How Hard is CRNA School? CRNA School Sucks?

by admin

I lost track of how many CRNA’s have told me, “CRNA school sucks, but it’s worth it in the end.”  So I’m here to postulate why your CRNA Program might possibly be the most miserable 2-3 years of your life.  But don’t worry– I’m 9 months into my program and I’m here to tell you that it’s completely manageable if you prepare yourself and those around you.

  • Sidenote: I read a blog comment on another site that complained about the term CRNA SCHOOL.  The person said that it sounded unprofessional.  Well tough britches- that’s what we all call it.

1. You go from a 36 hour work week/50K+ salary job to a full-time, very little sleep, zero disposable-income lifestyle.  Quite honestly- this didn’t really start to phase me until the third semester when I craved a vacation but could neither A. Get time off or B. Afford a vacay.  My program is an integrated program (as opposed to front-loaded)  which means we currently have two days of class and three days of clinical.  Clinical hours are 5am-3pm, sans travel time. We are limited to 10 vacation days to be used wisely throughout the ENTIRE 2+ year program.  Eek.  Some programs do not offer students any vacation (this is a good thing to find out while you’re interviewing).

Things that make this easier include:

  • Having a savings account (the more $, the better...but you can also come in with $0 and budget your financial aid and/or utilize private loans)  *Having a rich benefactor or winning the lottery would also help
  • Having supportive friends and family that will cherish you during your scant free time AND refrain from guilt tripping you when you cannot give them the attention they think they deserve

2. You HAVE to study, a lot.  Many programs have a very demanding course schedule and a minimal pass rate.  For example, I have to pass each course with an 83%.  One point below an 83% and it’s back to ICU Nursing.  On a positive note, the content itself is not difficult…it’s simply that there is a ton of it.

Things that make this easier include:

  • Great time management: Seems cliche but it’s essential
  • Possessing motivation: Seems cliche but it’s essential
  • Getting rid of distractions: Sometimes I have to hole myself up in a public library because it’s the only way I can get things accomplished

3. The program demands are very difficult for anyone who has never been a CRNA Student (e.g. quite a large % of the general population) to understand.  Personally, I have been fortunate to have a very independent boyfriend and great family & friends that live 2500 miles away<– this last part helps a lot.  But, I do have classmates who struggle with providing their “peoples” with enough attention to avoid those guilt trips I mentioned earlier.

Things that make this easier include:

  • Having several conversations with those close to you where you basically warn them that you’ll be a zombie for the next 2+ years

  • “Clocking in” to study for 6-8 hrs per day and then “clocking out” to spend time with loved ones
  • Sending out your schedule so people know not to bother you on the days surrounding an exam and not to bother you for a good week or more before finals

4.  You have to get up early on clinical days.  This may or may not be a problem for some of us.  As you get quicker at setting up your OR, you can start sleeping in a little more, but I’m pretty used to my alarm going off around 0415.

Things that make this easier include:

  • Nothing.  Ok, maybe going to bed earlier?

5.  You have to work with oogles of different preceptors and Anesthesiology attendings, some of which will like you, some of which will simply tolerate you and some of which will attempt to make your life a living hell (slight exaggeration, perhaps just make your life crappy?).  This is just a fact of CRNA School.  I’d like to add to this the fact that everybody has their own way of giving anesthesia and they’ll want you to adopt their way, especially when you’re new.

Things that make this easier include:

  • Having a positive attitude
  • If you lack a positive attitude, go to plan B: Fake a positive attitude.
  • Try to go with the flow as best you can realizing there will be many more good days than bad (hopefully)  *Disclaimer: I have yet to have had a horrible day… knock on wood!

6.  There is no way to be “good” at anesthesia right away.  You can be the most intelligent person in the world, but when you’re new in the OR- you fumble, drop things, forget things, accidentally hit the patient in the face with an EKG cable, intubate the esophagus instead of the trachea, get reprimanded by a surgeon, etc. etc.  The only thing that improves the skills part of anesthesia is repetition, repetition, repetition.  This is why we perform so many cases while we’re in school.

Oh, you will also be verrrrry slow.  Just when you think you are getting fast, you will watch a CRNA perform an induction sequence and you’ll sadly realize you still really aren’t fast….

