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How Hard is CRNA School – (15 Biggest Challenges & How to Overcome)


Written By: Brooke Schmidt, RN, BSN

Are you considering a career as a CRNA? If so, your first question might be, how hard is CRNA school? This is a great question to ask and a good place to start, as many other nurses have the same concern. CRNA programs are known for their difficulty level, but becoming a CRNA can also lead to a lucrative advanced nursing career. In this article, I will explain why this program is considered hard and share the 15 biggest challenges you will face in CRNA school and how to overcome them.


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IS CRNA SCHOOL HARD?


While I wish I could give you a better answer and build up your confidence to apply for this program, there is no way around the fact that CRNA school is hard. Students and faculty alike consistently report that this is one of, if not the most challenging advanced nursing degrees to obtain. The good news is with a solid dedication to studies and support along the way, the long-term benefits of earning the degree make the challenges worth the effort.



WHY IS CRNA SCHOOL HARD?


CRNA school is hard for many reasons, and it takes determination to make it through successfully. The following are the three main reasons why CRNA school is so hard.

1. Complex concepts and material:

The curriculum in CRNA school is hard. The coursework covers cellular-level responses to medications, the impacts of specific medications on patients with complex diagnoses, and much more. You will not be able to memorize content for one test and then move on. You must gain a true understanding of the material and apply it to different patient scenarios.

2. Intense clinical requirements:

Most CRNA programs require 2,000 hours or more of direct anesthesia-related patient care. This time does not include the time you will spend preparing for clinicals and prepping for difficult cases. Completing intense clinical requirements on top of your coursework makes CRNA school hard.

3. Strict academic guidelines:

While all nursing programs require students to maintain a minimum grade point average, in CRNA school, more than one low grade could result in dismissal from the program. Most CRNA schools require students to maintain a “B” or above in all your classes. Falling below these standards can result in losing your place in the program.



HOW HARD IS CRNA SCHOOL?


(The following are the 15 biggest Challenges you will face in CRNA school and ways you can successfully overcome them.)

CHALLENGE #1: You must learn to be self-reliant.


About the Challenge:

Part of being a CRNA is being an independent provider. When in the operating or procedure room, it will be up to you to administer sedation medications and anesthesia drugs. Surgeons will rely on you to monitor patients and ensure they remain sedated and pain-free. As nurses, we are used to making independent and critical decisions, but other team members usually support us. While you will never be alone, you will be challenged and must learn to rely on and trust yourself.

How to Overcome:

One of the reasons CRNA school is hard is that it prepares you with the necessary knowledge and skills to be an independent practitioner. Overcoming the challenge of needing to rely on yourself is something you will learn and perfect throughout your CRNA program. One of the best ways to learn self-reliance is to accept challenges, try new procedures, learn new things while you are in school, and have a support system of instructors and preceptors. If you make the most of your clinical experiences, you can develop a mindset of self-reliance and independence.


CHALLENGE #2: You cannot get by with simply memorizing information.


About the Challenge:

During nursing school, I utilized my ability to memorize essential information and hold it long enough to pass a test. One of the big challenges students face in CRNA school is that rote memorization will no longer work. To succeed in a CRNA program, you must learn the material and apply the knowledge throughout your courses and clinicals. Each class builds upon the previous and culminates with proving your retention when you take your certification examination.

How to Overcome:

If you are used to memorizing content to get through tests, you must adjust your study habits to help you retain as much information as possible. Working with other students in study groups and teaching each other is an excellent way to learn and better understand new material.


CHALLENGE #3: There will be high expectations, and you may not always meet them.


About the Challenge:

Because there is no room for mistakes in our profession, as nurses, we tend to be perfectionists. CRNA school is hard and, no matter how great a nurse you are, there will be times when you fall short of expectations. Managing the high expectations associated with CRNA programs and dealing with subpar performance can be challenging, especially if you are accustomed to excelling in school.

How to Overcome:

It is important to set realistic goals for yourself and know there will be times you may struggle during the program. Learning to live with disappointment is a life skill we all need. (I’m still working it myself!) If you feel overwhelmed or like you cannot meet the program expectations, talk with your faculty advisor and see if there are ways to improve and have a greater chance at success.


CHALLENGE #4: Completing the rigorous coursework


About the Challenge:

CRNA school is hard, and that means the coursework is hard as well. The coursework you complete in CRNA school is very technical and rigorous. It can feel overwhelming to learn so many new concepts at one time while trying to retain the information and apply it to your clinical skills. Some students find the large number of drugs you must know harder, while others struggle with the advanced pathophysiology and anatomy courses.

How to Overcome:

There is not a one size fits all approach to overcoming this challenge. It takes time and determination, but getting through the classes with a satisfactory grade will solve this challenge. The approach may be just to put one foot in front of the other or try different study techniques. The good news is that once you graduate, you will not have to face this same challenge again!


CHALLENGE #5: Finding clinical placements


About the Challenge:

Clinical placements for CRNA students are highly specialized. You must find a clinical site and preceptor that meets the high standards set forth by your school. There are only so many operating rooms and anesthesiologists out there to provide you with the valuable hands-on experience you need to graduate.

