11 Things I Learned Within My First Year of CRNA School

  Learn to NOT compete with or compare yourself to fellow students. Let me tell you, EVERY student in your program is going to be “smart.” So save yourself the anxiety attacks and learn to not dwell on what others make … Continue reading

What I Wish I Would Have Known Before Starting CRNA School

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Before I start with the, “I wish I would have known…”mumbo jumbo, let me clarify… Although I do wish I would have known certain details before starting my CRNA journey, I have NEVER once regretted my decision of going off to CRNA school. In fact, it’s the best decision I’ve ever made for myself. And honestly, one of the biggest lessons I have learned throughout my last 27 years is being financially independent is truly INVALUABLE.

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Prior to starting CRNA school, I believed my only stressor would be the academic workload and rotations. After my first month in the program, I quickly realized I was mistaken.

Now, many of you reading this know I qualified for ACM (Academic Common Market) due to Georgia not having a DNP CRNA program last year. As glorious as it sounds, I unfortunately had many issues while applying for financial aid because of my ACM status. Granted, it could have just been the lack of organization and communication between UTHSC’s departments, but when I tell you I was in the financial aid office twice a week for two months straight, I’m not exaggerating. It was exhausting and unbelievably dispiriting, especially since the novelty and excitement of school had just kicked in.

Before accepting my offer to UTHSC, I had spoken with ACM and UTHSC’s financial aid office. Both of them confirmed I would be able to take out the maximum student loans for an out-of-state student. Pretty much an extra $15-20,000 a year. Well once I moved to Memphis and began the process of accepting my student loans, UTHSC completely rescinded what they had originally told me. Basically, I could only take out the maximum for an in-state-student, which is a joke. So like most poor graduate students, I had to max out my graduate-plus loans as well, which is also a joke because it still wasn’t enough money to cover my basic expenses. I can’t tell you the number of times I left the financial aid office crying because I thought I wasn’t going to be able to afford CRNA school anymore.

Let me explain why… My first year refund with all government loans maxed is roughly $16,000 for the ENTIRE year. Now to be fair, the $16,000 refund is after EVERYTHING has been taken out, including health insurance. However, to live off such a small amount of money for an entire year is blatantly unrealistic. Not to mention, there are several unanticipated expenses that will undoubtably sprout up during school, including the initial Typhon, APEX, AANA, TANA, and NBCRNA fees, which were around $500 alone… and that was just in the first week of school!!

You see, CRNA programs are umbrella’d into the School of Nursing and student loan disbursements are based off the average salary for the School of Nursing graduates. Therefore, the problem obviously lies in the fact that a CRNA’s average salary is very different than a nurse or NP’s average salary. Also, most nursing students (BSN, MSN, DNP-NP) can still work while completing their programs and their tuition is usually much less than ours. I know I personally worked during my BSN program and since I was under 26, my parents were able to claim me on their health insurance. Additionally, so many NP programs are online now, including the NP programs here at UTHSC. So unfortunately our CRNA program gets financially lumped in with theirs and respectfully, you really can’t compare the two as far as academic workload or finances are concerned. Now, I do understand the quality of CRNA/NP programs vary greatly (online vs on campus) and I am speaking in a more generalized sense. By no means am I trying to offend anyone; the world needs both professions and they are equally respected.

Luckily, I have an amazing support system back home and my parents/grandparents stepped right up to help. However, not everyone is as fortunate and that’s where the upset comes in. At the end of the day, I would highly encourage prospective nurses to thoroughly research and talk with current SRNAs about their financial aid and general finances. Believe me, no SRNA will be shy when it comes to expressing their finances, as this seems to be a universal obstacle for us.

With all I’ve said about my finances, don’t get discouraged! My point is to be brutally honest with how financially stressful CRNA school can be so you aren’t shocked and unprepared like I was.