Things that make this easier include:

  • Having a sense of humor and using your mistakes as learning tools *Please don’t be a cryer!  We all make mistakes!
  • Having classmates that will share their embarassing moments with you so you can laugh about how stupid you are
  • Repetition (notice how I repeated this?)


This concludes my list of reasons CRNA school sucks.  Have any reasons you’d like to add?  We’d love to hear your comments below!

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  • Nahum Figueroa

    Great article. Thank you for posting!

    I’m still in nursing school so it’ll be at least 3 years before I can even apply to CRNA school (the closest in my area is SUNY Downstate Medical Center).

    I’m 23, male, Spanish. And I love studying nursing. I’m also in-love with nursing and very passionate and motivated.

    However, the more I read online about CRNA school, the more terrified I become. The three things that terrify me the most are:

    1) Not getting enough sleep every day, and thus being chronically fatigued/tired, and thus that affecting my academic and clinical performances.

    2) Being responsible for “hundreds” of reading material every week. I don’t know if that’s possible for me.

    3) “Failing out” of CRNA school if I get less than a B in one class.

    I am the type of student that breathes nursing and thinks nursing 24/7. I am perfectly fine dedicating 730 days of my life, 24/7 to nursing. I have no problem studying 6-8 hrs a day, every day. I am smart and have the personality traits of a no-life-nursing-studying-machine.

    I am just really worried if I have what it takes. I wish I at least knew what textbooks are used in CRNA school to take a look at the topics. I hate not knowing and the fear.

    I’ve seen CRNAs give anesthesia and how they immediately go on their Facebook afterwards. It seems so easy and they are so laid-back (esp. the males).

    Thanks for the article again!

    • AndriaCRNA

      Well…nurse anesthesia is very different from “nursing” as you know it from a student perspective. As a nurse you are medically directed with very little autonomy and you are much more involved in the systematic (holistic) care of a patient. As a specialist in anesthesia, your sole purpose would become taking your patient from an awake state to a surgical state and then back again in a safe manor with no one standing over you telling you what to do. There is very little if any q2 hour turning, foley placements, patient/family education, form filing, administration of scheduled medications, etc. I would highly suggest shadowing multiple CRNAs before you commit as you seem unsure. Self doubt is a major predictor of failure in CRNA school. High GRE scores are the biggest predictor of success (as far as they’ve been able to tell so far). For example, I never doubted for a second that I would make it. You have to get your mind in the right place before you commit to the program or else you are shooting yourself in the foot before you even get going.

      As far as the material goes- if you’re up for studying that much (6-8 hours a day) you’ll be more than fine. I never studied that much and I consider myself a strong CRNA. Check out Morgan & Mikhail’s Clinical Anesthesiology textbook- that is the most user friendly intro to anesthesia.

      Also, I dislike your Facebook comment (as well as your male directed comment) but I do understand that some anesthesia providers (MD’s/AA’s and CRNA’s) do check their phone or company e-mail from time to time.

      However, you will come to understand that even if it seems like we might not be paying attention- we are. We are always listening to the pulse oximeter rate and tone. The rate and the tone can tell us how fast our patient’s heart is beating (e.g. how much pain or stimulation they are undergoing), how regular it is (e.g. what rhythm the patient is in), and what their SpO2 saturation is simply by the sound.

      As a CRNA, you have to be hyper-vigilant. Even if I am looking away, I am listening to every single thing going on in my room and I know if my patient is paralyzed or not paralyzed, if they have adequate analgesia on board or not, how much fluid they have received, what stage of the procedure we are in, when the ventilator is delivering a breath, what the surgeon is saying to his scrub tech or assistant, etc. Also, there are critical periods and non-critical periods of anesthesia. With time you learn what those are and when you need to be fully present. It only seems “easy” because we are good at what we do.

      You could say the same thing about ICU nurses. Are you going to be the kind of ICU nurse that runs around like a chicken with their head cut off during a code or the one that remains focused, efficient, and makes good clinical decisions? Some food for thought…

      • Jorgie Hester

        @AndriaCRNA I totally agree with you. Is there anyway you can e mail me at I have a few questions about CRNA that I would love to discuss with you. You seem so knowledgable about it

      • cindy

        Any advice on essay entrance for crna, also I work in a MSICU not CVICU any advice to be more competitive?

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