Minimum Schminimum – Requirements

There are things that every applicant has to do in order to apply. You probably know those already, if you don’t you should. These are the minimum requirements for even submitting an application.  Minimum is bolded for a reason. Anesthesia programs are highly competitive. Do you think they are looking for candidates who settle for the minimum requirements? Hot tip . . . they aren’t. As time moves on, these programs become more and more competitive. So change your mindset to be a person who meets and then smashes those minimum requirements.

I know what you are thinking. The minimum requirements are what they are. Every university requires prerequisite coursework (vary by program), a personal statement (also vary by program, but all will want to know why you want to be a CRNA), GRE, letters of recommendation, and experience as a RN.  All you can do is meet the requirements right? Wrong! They are looking at a body of work, in most cases, over a very long period of time. This is why planning is so important. No one is going back to nursing school, so you better have made the most of it while you were there.

Prerequisite Courses

You control how you perform in your coursework. There is really no easy way around this. Given the competitive nature of anesthesia programs, if your GPA is low, you have no choice but to get it up. Now, given that most of us have taken many many classes prior to applying; one or two classes isn’t going to change your GPA that much. Hope is not lost though. Retake the important classes (generally your sciences). Re-enroll and ensure you take them seriously enough to get high grades. If you are having to retake them, you should be shooting for As – nothing less will do. This will do two things for you. It will raise your GPA (albeit slightly), but it will also show your dedication to improvement and that you are serious about getting in. The latter being far more important and programs will appreciate your effort. You will get a chance to explain your grades during your interview process (you won’t have a choice). Take the opportunity to plead your case and do not under any circumstance make up a sob story. No one likes excuses. Be honest about your situation and say all you could do was improve, which is what you did.

Personal Statement

Anesthesia programs are all transitioning to doctorate programs. You cannot get around the writing. You will do it during your program and beyond. They are not only assessing your writing skills, but also your critical-thinking. I said you better know why you want to be a CRNA. You will have to put this to paper. Think about the people on interview panels. They read hundreds of these a year. Make yours different and make sure you don’t have the same answer as everyone else. You really need to put thought behind this.

If you are like me, you are not the best writer in the world. You don’t need to be.

A few tips:

  • Be concise – answer the questions directly – forget the fluff
  • FOLLOW the directions
    • Answer the questions they are asking – you can’t use the same statement for every program if they are asking different information – trust me, they will know you are recycling
    • Word count – look, this is common sense, but you would be shocked how hard it is for people. Do NOT go OVER or UNDER!
  • Have someone else read it
    • Have them look for grammar, spelling, and punctuation – seriously, don’t mess any of that up  
    • At minimum a friend or family member (smash minimums!) – Keep in mind they may not understand the content
    • Better – CRNA or anesthesiologist
    • Best – pay a professional – DO NOT have them write it for you, but there are people who specialize in this and can help you make it better

GRE

This is not a hard exam, but it isn’t easy either. It is a lot of math most of us haven’t seen in a very long time. Take a review course. If for nothing else, they give great methods on how to quickly answer questions. Go take it. If the score isn’t what you wanted, take another course and take it again.

You guys will kill me here. I didn’t do very well . . . so after my first attempt, I took another course and retook the exam. I didn’t do very well on that attempt either. With that said, I did enough to get an interview. I know that this is against everything I have told you thus far, but remember; it is the body of work! At the time I took the exam, the scoring was different. Most programs were looking for a minimum of 1000 combined. I scored really well on the quantitative reasoning which is what saved me. That score combined with the verbal reasoning (I think I got the minimum score for typing my name at the beginning) put me over the minimum requirement. See, a little hope for us all!

Letters of Recommendation

Ok look, common sense again. Do not ask someone for a letter of recommendation that isn’t going to give you a good one. You better pick someone who cares about what they are writing, not someone who will go through the motions for you. If you are applying to multiple programs (which you should be) this can be very tedious for people, so make sure they like you. Here is the caveat, work hard. Most programs want one from your direct supervisor. You cannot get around this and people in supervisor roles are not going to lie for you. So you better be great at your job. Show up early, do what is asked, and provide great patient care. This will make or break you.

If you can choose and have a lot of contacts try your best to get an anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist. These will carry more weight. However, if you shadowed them once, don’t ask. They don’t know enough about you. If they drop patients off to you regularly and you have a relationship (doesn’t hurt if you also shadowed them), they should be able to . . . assuming they are willing. If not, try and get at least one physician you work with regularly. Try not to lean on three nursing colleagues.

Experience

We all know not all ICU experience is the same.  I can’t remember how many times people told me “no way you get accepted from this unit.” These were people I worked with. Guess what? They didn’t know what they were talking about. Shocker, I know. There is some perception that programs only accept nurses out of high-acuity academic centers and “cardiac units are the best.” Maybe there is some truth to that, but it wasn’t the case for me. The important factor in experience is that you learn everything about the patients that you are taking care of. So, don’t be discouraged if you are not at a large academic center. Learn as much as you can where you are. I would say that if you have a choice, at least try and get adult experience, but there are even exceptions to this rule depending on the program.

If you are really worried about it, instead of working extra shifts in your unit, get a per diem gig at a different hospital in a different type of unit. I did. I worked in a general unit (did a little of everything as it was a smaller community hospital) and took a per diem job in a level II trauma center. This did two things. I got excellent experience with a different patient population and it gave me something to talk about during my interview. I know it is asking a lot, but you want to be better applicant. You are showing programs you are serious and putting in the work. Plus, you can make some extra money (and you better be saving that . . . programs aren’t cheap).

So everyone has to meet these minimums to apply to programs. Everyone getting to that point looks impressive on paper. No matter how impressive you think you are, someone is working harder than you. Do not look at the minimums and say I did enough to get an interview. It may get you through the door, but it won’t guarantee you a seat. Going above and beyond all the minimums will increase your chances of getting your acceptance. You have to do all these things anyway, so put forth the time and effort to ensure you have set yourself apart from every other applicant.

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