Calling All Candidates


David_Steve_ORThis past week I had the privilege to participate in candidate interviews for our Nurse Anesthesia Program here at the University of Southern California housed in the Keck School of Medicine program. Beginning this process started with reading through long dossiers from each of the candidates including transcript records and personal statements. After reading 35 or so of these collections, the process of evaluating each of them individually began. This whole process was inconsequential without meeting these wonderful people and putting a face and personality to the paper facade that I had been poring over for so long. Now for the hard part that has been put before us, the personal interviews.

What amazed me the most about the interviews were the surprises that I found in the potential students that were interviewed this past week. Some of people that looked great on paper were marginal face-to-face or just plan incongruous with their written profile. Other candidates that looked to have just an acceptable ICU experience on paper were absolutely fabulous in person with knowledge presence and charisma. As one of the seasoned faculty members reasoned with me, “You will find clear examples of candidates that will fit with our program perfectly and others that do not fit at all. The trouble comes in the middle and that’s where the debates will come among the faculty members each championing their personal favorites for those last remaining few spots.” Hmmmmm, I am thinking now that there is more than enough truth in this. We will all decide together which candidates will be best for our program in the class starting in this fall. There are several more interviewing days and many more candidates to see so its back to work reading and thinking about what it is that makes a candidate for a Nurse Anesthesia Program shine.

In these past few days I have been pondering this question. What makes a candidate perfect for Nurse Anesthesia? This kismet for the candidates has been occupying my mind for more than this past week. Personally I have spent years positioning myself to do well in preparation for anesthesia practice and now as a faculty member in a great teaching institution I am challenged to keep growing and setting the standard for the students and potential students to rise to. That is why I write now dear reader to tell you what it takes to prepare for Nurse Anesthesia School and eventual Nurse Anesthesia practice. This is no small undertaking. If you will allow me to share with you both personal and professional opinions about “getting in and doing well” in the profession of Nurse Anesthesia practice you will note that these are my opinions and do not represent any official word from any program. Also, please take into consideration that what I have to share with you may apply to your personal situation or it may not. Finally, take these suggestions a grain of humor in the middle of your struggles to rise to something new in your nursing practice.

First, you must know that I am on your side and want all of you to succeed and shine in your chosen field of Nurse Anesthesia Practice. Knowing that, you have to understand that not all will reach these goals. This is painful for many I know. It has taken me a long time to attain my own personal goals so I am very sympathetic with those that have a vision of what they want to do and become, a vision that at times seams so far away and unreachable.

First, you must have a “Fire In the Belly” to come to nurse anesthesia practice. Simply put, you must have an overwhelming desire to do this or you will not have the energy or stamina to complete the journey. This is a personal characteristic that I have seen in all successful candidates that enter into anesthesia study as a nurse. The competition is huge on all sides and the determination to prevail is required. So right now ask yourself, “Am I up to this. Do I have enough inner drive toSteve_Sam_Davidget me over all of the hurtles that will be in the path?” If you just take a self-check now and measure your pulse you will know. Are you getting excited yet? If not then maybe you should just settle for another area of practice. Nurse Anesthesia is not for everyone and as you will see the road does get narrow. So motivation is the first requirement. Desire to put this goal first are really important. Motivation is one of the things that we look for in potential candidates for our program; so ask yourself, “Do you have enough”? This is a personal characteristic you can do something about. Motivation comes from inside of you and does not depend on how old you are, how young, what color, ethic background, religion you follow or any of that stuff. None of those external trappings matter. What matters comes from inside; its what will drive you to excel and shine as a nurse anesthetist.

My second suggestion is reasonable as well. Do you have the required clinical background that will ensure your success in a nurse anesthesia program and are you willing to change jobs, move or do what ever necessary to get the best experience before entering graduate education in a nurse anesthesia program? This links the motivation to where you are now. Maybe you are in a very comfortable community hospital ICU that has sick patients but most of them are of the garden variety. Are you getting the experience in your present work place that is needed for you to be successful in Nurse Anesthesia School? Additionally, how long have you been working in an intensive care setting? The minimum requirement set by the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) is 1 year of ICU experience. Often I find that this is simply not enough for the average candidate coming in to our program. We encourage more than the minimum and based on the individual often this will require more than two years. This is not always the case and occasionally there are those that through extreme effort and desire will get the experience and knowledge in one and a half years or so before coming into anesthesia training. During the interviews this past week there was one such individual that really shined with a year and a half in the ICU but for most candidates it requires more time. So question number two asks you if you have a good enough experience before planning a career in anesthesia. If you do not think your experience is very strong, trust me your interviews will not think so. I encourage you to look for an academic Teaching Hospital where you can really ramp up your skills. For those candidates that come to us with all of the right stuff but lack enough clinical experience we set goals together and require the CCRN certificate before they reapply for the following year.

Academic preparation is always required. Our program requires coursework that other programs may not require. We require a college physics course as well as the Graduate Entrance Exam which other programs may not ask for. Based on the program that you plan on attending it makes sense to contact them directly and find out what the individual requirements are for the school that you want to attend. Planning and preparation are really important. Get all of “your ducks in a row” as they say! Find out what your program requires in the way of course work and finish it all up. One way you can do this is to go to the AANA web site and look up the programs in your area or where you want to go to school for their individual requirements. All of the top programs have web sites that you can peruse. You can examine their prerequisites and evaluate their programs to see if they are a fit for you. These are tangible things you can do to minimize your stress. Find out exactly what you have to do and your chances of success will go up. This makes sense.

