Mastering Your CRNA School Application

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Standing out through your CRNA application is much easier than people think. Let’s begin with the most time consuming portion; the dreaded essay. It’s not just you! Every nurse despises this part. We aren’t writers and when we do write, it’s usually short handed, choppy medical lingo. Unfortunately, we all have to start somewhere and graduate school is full of writing. Remember, every program is different with their essay requirements so make sure you research how long your essay should be, how many you need, etc. Like many novice applicants, I failed to do this and when I was applying to MCG, they wanted two. One essay about my failures and how I’ve grown from them and the other about why I wanted to be a CRNA. Usually you can just use your “Why I want to be a CRNA” essay for all your applications and be done, but some schools like to make you work a little harder than others.

Writers block? My advice would be to open your essay with how you were exposed to the anesthesia world, focusing on a particular situation or CRNA who left an impression on you. Hint Hint, this is good place to insert one of your shadow experiences and don’t hold back on the details! I concentrated on a particular shadow experience with a pediatric CRNA who sold me years ago. To bulk up your essay, be sure to include your achievements through nursing school and especially your nursing career. Don’t hesitate to brag on yourself! You’ve worked hard to get where you are!

More examples? Well, I used pretty much an entire paragraph stressing the high acuity ICUs I’ve worked in and the amount of experience I have with various gtts/meds, vents, and equipment (iabps, vads, impellas, ecmo, crrt, and so on). I also spent a good portion of my essay focusing on my leadership skills and positions I held like relief charging, precepting, and committee involvements. For my last paragraph, I took some of my own personal qualities and related them to what I think it takes to become a successful, well rounded CRNA. I also talked about the kind of CRNA I wanted to be for my patients, using your typical “nurse-y” adjectives. Once I was finished, I forced several coworkers and family members to read it and give me their opinion on grammar and fluidity. To me, it was also really important to let my personally shine through my essay. Don’t forget, you want to stand out any way you can!

Moving on to your resume/CV! Through my research, several websites recommended to avoid making your resume and essay too similar; however, I found this near impossible. Afterall, you’re going to want to stress all your nursing experience and achievements on both. I also think it’s irrelevant whether you choose to have a resume versus a CV. Obviously you’re already going to have a resume made from when you applied for your ICU position, so you might as well just tweak that a little and move on. Make sure to add all of your certifications, including your CCRN. If you don’t have your CCRN yet, make sure to write “scheduled” next to it so they know you intend on taking it. I can’t stress it enough… get your CCRN. It’s shows you’re serious about your career and not to mention, most schools won’t consider you unless you have it. GPA, you say? Depending on where you’re applying, the GPA recommendations will vary anywhere from a 3.0 to 3.3 minimum, and a 3.4 or higher to be competitive. But again, this is all school dependent. You’ll also find some schools calculating a separate GPA just for sciences and statistics. If you received a “C” in any of those classes, I would strongly consider retaking them at a local college if you have time. If you don’t have time, don’t worry. Just focus on the other important pieces of the application and emphasize all your amazing strengths!

Okay, so now let’s talk GRE. Oh the agony! I hated this test. Absolutely hated. From my experience, the GRE isn’t anywhere near as big of a deal as people make it out to be. Honestly, I think it’s just one of the many hoops graduate schools make you jump through to weed out the “not-so-serious” applicants. Unless you’re applying to a top-notch school, don’t sweat it. My score was nothing impressive- a 150 in verbal, a 152 in quantitative, and a 4 for writing. The school where I accepted, UT- Memphis, recommended a 144 quantitative, a 153 verbal, and a 4.5 writing to be a “competitive” score. I had friends who scored anywhere from 307 to 311 with 4.5 writing scores, and they weren’t asked to interview at the same places where I was… so who knows. Bottom line, just don’t kill yourself stressing over it. Study wise, I seriously studied for maybe two months and  lollygagged for atleast five. I used two Kaplan books but spent most of my time reteaching myself formulas and completing Kaplan’s online practice tests. Personally, I learn best by answering practice questions and then reviewing them afterwards, even the ones I got right. Additionally, I’ve heard good things about Barry’s review for the quantitative section, and then the yearly ETS review books for overall study material and practice questions.

With all that being said, here are a couple more suggestions… Apply early, early, early! I truly feel like this makes a huge difference. The schools look at applications as they receive them. You don’t want to be that person who applied the last week and sadly slipped through the cracks because they already had enough qualified applicants to interview. Also, be mindful that some schools, like MUSC, require the CRNAs you shadow to fill out a special “proof of shadow” sheet while you’re there. And like I said in my previous post, you should be requesting your recommendations before the applicantion portal even opens. Leave yourself plenty of time to have all your paperwork turned in so you aren’t stressing yourself out over something that was easily preventable.Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 8.49.07 AM

How to Decide Which CRNA School is Right for You

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Oh boy, now for the fun stuff! Deciding which CRNA school is right for you! Time and time again I hear fellow nurses say, “I’m not picky about where I go, I just want to get in.” I’m not going to lie, this thought definitely crossed my mind once or twice! However, don’t sell yourself short!! After interviewing and seeing the diversity between programs and learning how each school operates, it’s a good idea to pick the shoe that fits! If you have a more laid back personality, there is a chance you aren’t going to have the best experience in an uptight environment, and vice versa. You’ll know if it’s a right choice for you once you start interviewing and talking with the faculty. In fact, as soon as you sit down in front of the panel, you’ll know!