How to Overcome:

Choose a program with dedicated placement specialists or clinical placement teams. This will ensure you have access to clinical sites and preceptors and save you the headache of finding your own. Schools that assist with placement have network of available clinical sites and established relationships to ensure you have a rewarding experience.


CHALLENGE #6: Taking care of yourself


About the Challenge:

Taking care of yourself, including your basic needs for hygiene, food, sleep, and preventive medical care, can be challenging. It is tempting to put off basic tasks when you are engrossed in assignments, study groups, and clinicals. However, ignoring important self-care tasks can lead to physical and emotional health problems, which could negatively impact your progress in CRNA school.

How to Overcome:

You must prioritize yourself and ensure you allow time for self-care. Good self-care includes scheduling regular wellness visits with your provider, eating a well-balanced diet, and ensuring you get enough rest each night. Think of it as a short-term investment in your long-term overall health and well-being. A good way to track these self-care tasks is by using an app on your phone or computer where you can schedule reminders and keep yourself accountable.


CHALLENGE #7: Prioritizing personal relationships and responsibilities


About the Challenge:

CRNA school is hard and takes significant time. Dedicating enough time to school while still prioritizing personal relationships and responsibilities can be a significant challenge. Finding free time in your day to spend with family, a partner, or children if you have them will be difficult to do. Not to mention finding time to do basic household chores and other responsibilities you have committed to.

How to Overcome:

Prioritize your relationships and responsibilities. Schedule time to spend with your family and loved ones and to handle your personal responsibilities. Using a shared calendar can help others close to you know your schedule and when you may be free.


CHALLENGE #8: Managing the stress that can come with completing your CRNA degree


About the Challenge:

Nursing school, nursing jobs, and most things associated with earning a graduate degree can be stressful. The extra stress placed on you is a big challenge and can feel overwhelming at times. CRNA school is hard, there is no doubt about it, but having unmanaged stress can make it seem unbearable.

How to Overcome:

Learning effective stress management techniques is the best way to overcome this challenge. Although you may not eliminate stress while in CRNA school, there are tools and strategies to help make it less challenging. The American Heart Association recommends using these three tips to manage your stress: positive self-talk, stress-busting activities, and learning some emergency stress-stopping techniques. Having these tools on-hand will help reduce stress and anxiety so that you can continue to focus on your coursework.


CHALLENGE #9: Time Management


About the Challenge:

CRNA school is notorious for monopolizing almost all your time. The intense coursework, clinical requirements and additional study hours needed to succeed can leave you wishing for more daily hours. If you do not know how to practice good time management, it can create serious issues while you are in school. You may feel rushed to complete assignments, try to cram for tests, or run late for class and clinicals.

How to Overcome:

To succeed in CRNA school, you may need to learn time management skills or enhance the ones you already have. The time management tools you used in the past might not work or may not be enough to keep you on track while in CRNA school. There are several time management techniques and apps that can be helpful. Some of my recommendations include the Pomodoro technique which utilizes timed intervals of work and rest and the Rapid Planning Method, which involves writing down all tasks and organizing them into groups of tasks that have things in common.


CHALLENGE #10: Paying for your CRNA degree


About the Challenge:

Paying for your CRNA degree can be expensive. The median cost of CRNA programs is around $75,000. The cost can grow exponentially if you choose a program where you are considered out-of-state or if you end up needing to re-take classes. CRNA school is hard enough, so adding the challenge of figuring out how to pay for it may feel overwhelming.

How to Overcome:

There are a few ways to overcome the cost of your degree. The most important is applying for financial aid. You can apply for federal or state loans, scholarships, and assistantships. Additionally, some employers offer tuition reimbursement plans for employees who agree to continue working for them after graduating from college.


CHALLENGE #11: Risk of Exposure to Communicable Diseases


Challenge: All nurses face some risk of exposure to illness and disease. Your risk of exposure as a CRNA student or CRNA may be greater due to the nature of many procedures.

How to Overcome:

No matter what nursing specialty one follows, it is essential to follow standard precautions and promote infection control practices. In CRNA school, you will learn proper procedures for administering and monitoring the effects of anesthesia. Although you may care for clients with communicable illnesses, you can reduce your risk of exposure by following guidelines for infection control and prevention.


CHALLENGE #12: Maintaining passing grades


About the Challenge:

A passing grade in many of the CRNA programs is a B or above. This does not leave a lot of room for error and can put a lot of pressure on you to pass exams with a high score. Some CRNA programs put students on probation for their first grade below a B and may dismiss students with more than one unsatisfactory grade. If you have test anxiety, difficulty retaining information, or simply lack the drive to work hard, maintaining good grades can be a serious challenge.

How to Overcome:

There is no way around this challenge. To overcome it, you must get serious about studying. Create a schedule that clearly outlines time for school and school-related responsibilities. If you feel yourself struggling in a class or dealing with a specific topic, talk to your instructor or academic advisor right away. Program faculty and advisors want you to succeed and will do their part to help, but you have to reach out if you need help. Dedicate a steady number of study hours, find study groups, and take the program seriously. Improving your study skills can involve time management, writing out a schedule, minimizing distractions, or checking out some proven techniques. Using techniques like retrieval practice and spaced practice can be helpful. If you do this, you can achieve good grades and succeed.


