Mission Critical: Why is ICU experience a requirement for admission to nurse anesthetist programs?


nurse anesthetist students working in simulation lab.

What is a CRNA?

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) are advanced practice nurses who hold a master’s or doctoral degree from an accredited nurse anesthetist program and have successfully completed the national certification examination. 

How long is a CRNA program?

The CRNA program at the University at Buffalo (UB) is a 36 month, full-time program culminating in a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. After completion, our graduates are eligible to take the national certification exam. Students report that these 36 months are some of the most difficult and challenging months of their entire academic career. 

Why is ICU experience important for applicants?

All CRNA programs require some ICU experience. Those applying for admission who possess comprehensive intensive care unit (ICU) experience are better equipped to handle the demanding program of study and are thus considered more competitive candidates for admission.

What type of ICU experience is best to prepare for a CRNA program?

I always answer it this way: not all ICUs are created equal. My advice is to look for an ICU that offers broad experience managing critically ill patients. It is very important to have a solid background in hemodynamic monitoring, invasive lines, ventilator support and vasoactive infusions, along with continuous electrocardiogram monitoring. 

To best position CRNAs to meet today’s health care challenges and remain leaders in anesthesia care, the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists recently announced their strong support of the doctor of nursing practice as the standard for entry into nurse anesthesia practice by 2025. Driving the need for advanced educational preparation are an increasing demand for academic programs to encompass technological and pharmaceutical advances, informatics, evidence-based practice measures, patient safety and quality improvement approaches that are a mainstay for state-of- the-art, innovative health care.

What skills are important for success in a nurse anesthetist program?

These skills are crucial for early intervention and better patient outcomes and are predictive of student academic success:

  • Extensive understanding of physiology and pathophysiology
  • Critical thinking skills needed to assess patients and identify changes in patient status
  • Ability to recognize complications that arise from life threatening situations

Think of ICU experience as study time in preparation for entering a CRNA program. Make the most of it by taking advantage of any learning opportunity on the unit, such as volunteering to take care of challenging patients, asking questions of experienced colleagues, and doing additional reading to increase the breadth and depth of the experience. 

Why is such extensive preparation recommended?

Faculty have a very short period of time with Student Registered Nurse Anesthetists (SRNAs) as they complete their formal academic preparation – and there is much to learn. The better prepared SRNAs are upon entering the CRNA program, the easier it is for them to build upon the knowledge already acquired. This results in graduates who are equipped to handle the broader set of responsibilities that await them after graduation.

We rely on students to come in with a current, comprehensive educational foundation. Students who are focused and committed and possess a comfortable competence of advanced ICU knowledge and skills are better candidates for CRNA program admission. 

To apply to our program, we require a minimum of one full year of ICU experience. However, our most recent class of accepted students had an average of four years’ experience. This additional time spent gathering knowledge and honing skills in an ICU allows potential candidates an opportunity to mature and prepare to do their best, starting with the rigorous interview process and culminating with successful completion of the program.