As cheesy as it sounds, if there’s a will, there’s a way. I know several second and third year SRNAs who took out private loans on top of maxing out government loans. I know it sounds scary, but at the end of the day you will be in the best position possible and you won’t have to ever worry about money again. Therefore, taking out a reasonable amount of student loans should NEVER be a deciding factor for attending CRNA school.

Another factor I wish I would have known before starting CRNA school? The ability to take certain online DNP courses ahead of time, including: Theory & Philosophy, Biostatistics, Epidemiology, Health Assessment, and Leadership & Health Policy. I’ve mentioned this in a previous post but I feel the need to repeat myself because I really wish I would have done this! However, before jumping the gun, make sure these classes are the required level and your prospective school will except the transfers. For example, undergraduate statistics is not the same and your BSN Health Assessment isn’t a graduate level course.

On a side note, congratulations to all those who interviewed and were accepted to UTHSC next year!! I’m also going to also create a post about what I’ve learned since starting school, so stay posted!! As always, if you ever have any questions don’t hesitate to ask!

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One Semester Down, Eight More to Go! 

Like promised, here a few more pictures from my recent Eurotrip! If you’ve never traveled to Ireland, I highly encourage you to add it to the bucket list! It’s a beautiful hidden treasure with so much to offer and was, without … Continue reading

The Big Move

Eeeek! So my Eurotrip has sadly come to an end and I willingly transplanted myself to Tennessee a few weeks ago! But before I get to the good stuff, like my first day of CRNA orientation, Europe was amazing and I seriously … Continue reading

My Dream Trip Before Starting CRNA School: Eurotrip 2016

The time has finally come! For traveling, that is 😉 Since high school, I’ve always dreamed of exploring the amazing cultures and authentic historical beauties spread across Europe. With CRNA school right around the corner, it’s now or never. So over … Continue reading

Interviewing for CRNA School

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Alright, alright… let’s get down to the nitty gritty! There are two types of interviewers in the world; the memorable and the forgettable. We’ve all had the unfortunate awkward interviews, so my goal is to guide you in the right direction and help prepare you for the interview process. In this post I’ll share mine and other’s experiences at various colleges, what we would recommend to prepare, and the smaller components no one ever told us about! Before I start, let me give you the biggest piece of advice I can… you are the driver during these interviews. Whatever experiences or topics you bring up, just know they will ask you several relatable questions. So in the most blatant terms I can use, DO NOT bring up anything you wouldn’t want to be meticulously questioned on.

Screen Shot 2015-12-23 at 11.30.57 PMHere we go! There are several excellent online resources you can use to prepare yourself for the interview, such as CRNA CAREER PRO. They have a package you can buy to help you with the entire application, including essay guidance and interview practice questions. Keep in mind every interview will have a different feel and based off that feeling, you’ll quickly gather how you should pilot your interview. Surprisingly, I had very few questions repeated in my interviews. Some interviews were extremely laid back and I was only asked about myself and my experiences. In comparison, others were a little less personable and I felt as though I was taking the CCRN all over again.

So how did I prepare? I bought a great book that was recommended to me by a friend of a friend who just started CRNA school at Boston College. The book is called, Pathophysiology of Heart Disease by Leonard Lilly, MD. Like every nurse, I have a ridiculous number of medical books but this is the book I will always, always, always recommend to ICU nurses even if they aren’t applying to graduate school. It’s excellent at breaking down medications and explaining exactly how they work throughout the body. In case you haven’t heard already, most interview panels will expect you to understand and clearly explain your medications on a cellular level. But don’t panic, they only question you on medications relevant to the unit you work on and the ones you may unfortunately bring up in conversation. For instance, let’s say you work in a Neuro ICU. More than likely they aren’t going to be asking you about IV Milrinone or the difference between a Beta Blocker and a Calcium Channel Blocker, but rather medications like Mannitol, Decadron, Nimodipine, and intrathecal Milrinone. However, if you work in CCU or CVICU, anti-hypertensive medications and IV inotropes will be fair game. And just to clarify when I say cellular level, I mean much more than the fact that Milrinone is an vasodilating inotrope and side effects include arrhythmias and hypotension. You can try that, but they are going to want you to know that Milrinone is a phosphodiesterase inhibitor that supports ventricular functioning by decreasing the breakdown of cAMP, leading to an increased intracellular concentration of cAMP in the myocardium and vascular smooth muscle. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they dug a little deeper to ask you more detailed questions about cAMP and how it effects Calcium levels, and then how that effects the heart. Dobutamine, Epinephrine, and Dopamine were the only medications I was ever asked about, but I’m 100% positive that’s because I’m in cardiac. FYI, they love asking about vasoconstrictors! Those are the medications I purposely brought up 😉

