How to Become a CRNA: from High School to a CRNA Program

Mar 9, 2021
Jasmine Chen, RN

The Journey to Becoming a CRNA

If you’re anything like me, you’ve known you wanted to be a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) since you were in high school. If you’re anything like most people, you didn’t know until much later (or maybe still don’t know!). Wherever you are in your career path, however, it’s never too late to pursue the dreams that you have.

If those dreams involve becoming a CRNA, we’ve got the details here for every step of your journey from high school to the start of CRNA school!

If You’re Still in High School

1. Classes

At this stage, it’s important to build a strong science and math background. Taking classes like AP Biology, AP Chemistry, Statistics, and Anatomy & Physiology will help to prepare you for your undergraduate nursing program as well as your future CRNA graduate program. Other helpful classes include Advanced English, Physics, Spanish, and Pre-Calculus as these courses will come in handy as a college applicant, during your nursing career, in preparation for the GRE, and in CRNA school.

2. Extracurriculars

Some high school students attend school over the summer to become an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Research your local squad and the requirements for becoming an EMT  – it may be possible to fit this into your plan, and working as an EMT provides early exposure to many aspects of nursing.

Team sports and part-time jobs are always valuable. If you have time, consider a healthcare related club at school, volunteer at your local hospital, and/or shadow some RNs, CRNAs, and anesthesiologists – you may meet people that will allow you to shadow them later on in college, so do not fret about doing this in high school if the opportunity does not present itself. You can be a medical assistant or scribe, a dental assistant, a medical receptionist, an optometry assistant, etc.

After High School

1. Choose a nursing program that fits your education level, lifestyle, budget, and timeline

There are a few different degree programs: you can get your BSN via a 4-year BSN program, a 2-year BSN program, an RN-to-BSN program, or a BS-to-BSN program (you may even consider applying directly for a master's degree, or MSN, which can make your application to CRNA school even more competitive).

The 4-year BSN program may be the most straightforward way to get your BSN, but RN to BSN can be pretty fast.

If you have your Bachelor’s degree in something other than nursing, you can apply for 1-2 year BSN programs for those who already have a Bachelor’s degree (this may just require some additional prerequisite courses).

2. Apply to nursing schools

Throughout school, you can gain work experience as a CNA in an ICU or as an EMT. These would be the ideal units/specialties but any are better than none!

I highly recommend becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) after completing your college-level anatomy, physiology, and pathophysiology courses. In order to do this, you will need to apply through the state department of public health, providing a copy of your transcript that proves you have taken the necessary courses to be exempt from going to CNA school. Once your application is accepted, you can take the required test which involves simple skills demonstrations and a written exam.

Working as a CNA gives you early insight into what nurses do and the specialities you might be most interested in. It allows you to practice important basic skills early on in your nursing program and will also help you to appreciate your nursing assistants even more later on! This will also help you to stand out as a candidate for jobs that you apply to when you graduate nursing school as a practicing nurse.

3. Get your BSN

You will need your BSN and at least 1 year of ICU experience as an RN to apply for CRNA school (more years of experience does make your application stand out, however).

You’ll want to pick clinical rotations that will help you get an ICU position post-graduation (for that all-important clinical experience). CRNA programs tend to like SICU and CVICU/CTICU experience in your senior year of nursing school, so choose rotations in surgical and/or cardiac units. However, if you have a strong passion in another type of ICU, experience is still experience!

Next, one of the most important steps: take your licensing exam (NCLEX) to become an RN.

4. Prepare for your job interviews so that you can nail them and get an awesome ICU position

Keep in mind that some units don’t prefer to hire nurses who want to become a CRNA as soon as possible because they realize that you will leave in a year or two. Consider how you want to approach this when you do interview for a position and ask around to more experienced nurses (professors, alumni of your program, etc.) for some trusted advice.

Consider getting your CCRN, ACLS, and/or PALS certifications for a leg-up in the interview process. Often, these are included in your training as a new grad nurse upon hire, so they are not required.

patient about to go under anesthesia nurse crna

If You’re Already Working as an RN

1. Jobs

Work your way to an ICU, especially at a well known academic hospital. Learn as much as you can from CRNA’s, anesthesiologists, and more experienced nurses. You may want to ask to take care of sicker patients and express a willingness to float to other ICUs for a more well-rounded experience.

Also, consider working towards certifications such as Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN). If applicable get your Cardiac Medicine Certification (CMC) and Cardiac Surgery Certification (CSC).

2. Schools & Classes

Pick out a few CRNA programs that you want to apply to. Consider location, costs, attrition rates, employment rates, board exam pass rates, the clinical sites provided, student opinions of the program, etc. If the programs that interest you require a course (like organic chemistry) that you haven’t taken, a possible option is to take that (those) course(s) at your local community college or online.

If you did not have outstanding grades in your university pharmacology/physiology/pathophysiology courses, consider re-taking those courses at a high level at your local community college or online to demonstrate your command of that material.

Make sure you also try:

  • Shadowing a CRNA
  • Joining your unit’s pain management committee or unit counsel
  • Getting involved in quality improvement and research
  • Volunteering (clinical volunteer opportunities in a hospital setting are best)

Also, spend ample time writing your statement of purpose and be able to articulate why you want to be a CRNA (you may also want to have other nurses proofread your statement to make sure that you answer the question, stay on topic, and stay within the word count). Be sure to articulate why you want that program specifically, and do your research. Make sure you talk about more than just your interest in administering anesthesia to patients!

nurse crna hand holding anesthetic mouth piece

Prepare for CRNA School Applications

1. Take the GRE

Also keep in mind that your GRE and college courses are "good" for only five years after completing the courses.

2. Identify people in your life and career who might recommend you for the program

Try to get a recommendation letter from a professor or clinical instructor if you graduated from your BSN program recently.

Consider getting recommendation letters from your nurse manager or assistant nurse manager, an anesthesiologist (if you work closely with one), and/or a nurse anesthetist you shadowed (especially if they have a connection to the program you are applying to).

3. Prepare for your CRNA program interviews

Prepare to answer personality questions like “Why CRNA?,” “What have you done to prepare for CRNA?,” “Why are you interested in this particular program?,” and “Why do you think you would excel in the program?” (there are also some questions you might want to consider asking your interviewer)

It is also helpful to brush up on information such as common medications for the type of unit you work in, cardiac rhythms, the ACLS protocol, important physiological receptors and why you’d choose one pressor/sedative over another, and theories like the Frank Starling Curve. Be able to explain these concepts clearly and concisely.

Also prepare to talk about what patients you take care of and where your weaknesses (as well as strengths) lie. Follow up with thank-you’s to your interviewers, recommenders, and people who have helped you to come this far! Then, hold on tight, because CRNA school is a wild ride!

What's Next?

Looking for some more new grad nursing resources to help get you started on your way to becoming a CRNA? Check out Trusted for New Grads for specifics on what you can, and should, be doing to prepare for life after nursing school.