JR_ORPerhaps you took organic chemistry a few years ago and were preoccupied with working and personal relationships and you did not do well in the course. You can take it again and improve your grades. Often we find that students did not do well in their undergraduate studies for any number of reasons. Now a couple of years later you have new goals and are motivated to get into graduate study. You can now go back and take a couple of science courses, do well and demonstrate that you are focused and ready for the academic rigor of anesthesia didactic. These are things that you can do to improve your chances of getting in and improve your ability to do well once you are studying more advance topics that require a strong basic science base. I will refer you back to requirement number one, “Do you have the Fire” to do what you have to do?

There are several other things you can do to improve your chances of getting in to your program of choice. Most of these are personal interview and follow through skills that we can comment on in other editions of the Nurse Anesthetist Blog. For now I wish all of you great success and the strength of perseverance to reach your goals. If there is any thing that I can do for any one of you just drop me a note in the contact section.

Categories : Student Life


  1. David Roy says:


    All sounds good. I do recommend a surgical ICU as a better experience than medicine. The approaches are different and the patient care is definitely different. Surgery and medicine are worlds apart. So, if you want my opinion, get into a surgical ICU and spend some time there. Two years in a medical ICU will leave you very short even with the CCRN.

    Take the GRE. Its a good thing to have on your application and the study time for is is not wasted.

    Good luck and let me know how you doing.


  2. Nick says:

    Thank you for your recommendation. I did want to start in in SICU floor, however they didn’t have any positions available at the time. Our unit has 30 beds and we usually get the overload from other units such as the SICU, CCU, Neuro ICU. I was hoping that this would get me a good experience in all aspects. I will probably take the GREs by the end of this year and CCRN probably the beginning of next year.

    Thanks for your recommendations again. I will keep you updated


  3. Rish says:

    I wanted to work towards going back to school in 5 years and I was thinking CRNA. But I work in the NICU/PICU now, and I was considering picking up some adult ICU experience part time. I know that they want one year full time experience, but I was thinking, do you think >2 years of part time experience would suffice?

  4. David Roy says:

    You already have many years of experience. I would not put too much worry into how much adult experience you have. Some of our best performing candidates have come from a PICU background where all medications are weight based. GO FOR IT.
    Good luck and read as much as you can now on basic physiology and pharmacology.

  5. Good morning –

    For anyone interested in learning more about how to get into CRNA school, I recently started a blog detailing my experience getting into school, my experience during school, and my experience as a new grad CRNA. Feel free to check it out. Would love to hear feedback from anyone who has questions about the journey in becoming a CRNA or if you have questions/comments about the website itself.

  6. Graybeard says:

    As an SRNA who was 52 at the start of a 28 month long program, I can tell you that doing this in your 50s is nothing like doing it in earlier decades! I can’t speak for anyone but myself of course, but I was in my early 40s when I started my BSN, and CRNA school is orders of magnitude harder and more stressful. I’m currently weeks away from graduating, and knowing what I know now, I’d have to think very long and very hard about whether this was worth it at my (our) age. I’m getting through it, but it has been a struggle from the get-go for me. Academics is hard, but the clinical side of things has been really tough for me. I also think that for better or worse, a lot of people have a “thing” about older people in positions such as being an SRNA. I can’t put my finger on anything overt, but I can’t help but see that it’s there. Go in with your eyes as wide open as possible, and know that you will very likely run into people who couldn’t care any less whether you succeed or not, and people who will see you as an older person as a threat to them (even though you are in no way actually a threat). It’s tough, and I’m praying the reward will be worth it, and that I’m able to work into my 70s to make it more worthwhile.

  7. Highly Favored and Motivated says:

    Hi David,

    Thank you so very much for sharing this extremely useful information. Currently, I have an upcoming interview for a nurse anesthesia program. I have been critical nurse in a level 1 teaching hospital for four years and for as long as I can remember nurse anesthesia has been my goal. I can still remember my lecture on perioperative nursing back in nursing school and looking to my neighbor and saying that my goal is to be a CRNA. At the time, she admitted ally had no idea what I was speaking of but the passion behind my decision led me to explain.

    At this time, despite my opportunity to interview, I am extremely nervous. I am a nurse who completed my ASN then continued on for my BSN. While obtaining my ASN, I maintained a solid GPA of 3.7. I passed my nclex on the first try at 75 questions. About 6-9 months after returning to school to obtain my BSN, I learned that I was pregnant. My husband and I were extremely excited but who knew that my pregnancy would be extremely complicated. Despite the complications, I continued to push through; however completing assignment in not the best health and from a hospital bed left my grades as marginal. I ended up receiving three C’s in a few of my courses which ended up dropping my overall GPA to 3.27.

    I have since taken a graduate course and received a B+ in the course (Advanced Patho). Currently, I am enrolled in another graduate course. I decided that I wanted to take these courses to display how serious and motivated I am. I have numerous recommendations and I have passed my CCRN. Despite the fact that I have already been extended and interview, I am worried that my GPA separates me from other contenders in a not so good way. At this point, I am unsure if there is anything else that I can do to enhance my portfolio. By any chance, do you have any suggestions? I would greatly appreciate it if you could just shed a little light on my situation.

    Thanks in advance and I really look forward to hearing from you!

  8. David Roy says:

    Yo Graybeard,
    I was older than you when I started and now am over ten years in practice. Yes it is worth is every last ounce of sweat blood and tears worth it. Let me know how it goes for you as you are now out in the “real” world.


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