CHALLENGE #13: Intense pressure due to the risks of administering anesthesia


About the Challenge:

Being a nurse is hard and stressful, but the unique challenges faced in CRNA school can cause you to feel intense pressure. Making mistakes while administering anesthesia is not something that should happen. CRNA school is hard because students must be competent and confident in their ability to safely care for patients. Learning how to deal with this intense pressure and overcoming it can be a big challenge.

How to Overcome:

As you learn and grow as a student, you will build knowledge and confidence to overcome this intense pressure. You will learn the risks associated with anesthesia care and have the tools to minimize them. The more you learn, the more assured you will feel. Remember your first clinicals in nursing school and how nervous you felt? It is natural to feel pressure when learning something new. Not only is it natural, but it is also good to feel a healthy amount of pressure because it keeps us alert. Just do not let your anxiety get to the point that it negatively impacts your ability to provide good care.


CHALLENGE #14: Financial concerns related to your reduced income


About the Challenge:

Not only is CRNA school hard, but it can be expensive. Even the less expensive programs can cost $75,000 or more. When you factor in the fact that you may need to reduce your time at work or not work at all, it can be challenging to manage financially.

How to Overcome:

The best way to address the challenge of financial concerns is to plan. Consider applying for scholarships and grants to help pay for school. The wonderful thing about this option is grants and scholarships do not have to be repaid. If you must take out loans, first apply for federally funded student loans, as repayment can be deferred until at least six months after you graduate. Many utility companies offer Levelized billing plans, which could help you prepare for monthly expenses by having a level bill instead of fluctuating expenses. If possible, start saving money now. Set aside a little money from each paycheck for unexpected expenses or emergencies. Planning early can reduce a lot of the stress of financial concerns related to CRNA school.


CHALLENGE #15: Dealing with the “Unexpected”


About the Challenge:

While many anesthesia procedures are scheduled or elective surgeries, there is always a chance of emergency situations that require a CRNA’s services. In these situations, you may need to act quickly with little or no time to prepare. As a student, you will have supervision, which is great, but the stress of dealing with traumatic events or emergencies can feel overwhelming.

How to Overcome:

The best way to overcome the challenge is to see every unexpected opportunity as a chance to learn and grow. Since you are in CRNA school, you can rely upon instructors and preceptors to guide you in ways to handle emergency events, which will prepare you for independent practice after you graduate.



MY FINAL THOUGHTS


It is natural to weigh your options and wonder how hard is CRNA school? While it is no secret CRNA school is hard, there are ways to overcome the difficulties and be successful. If you genuinely want to pursue a career as a CRNA, I encourage you to consider the 15 biggest challenges you will face in CRNA school and how to overcome them featured in this article and find a school and program that aligns with your goals and timeline for becoming a CRNA and start your journey to achieving your dream.



FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY OUR EXPERT


1. How Long Does CRNA School Take?

CRNA school can take three years or longer to complete, depending on whether you pursue a master’s or doctorate degree.


2. Is It Normal To Struggle In CRNA School?

Yes, CRNA school is hard with the reputation of being the most difficult advanced practice nursing program to complete. Students are held to a high standard, and it can be normal to struggle throughout the program. You will need to lean on family, friends, and your peers to help you along the way.


3. Which Year Of CRNA School Is The Hardest?

CRNA students typically report the first year is the easiest as you generally complete coursework and have not begun clinicals. Beginning the second year, you will begin learning to manage long clinical hours and course work which makes it one of the hardest.


4. What Are The Hardest Classes In CRNA School?

Most CRNA students report that the hardest classes in CRNA school are neurophysiology and organic chemistry.


5. How Many Hours Do I Need To Study In CRNA School?

This depends on how efficiently you retain information. Some students can get away with studying two to four hours per day, but other students may need to study for six or more hours. The number of hours may vary if you have exams or more challenging courses.


6. Is It Hard To Work During CRNA School?

It would be almost impossible to work during CRNA school. Between the rigorous coursework and long hours spent in clinical, you will have very little free time.


7. What Percent Of CRNA Students Drop Out?

The dropout rate varies by program but typically four to five percent of each student cohort leaves the CRNA program voluntarily or due to dismissal for low grades.


8. Is It Common To Fail CRNA School?

Some students in CRNA school fail. However, it is important that you do not measure your likelihood of success by someone else's success or failure.


9. What Is Next After Failing CRNA School?

If you fail CRNA school, weigh your options and your personal goals, and if becoming a CRNA is important to you, try again. You may apply to join the next cohort at your school or consider transferring to another program. Seek input from your academic advisors to help you make the right decision.


Brooke Schmidt, RN, BSN

Brooke Schmidt is a registered nurse with 10 years of clinical experience. She is currently living in Oregon and enjoys exploring the Pacific Northwest with her family. Brooke graduated from The University of Portland with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. During her time in school, Brooke developed a passion for geriatrics and chose a specialized practicum to gain further experience with this population.