Of course I preferred some interviews over others, but that’s to be expected. You click with some panels, not so much with others. For me, I prefer more laid back personalities so when I interviewed at UTHSC Memphis, I knew right away I wanted to go there. I originally didn’t make the cut to interview at Memphis and was actually called three days before the last interview to see if I was still interested. I’m not sure if maybe they weren’t overly impressed with the first interview group or what, but they squeezed me in for 7am that Friday. Right away I called my nurse manager and he took me off the schedule so I could drive up to Memphis and interview. Did I mention my boss is awesome? He really is! Most managers would never bend over backwards for the nurses who are trying to leave for graduate school, but he’s the exception!

I really enjoyed my interview at Memphis. Since my interview started so early and they were still setting up, the program director came out to introduced himself and apologize for the wait. I didn’t mind; after all it gave me time to read over my medications in case they started drilling me like previous interviewers had. The program organizer led me back to a large conference room where food and drinks were available along with UTHSC souvenirs. I filled out some additional contact paperwork and talked with a couple of the organizers. Soon after, I was called back for my interview. I sat down in front of three CRNAs; the program director, and two CRNA professors. All extremely nice and welcoming. Throughout the interview, I noticed they were scoring me from 1-5, which seems to be a common theme with graduate school interviews. Memphis never quizzed me on medications, but rather asked me about myself, my experiences, the units I’ve work on, my patient population/acuity, my CRNA shadowing, and if I was ready for the commitment. It was a very comfortable interview and I enjoyed hearing about their program and how it’s different from others.

By far, my favorite part of every interview was talking with the SRNAs. That’s when you really learn about the programs. The schools will have a few of their SRNAs outside the interview room to help calm your nerves and answer any questions you might have. At Memphis, all the students loved the program. They genuinely wanted to be present for the interviews to tell you how much they loved it. There were 5 third years and 4 or 5 first years sitting in a circle talking to me and couple other prospective students. I stayed until almost 11am! That’s how much fun we were having!

What did I wear for my interviews? A suit. No questions asked. Always wear a suit! I wore a cream skirt suit with a light pink under shirt and nude 3 inch closed-toed heels. As nerdy as it sounds, I recently read an article that talked about the best and worst accent colors to wear during an interview. The best? Pale or deep pinks and blues. The worst? Yellows and oranges. Also, make sure you have a copy of your resume and essay with you. They will never ask for it, but I promise that one time you walk into an interview empty handed, they’ll ask for a copy and you’ll look unprepared.

On top of preparing for the medical questions, my suggestion would be to prepare for the interview like you would for any nursing interview. They are going to ask you about your stress level, how you deal with stress, examples of stressful situations you’ve encountered, how you resolve confrontation… and so on. Additionally, make sure you’ve thoroughly  researched their program. It shows them you are seriously interested in their school and will impress them. Remember, these programs want people with “easy” personalities, so definitely not someone who is going to cause problems or be difficult to work with. They’re also looking for candidates who aren’t going to drop out, after all that negatively effects their attrition rates. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a family, but just make sure to show them how badly you want it and how your family and you have prepared for this journey!! Your goal for these interviews should be to stand out in a positive way. You want them to remember you after you leave! Shake their hands… Smile… Make eye contact… Show off that fun personality! You got this!!

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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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