In order to be considered a competitive applicant, you should have the following completed. This was taken from my alma mater’s website, but honestly, I think it’s fair to assume that the requirements can be applied to most, if not, all nurse anesthesia programs across the country (especially the competitive programs). I’ll be going through each of these points in greater detail.
- BSN or MSN GPA 3.5 or greater
- 2-3 years of current Adult ICU experience
- A’s in all undergraduate/graduate science courses
- Additional nursing experience in leadership (i.e. committee), education, or research
- Completion of advanced nursing certifications (i.e. CCRN, TNCC)
- Community Service
BSN or MSN GPA 3.5 or greater
I received my BSN at a well known private university in the northeast and I had a GPA of 3.7. I probably could have done better, but I was spending too much time enjoying city life that I let my grades slip a bit. Even still, I suppose a GPA of 3.7 for a BSN, particularly at this institution wasn’t too shabby. However, my actual competitive advantage can probably be attributed to previous undergraduate degrees in Chemistry and Sociology. My GPA for my double major was 3.8. Why did I think I held a competitive advantage? It’s because when you’re applying to nurse anesthesia school, one of the biggest questions that go through the faculty’s minds is whether or not you can handle the academic rigor of learning anesthesia. How does one demonstrate this ability? Well, possessing a degree in the physical sciences and having decent grades to show you have an aptitude in the field is certainly one way to do it.
That said, if you don’t have a degree in the physical sciences, don’t fret. If you have a previous bachelor’s degree in another field or BSN, taking some science courses at your local university or community college is something you can think about pursuing in order to demonstrate that aptitude.
2-3 years of current Adult ICU experience
Let me just preface that my entire nursing career was spent at a major academic medical institution, which I believe played a major role in getting me into school. The reason being is because I was exposed to a wide variety of cases where most of the patients I took care of were extremely sick and required a tremendous amount of care from health care professionals of all specialties (e.g., nurses, physicians, social workers, physical therapists, care managers, etc.). I really believe that this exposure provided me with the opportunity to learn what it was like to work in a fast paced, high stress environment and to ultimately understand the necessity of being a team player (which is one of the most important attributes you must learn and acquire if you are to succeed as a CRNA).
In any case, I started my nursing career working on a medical-surgical/palliative care floor because initially, I thought my path was going to be in hospice. Funny how life takes you in a different direction as you become exposed to different experiences. I worked on this unit for about a year and a half and while it was a great introduction to nursing, I felt an urge to be in a critical care environment. I ultimately transferred to a surgical transplant intensive care unit and worked there for 2 years. It was a great, though emotionally exhausting experience. Everything you can think of in an ICU setting, I experienced. At an academic medical center such as the one I worked in, you get to see and experience EVERYTHING, which was a double edged sword. I certainly grew as a person and as a professional, but at the same time, I gave up something. Anyone who has worked in this kind of environment, knows what I’m referring to.
Because of this experience, I can say with absolute certainty that it played a HUGE role with getting me into nurse anesthesia school. I’d strongly encourage anyone who is interested in pursuing anesthesia to get their nursing experience at an academic medical center.
A’s in all undergraduate/graduate science courses
What’s there to say about this that isn’t self-evident? A’s are better than B’s. If you don’t have an A in a particular science course, you may want to consider retaking that same course to improve your grade. However, if you have a pretty high GPA, particularly in the physical sciences, you’ll be okay.
Additional nursing experience in leadership (i.e. committee), education, or research
This is the part that I believe separates you from everyone else. This goes back to my earlier post about taking some time to think about what it means to be a certified registerd nurse anesthetist. Being a CRNA isn’t just about providing anesthesia and making “beaucoup bucks.” Believe you me, because if it is, it’ll be snuffed out rather easily by the individuals who are responsible for admitting students into a program. You should already know by now that your competition’s profile is going to look similar to yours in that everyone probably has a GPA of 3.8 or higher (especially in the physical sciences) and they’ll all have great work experience in an ICU setting. How does one separate oneself from their competition?
Easy, by getting involved in leadership, education, and/or research positions at work. Remember what I said about being a CRNA. Being a CRNA means being a leader in nursing and that includes being involved in not only clinical practice, but in policy, education, and research. You need to demonstrate to the nurse anesthesia admissions committee that you understand this and that you’ve learned to incorporate that into your current professional career as a bedside RN.
So, what did I do? I was involved in a multitude of projects at my work. I participated in writing articles for the local chapter of the American Association of Critical Care Nurses. I helmed a chart auditing committee to ensure that the nurses on my unit were up to date with JCAHO guidelines on documentation. I helped develop a protocol for enteral nutrition on the unit with a colleague. I participated in a research study with physicians where I was in charge of collecting data as well as performing a literature review. Needless to say, it was a busy two years because again, I always went back to, “what does it mean to be a CRNA? What does it mean to be a leader in nursing? How can I embody that ideas now as a bedside RN?” Like I said before, if you can answer this question, then your path to nurse anesthesia school should be easy because once you’ve articulated this answer and demonstrate to other people how you’ve embodied your answer, no one will ever question your dedication.
Completion of advanced nursing certifications (i.e. CCRN, TNCC)
Because my bedside career was so short, I was only able to obtain the CCRN, which is basically the AACN’s certification in acute/critical care nursing. In my opinion, I think this is a no brainer. You HAVE to get this certification if you’re to be even considered for nurse anesthesia school. Everyone else is going to have this certification to make them stand out. All this does is raise the bar, so if you want to be considered, get certified in whatever field you’re in.
Again, this just goes back to what does it mean to be a leader in nursing? You have to include community service in your answer as well. For me, I’ve always had a special interest in hospice. For a while there, I thought I was actually going to pursue a career in hospice nursing, but ultimately, it didn’t work out for personal reasons. I was looking for something that was fast paced and highly technical. That said, it didn’t mean that I couldn’t be involved in hospice in some capacity and so, I ended up volunteering at a local hospice. I made house visits and helped care for individuals who were at the end of life. What’s there to say about this experience? It was rewarding and though sad on many occasions, there’s something to be said about individuals who want to die at home, with dignity and without pain…and that’s something you don’t necessarily see in an acute care setting (but that’s getting too political for this site).