Most nurse anesthesia schools will require a minimum of a year experience in an intensive care unit. However, the typical applicant has around 2-4 years. I worked in the ICU for 2 years before moving onto graduate school. It’s rare for an individual to have 1 year of experience and to get into school, but it’s not unheard of. In fact, I know a CRNA who applied to a nurse anesthesia program while still going through a new grad RN residency program. He got into the program before even completing his first year as a bedside RN.
Let me just say that that’s the exception, not the rule. Typically, those kinds of applicants have a strong background in science and demonstrate an aptitude of being able to deal with the academic rigor of studying anesthesia. Additionally, they were probably involved in a host of research projects during their undergraduate years. Coupling those factors, it makes for a compelling argument to admit an individual into a nurse anesthesia program despite not having that much work experience at the bedside.
I’m sure you’ve heard all of arguments surrounding whether a nurse should have a lot of experience by the bedside or if bedside experience is even necessary when pursuing a degree in advanced practice nursing. Personally, I don’t think there’s a clear answer to this. I think it really depends on your disposition and what you think works for you.
For me, I needed to ease my way into nursing, which is why I didn’t go into the critical care setting right away. As I mentioned in my previous posts, I thought about hospice as a potential avenue for me. So, I started out on a medical-surgical floor. I spent about a year and a half on the floor learning how to interact with patients, their families, and hospital staff before realizing (1) hospice wasn’t going to be for me and (2) I wanted something more fast paced and technical.
I ended up transferring to a surgical transplant intensive care unit where I spent two years there before transitioning to nurse anesthesia school. Could I have gone to grad school after my first year in the ICU? I’d like to think that I could, but at the same, who really knows? Either way, I’m glad I spent the time that I did in the ICU because it taught me a lot about myself. I grew tremendously from a personal and professional perspective. I was exposed a wide variety of cases with a wide variety of patients. I was involved in a number of codes, titrated vasoactive drips, assisted in intubations, managed hemodialysis machines and the list goes on, all while coordinating my patients’ care with a number of different hospital staff members. It was an exhilarating, though emotionally exhausting experience. I think the 2 years I spent in the ICU was enough time to prepare me for the rigors of clinical anesthesia because it exposed me to a number of different clinical scenarios; primarily scenarios that involved knowing how to work within a group setting and knowing how to deal with difficult personalities in a high stress, fast paced environment.
Either way, only you can decide for yourself how much experience you need at the bedside and whether you think it’s critical to have that experience before moving on to anesthesia (or into advanced practice altogether). I thought my experience played an invaluable role in preparing me for graduate school. If you think that having that experience is crucial as well, I would highly recommend that you find work in an ICU at a major academic medical center or a hospital setting where you take care of the “sickest of the sick.” As I briefly mentioned previously, you want to be involved in as many different, complex cases as you can because ultimately, that’s what anesthesia is: being able to provide care in wide variety of settings and to be able to think on your feet when you’re met with these scenarios. That’s what working in an intensive care unit did for me.