How to prepare while in school
Not yet an RN? Here's how to prepare for a career as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, while you're still in school.
While in School…
Best advice I can give you when you're in high school is to do well in math and science (chemistry especially - statistics is really the only math class you need to do well in and you won't take that till college). Once you're in college, keep your GPA above a 3.0 and keep your science classes above a 3.0 as well. If you can pull it off, try to get no less than a cumulative of 3.2 or 3.3. Ideally, you should maintain a GPA of 3.5 or higher.
Specific science course prerequisites vary by program, see this list for the most common required classes.
Go straight into a BSN - Bachelor of Science in Nursing – program. If you're sure this is what you want to do, you can save a lot of time (by only taking the classes you need for this degree). If everything goes right, you will be a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist within 7-10 years.
The other option is to get your ADN (associate degree in nursing) first, then do your BSN online or at a local university (while you're working full time as a nurse). If you do the online option, I would stay away from the highly advertised online programs (Phoenix University, etc). There are other online BSN programs that have a much better reputation and are more highly regarded in the nursing community.
There are many state universities that offer mostly campus-based programs but also offer online BSN programs. If you want to do an online program, do one of those… and make sure that the program you choose is accredited by the CCNE or NLNAC (and don’t take the program’s word for it – double check with the accrediting agency).
Work while you’re in school to get experience and extra cash
In the meantime, get an entry level job at a hospital. This will help you become familiar with hospital lingo and will help you decide if you like the hospital environment.
Possible jobs include: receptionist, secretary, porter (they carry supplies and wheel patients around), lift team (lifting heavy patients). I'm sure there are many other options; these are just the ones I could think of.
Another option is to become a CNA - Certified Nursing Assistant (it's a 10-12 week course in most places). They do the "dirty work" for patients - wiping bottoms, changing bed pans, as well as many other delegated tasks. As a CNA, you can work your way through school making more money per hour ($12-$15 on average) than you would in a completely entry level job.
Get hired as a Registered Nurse
Having a job at the hospital will also help you when you are looking for a new graduate nursing job. Currently (2010), New Grad programs are really few and far between with MANY applicants (400 applicants for 10 available spots is not uncommon in CA). Most often, the people who get hired are those who worked in the hospital as students or during their preceptorship.
What I’m really saying is that you may not have the luxury of getting hired straight into an ICU – you may have to start out on a med/surg floor and work there a while before you get transferred into the ICU. This may cost you extra time on your journey of becoming a certified registered nurse anesthetist.
It's been projected that the economy should turn around soon, so this may have changed by the time you're looking for a job. In case you're wondering, there is still a nursing shortage; that hasn't changed. The problem now is that it costs a lot of money for hospitals to train new grad nurses.
Once you have 6 months or more experience, you can get hired (almost) anywhere, but getting hired into a hospital that’s willing to spend that money to train you right now is the tricky part. Also, I think it’s worse in California that it is in other states.
Make sure that it’s the right career path for you
Because of the high salaries that nurse anesthesia offers, many people are drawn to this career. While it's important to set financial goals for yourself and leverage your time at work, it's important that you are both interested in and well suited to become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. If you haven't yet, you should read my article "Should I be a CRNA?". It will offer a little guidance as you choose your career path.
As soon as you're able, shadow a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist for a day. Even if this is not a requirement at the CRNA school you intend on going to, the shadow experience will be priceless for you. I heard of a man who worked 10 years toward this goal, got through a full year of the didactic portion of a CRNA program and chose to drop out 3 weeks into his clinical experience because it wasn’t what he expected.
I'll tell you now that one of the most common reason people drop out of CRNA school or decide that the profession is not for them is the lack of patient interaction. With most other specialties, you develop a relationship with your patients. Some nurses thrive on that. As a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, your patients are "out" the whole time. This may or may not be for you.
*This page was updated September 20, 2011*