug manner at anyone who dared to ask a clinical question; as though the very act of asking anything related to anesthesia was beneath him and if you didn’t already know the answer, well, you’ve got problems. Personally, I find this way of thinking to be highly problematic because all it does is induce anxiety and alienates people. That’s not really the kind of person we want in the profession.
Whoever is reading this and whoever is currently in a nurse anesthesia program, you know exactly who I am talking about. We all know this type of personality. We all remember or currently know of individuals who feel the need to brag about the depth of their knowledge with anesthesia. These are the same individuals who obsess over every missed question on the exams they’ve taken in the program and have to dispute the validity of the question even if the impact on their grade is imperceptible (i.e., going from a 94% to 95%). Grade whoring, as I like to call it.
Let me tell you something from a person who’s been a CRNA for only 4 years and precepts countless numbers of SRNAs. NO ONE GIVES A CRAP ABOUT YOUR GRADES AND NEITHER SHOULD YOU! Going through graduate school is grueling enough. The hours you spend at your clinical rotations are long. You’re limited in the amount of time to study for what feels like a never-ending barrage of information. Yet many students cling to this idea of perfection and anything short of that is a complete, abject failure. If you’re one of those students, I’m imploring you to reprioritize what’s important: your sanity. At the end of the day, no one cares about your grades. Not your classmates. Not your faculty (unless you’re failing which is an entirely different concern). Not your preceptors. Not your future co-workers. Not your future self.
Find some balance. That’s the real test. The sooner you realize that you’ll never learn everything there is to know in anesthesia in two years (three if you’re in a DNP program), the quicker you’ll be able to focus on developing strategies to find a better balance in your life. Here’s some food for thought: do you think anyone really cares that you got a 100% on your advanced anesthesia concepts course if you end up being one of those providers who panic during a code in the operating room? Did you ever think about anyone’s grades while you were working in ICU? Probably not. Why would anesthesia be any different?
Your number one priority as a student is making sure you understand the concepts from a clinical perspective cause you need to know how to quickly and efficiently respond to urgent and emergent clinical scenarios. That’s the real education you need to focus on. The exams in school should be secondary. With school, all you need to worry about is passing. If it’s an 83% instead of a 100% but you know the ins and outs of taking caring of a patient with myasthenia gravis, then you’re doing your job as a student. Forget the fact that you’re not getting the grade you want. Focus on what you need to know so you can be an effective CRNA when that time comes.