This post was last updated in 2022.
Best CRNA Schools – though all nurse anesthesia schools must meet certain minimum standards to keep their accreditation through the AANA, some schools are simply better than others.
The best CRNA schools do more to prepare their students for the CRNA profession, and they often provide a more pleasant learning experience for their students.
But so many factors are subjective, and excellence always falls on a spectrum. Whether you’re top of your class with every CRNA school an option, or you find yourself challenged by the requirements, it’s helpful to be able to compare one school with another.
Beyond that, it’s helpful to know when a school has broken out of the pack and become an outlier (whether positive or negative). On this page, I break down each category that a school can be judged by, and help you understand why the criteria is important, and how to use this data to make a better decision.
NBCRNA (National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists) NCE (National Certification Exam) Pass Rate
NCE (CRNA Boards) Pass Rate
The best CRNA Schools have a high NCE (CRNA boards) pass rate. This is the final exam every graduating student will take before being given the official title of CRNA. It’s the “certified” part of the title Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist.
To take the NCE, you will pay $995. To prepare for the NCE, you will take the SSE (Self Evaluation Examination), which costs $250 to take.
National Average Score: 84.3
Highest Score: 100%
If you were looking to exclude CRNA schools from your search based on the data from this chart, what parameters would you set?
To me, it looks like schools with below an 81% CNE pass rate are outliers. It seems that the majority of nurse anesthesia programs are able to teach the material well enough that 80+% of the class is able to pass on the first try. If I were a competitive applicant (even if I wasn’t), I would prioritize schools that best prepared their students to pass this exam. It seems a fair way of measuring how well students are able to retain what they are taught.
Another commonality among the best CRNA schools is that their students are more likely to finish the program. Before you shell out $100,000+ and go without an income for 2-3 years, you’ll want to be fairly confident that this risk will result in a pay raise and a steady paycheck. Leaving school before becoming a licensed CRNA is a hardship worth avoiding if possible.
To understand your comparative likelihood of finishing your nurse anesthetist schooling, you need to understand attrition rates.
Attrition rates among the best CRNA schools
By looking at the chart, you see that the majority of the CRNA programs offer their students a 90% or better chance of finishing the program. If I were looking to secure my place in one of these schools, I would prioritize programs that gave me a higher chance of graduating. Even if tuition was higher, the peace of mind would be worth it.
Whether you get a DNP or an MSN, it will cost you. Surprisingly to many, the total cost of CRNA school is not the same from school to school. It varies from $14,000 to over $200,000.
The Best CRNA Schools are Affordable.
CRNA School Cost
You’ll find nurse anesthesia programs with a total tuition of $14,000 all the way up to $220,000. Cost isn’t everything, but it’s certainly something to consider. Of course the earning power you’ll have once you are a practicing CRNA makes these numbers more palatable. Especially if you have the discipline to live below your means until you get your loans paid off.
When comparing tuition costs, the best CRNA Schools are those that meet your personal preferences and are affordable for you.
To get an idea of the breakdown of total tuition cost between schools, look at the line graph below.
Lastly, what best CRNA Schools share in common is that they meet the learning needs of their students. Both front-loaded and integrated programs are preferred by different people for different reasons. Here are some of those reasons…
Front-Loaded vs. Integrated CRNA Programs
Most CRNA students will have an opinion on which type of program they think superior to the other, but in the end, it depends more on how well each program type is executed, and whether or not it’s a match with your own personal learning style and preference. Here, we will discuss the pros and cons of each to help you make better decisions.
Front-loaded Nurse Anesthesia Programs
What is a front-loaded CRNA program?
In a front-loaded program, didactics (classroom learning) is completed first, before clinicals begin. Usually the first year is spent in the classroom while the second year is spent in clinicals.
Pros of Front-Loaded CRNA Programs:
- Focus – Allows you to focus exclusively on class content, studying and testing.
- Time management – You are managing one thing at a time: either classes or clinical
- Prepared for OR – You first learn the basics, then hit the OR. You will not feel lost in the OR.
- Mastery – When you begin clinicals, you will have already passed the didactic portion. It feels amazing to be done with one before starting the other.
- Transition to CRNA – Moving from clinicals to the job of CRNA is an easy transition
Cons of Front-Loaded CRNA Programs:
- Context lacking – Without the context of the OR, anesthesia material can be difficult to grasp
- Jaring transitions – Going from ICU bedside to academics to clinical and then academics again for board prep can feel jaring.
- Unprepared for Clinicals – When you finally jump into clinicals, it can feel like jumping straight into the deep end of a swimming pool. Rather than building gradually over time, you dive in, head first.
Integrated Nurse Anesthesia Programs
In an integrated program, clinicals often begin in the 3rd or 4th month of the program and they continue alongside coursework simultaneously throughout the program. In the beginning, usually only one day a week is reserved for clinicals, while the rest is didactics. Over time, the balance shifts until in the end, your clinical load is heavier and your class load is lighter.
Pros of Integrated CRNA programs
- Context – What you learn in class is often (not always) what you practice in clinical, giving context to the material you’re learning.
- Hands-on – If you are a hands-on learner, you may find an advantage in putting into practice what you learn in class, not just in simulation like in a front-loaded program.
- Slower Pace – Because you’re doing two things at once (classroom and clinicals), more time passes between each new concept, giving you a chance to grasp topics better before moving on to the next one.
- Synergy – When your classroom content matches what you’re practicing in clinicals, the overlap can make it easier to lock in concepts.
Cons of Integrated CRNA programs
- Bad Habits – Spending time in the OR before you know what you’re doing means you’re not using that time to gain mastery. You may instead use that time to learn bad habits – formed before you know better.
- Lower quality – The time you spend in the OR while you don’t know what you’re doing will result in missed opportunities for learning. You may end up more a spectator than a participant in those earlier clinical experiences.
- Juggling – Spending all day in class and all night in clinicals can get old. While most programs take steps to avoid overlap, it isn’t perfect, and you may find yourself studying for a final after completely exhausting yourself in the OR.
Finally, keep in mind that neither front-loaded nor integrated programs are cookie-cutter. There are hybrid programs, and each program director makes different decisions than the next about how a program will run. These decisions will affect how smoothly the program runs.
In your quest to find the best CRNA schools, be sure to consider CRNA Board pass rates, Attrition rates, degree type, tuition expenses and whether or not it’s front-loaded or integrated. Each of these criteria, along with a host of others, gives you an opportunity to compare one school to the next, and thus help you make a more informed decision about where you will spend the next 2-3 years of your life.
If you want help comparing schools, we’ve created a tool that allows you to search and compare all accredited nurse anesthesia schools by 70+ criteria, helping you find the schools that are the best match for you. We call it the School Finder.