An important factor to consider when you begin organizing your list of top schools is, how far are you willing to move? For instance, I’m from Georgia and most of my family is still in Georgia. So I knew I wanted to stay in the south east, therefore; I applied to UT-Houston, UAB, MCG (Regents), UT-Memphis, Union, and LSU. Honestly, I wasn’t willing to stretch any further than Tennessee and I’m not a Florida girl so I didn’t even look at Florida schools. However, I have several friends who went to USF and they absolutely loved it. Also, the application deadlines heavily influenced the selection of my six schools. All but maybe MCG had deadlines by September and the interviews were shortly after. In the future, I hope the CRNA programs will as a whole become more integrated and unified because it’s unfortunate for prospective students to miss out on various schools due to application deadlines.

Next! Think about if you’re wanting to apply to MSN programs or DNP programs. Personally, I knew I wanted a DNP program but I applied to two MSN programs as well. UAB and MCG are both great schools and additionally, they are right around the corner from me. Many MSN programs have a bridge DNP so you can conveniently continue through if you please. Usually, you just apply during your second year. According to the AANA website, having your DNP will not be a requirement until 2025 and if you graduate with your MSN before then, you’ll be grandfathered in. MSN programs are usually around two years while DNP programs are three, give or take a few months.

Also, ponder if having a front loaded program versus an integrated program is important to you. Personally, I feel as if there are pros and cons with both. Front loaded gives you a little more confidence once you’re in rotations because you’ll at least have some sort of “book knowledge” foundation to grow on. Whereas integrated supposedly helps you transition better from rotation to rotation, whether you know what you’re talking about or not. With that being said, all but one of my SRNA friends preferred front loaded. I know many programs are moving towards integrated, so it is something to think about if that is a concern for you. In the end, since I haven’t experienced either yet, I’m indifferent and I kind of feel like it’s comparing apples to oranges.

Another factor in your decision making should be class size. We all know most CRNA programs have an average of 20 students, but some are exceedingly large. LSU, for example, takes approximately 45 students and UAB takes 50-55 students. Unaware of this fact until I interviewed, but LSU also combines their more generalized graduate classes with their NP and med students. That’s a pretty large class. Not to mention, many of these classes are taught by med school faculty. Everyone is different, but it was definitely a turn off for me. I’m not a fan of 150 plus class sizes anymore… that’s what undergrad is for. Also, LSU combines the med students and SRNAs for some of the simulation labs. No bueno. On the opposite end was MCG, UT-Houston, UT-Memphis. These schools accept anywhere from 18-25 students and are coincidentally ranked a little higher. I did discover in my pre-acceptance research, the smaller the class size = the better ranking the program had. But who knows! I’m pretty sure the ranking system is more of a popularity contest; however, the rankings you see on allcrnaschools are based off of a 2011 survey done by US News and World Report.

On to one of the biggest factors in my opinion; Traveling! One of the many reasons I fell in love with UT-Memphis was because there was next to no traveling for the CRNA students. I have two small dogs and bouncing around every few months for two years wasn’t at all appealing to me. You really won’t know how much traveling each school requires until you interview and chat with the students. The SRNAs are all blatantly honest and won’t hold back from telling you what to expect at that specific school. The LSU students didn’t hesitate to tell me that I would be traveling every two months for the last two years of their program. Ouch! If you’re having to travel that much, obviously there aren’t enough cases/hospitals for all the anesthesia students they have in that region… which brings me to my last point!

Make sure you really take time and research the hospitals and anesthesia competition in each area. What do I mean? Well when I first started interviewing, I didn’t even think about this! It wasn’t until I was interviewing at UT-Memphis and one of the third year SRNA’s kept pressing this particular point. You don’t want to pick a school that’s located in an area where you aren’t going to be well trained or where you’ll have an overwhelming amount of competition for cases. Remember, the med students, residents, and fellows will ALWAYS get the better cases. Who wants to get stuck in an OR with Lap procedures all day?! Sure, you’d get to watch the residents and fellows throughout the interesting procedures, but that was exactly the SRNA’s point.. you’d be watching.

Remember, every school has something unique to offer so really take time and research your schools! What’s important to me, may not be as important to you. It’s also much easier to be picky once you begin receiving your acceptance letters.

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