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Becoming a CRNA

Kayla Berry, DNP, CRNA

Hey y'all!  I first want to say a HUGE thank you for your never-ending support throughout my journey in becoming a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA).  For those that have recently joined in, are curious about this profession, or have been asking me about tips and tricks concerning CRNA school, this blog post is for you!

A certified registered nurse anesthetist is a master's (MSN) or doctorally (DNP or PhD) prepared advanced practiced registered nurse (APRN) who provides anesthesia to patients undergoing surgical procedures.  We provide every type of anesthesia available, for any type of procedure, for all ages, and at any healthcare setting.  These include:
  • General anesthesia
  • Regional - including neuraxial anesthesia
  • Pain management
  • Sedation
Practice simulation lab with my classmates. Night, night Beth!

Okay, let's rewind ten years.  When I was 16 years old, I knew I wanted to join the medical field.  My paternal grandparents were Filipino missionaries and I desperately wanted to serve by their side in the medical/surgical arena.  After doing thorough research, I stumbled upon the CRNA profession.  There were even medical missions that included CRNAs and surgical teams to serve overseas.  It was the perfect fit!

Get hands-on experience as soon as possible.
Immediately following high school graduation, I obtained a position as a patient care technician in the hospital's surgical unit while beginning my nursing (ADN) prerequisite courses.  While balancing college and long work hours posed some difficulty, the benefits undoubtedly outweighed the costs.  Patient care technicians, at this particular hospital, were cross-trained in unit secretary and nursing assistant duties.  With this job, I was able to learn surgical terminology and direct patient care in addition to nursing school curriculum throughout my undergraduate career.

Look for nurse extern and graduate nurse positions before graduating from nursing school.
During my senior year of nursing school, our college hosted a number of meet-and-greets for nursing students and surrounding hospitals.  One of these hospitals peaked my interest when I heard about their nurse extern and graduate nurse opportunities.  A nurse extern position takes on the same duties as a patient care technician, but can additionally perform nursing duties in the presence of a registered nurse before graduating from nursing school.  A graduate nurse is yet another transitional position, where the nursing graduate can work under a verified, active provisional license until passing nursing boards.  (See the sequence?  Patient care tech -> nurse extern -> graduate nurse -> registered nurse).  I was so very blessed to have obtained both a nurse extern in the progressive care unit prior to graduating nursing school, and then a graduate nursing position in the intensive care unit post-graduation.  

Get ICU experience.
Securing a nursing career in the surgical ICU immediately after graduation was a milestone that I was so fortunate attain - because to be accepted into most CRNA schools, you must have at least two years of ICU experience.  While working full-time as an intensive care unit registered nurse, specializing in open heart and vascular procedures, I continued my education by earning my BSN online (also a CRNA school requirement).  

Photo from published capstone article.

Research your CRNA school before applying.
CRNA schools across the country differ in their prerequisites and requirements.  Some may require certain GRE scores or GPA, others want logged hours of CRNA shadowing, some may ask for you to obtain a critical care registered nurse (CCRN) certification, and others may necessitate specific prerequisite classes and BLS/ACLS/PALS certifications. Better yet, check all of these boxes to become even more marketable and get accepted the first time!  As an added bonus, research your CRNA school's Sigma Theta Tau chapter (a nursing honor society) and join prior to applying for CRNA school.  This will at least get your name out there! When I was sworn into their chapter, I was able to meet my future CRNA school director before I even applied!

Have a stable support system and budget.
I know you're probably tired of me blubbering on about how fantastic my husband and the rest of my family have been from the beginning of this journey.  But in all seriousness, you need to have a solid foundation that can undergo this long and stressful adventure by your side.  Also, ensure financial stability by saving prior to CRNA school.  Matt and I saved a ton beforehand because this school isn't cheap, y'all.  If you plan on taking out the maximum amount of student loans for a 3-year doctoral program, you will be $100,000+ in student loan debt.  Try not to do this, if at all possible.  You'll be happy you saved.

Stack on stacks on stacks of anesthesia books...holy moly!

So now, you're in!
For those of you currently in CRNA school, congratulations!! You're one step closer! Strive to be the best student possible.  Arrive at your clinical sites early; ask questions; venture out and try new anesthetic techniques; stock your rooms; and help out your nurses, techs, and surgical staff.  And don't EVER get too big for your britches!!  You put your pants on the same way everyone else does. (Getting off my soap box now...haha!)  Anyway, here are some pointers for getting your way through CRNA school:
  • Read Nagelhout. This book is rumored to have many boards questions come directly from its contents.  If you need a simplified version for more complex concepts, read in conjunction with Basics.
  • Sign up for Apex Anesthesia as soon as possible.  This online, virtual boards studying tool will help you pass the first time!  I loved it!  Start learning the modules, taking the practice questions, studying the flashcards, and taking the timed mock exams early on.  
  • Go to Valley Review.  I found this review most helpful in firmly grasping an understanding of  biochemistry and anatomy/physiology.
  • Try to get as many tough cases under your belt while in school. Volunteer for the open hearts and craniotomies.  Master regional blocks and epidurals/spinals.  Learn how to use your backup/difficult airway techniques before you need them - fiberoptic, glidescope, LMA fastrach, etc.

Again, thank you, thank you, thank you for joining me during these chapters in becoming a CRNA!  And an even bigger thank you to God for His unwavering love and grace in helping me achieve this dream.  I owe it all to Him and I can't wait to see what the future holds!


1 comment

  1. You are so inspiring to so many people! And, yet you remain to be humble and give God the glory for all the blessings you have received. LOVE!!