Ah, the exciting CRNA shadow day! You barely slept the night before because you were so excited to wake up, before the crack of dawn, and get your eager little booty to the OR so you could shadow a CRNA. Setting foot in the operating room at the head of the bed, watching the CRNA intubate, while envisioning yourself doing the same thing one day, is absolutely both exciting and terrifying at the same time.
We've all been there. Wondering if we have what it takes, questioning whether or not we're cut out for the world of anesthesia, and trying to glean as much insight as we can in those short few hours. Your shadow day is so important, not only because your application requires it, but you really need to take a good hard look at the profession and role of a CRNA to know if it is right for you. There is nothing worse than spending years of your life trying to get into CRNA school, getting accepted, and then realizing halfway through your program (and thousands of dollars later) that it is not the right career for you.
Let's talk about how to make the most of your Shadow day and the dos and don'ts of shadowing a CRNA.
The first thing out of your mouth, when asked a question, why do you want to go to CRNA school should not be to make more money. Yes, nurse anesthetists are well compensated for their role. However, you will be extremely unhappy if you are in it just for the money. There has to be some other element of improving your skill-set, embracing autonomy, responsibility, critical thinking, or impact in people's lives.
There's a lot going on in the operating room. When the nurse anesthetist is getting a case started, that means going to pre-op trying to get the patient in the room and on the operating room table, and safely off to sleep, it can be a little stressful. Save your questions for after the surgical drapes go up, and the CRNA is done with all of their charting. Don't be interrupting the nurse anesthetist while they are actively doing things just so you can ask a question (unless invited to do so). Sometimes critical things can happen in the middle of a case, the patient might be losing a lot of blood, for example, if you sense that the situation is elevating in intensity, save your questions till after the crisis is resolved. The CRNA will absolutely be happy to explain to you everything that transpired and their role in the problem-solving, but after everything has calmed down.
So when is a good time to ask questions, after the patient has gone off to sleep and the surgery has begun. Usually after the incision is made, the CRNA will start to tidy up their workstation and begin their charting. Once they get caught up with all of their charting they'll usually ask if you have any questions and invite you into a conversation. This is a great time to chat, while the patient is in that maintenance mode of anesthesia, and the surgeon is operating.
Also, don’t forget to bring a small notebook and pen! Take lots of notes.
We expect you to ask us what our favorite things about the job are, and what our least favorite things about the job are. You need to know the positives and negatives before getting into thousands of dollars into debt and committing three or more years of your life into the most intense and rigorous process ever. We would question whether or not you knew what you were getting yourself into, if you didn't ask me types of questions.
For example, many nurse anesthetists might say that they love the autonomy and making the decisions themselves. Does that resonate with you? Is that something that is pulling you yourself towards the profession? Great!
Maybe the nurse anesthetist says one of the things that they don't love about their job is taking call. Maybe they don't love working with residents. Maybe at their current facility, they get out of work late pretty often. Granted, these are all things that are pretty facility dependent, but these are good things for you to have on your radar so you can understand that in a lot of places these things come along with the job. Many times you were expected to take call anywhere from a few times a month to a couple of times a week. If you have young children, looking for a job that gets you out on time very consistently will be important to you. You need to envision yourself in this role 3 years from now, what does that feel like to you?
Don’t - Talk bad about your role as an ICU nurse
When you're talking to the CRNA about why you want to go to anesthesia school, don't give off the vibe that it's because you're over the ICU or feel above it. Try to maintain a positive attitude, and a humble one too. We were all ICU nurses at one point, we understand how difficult it is to be at the bedside with critically sick patients. If you are looking to get away from the ICU just because it's too much work, you'll be in for a really big surprise when you get into anesthesia school, because it is 10 times the amount of work.
The CRNA community is really small, you might even be shadowing CRNAs who are faculty members at the programs you are applying to. Be cognizant of how you’re coming across, and the attitude you’re giving off.
Do - Ask the CRNA if they liked their program
Definitely ask the CRNA you're shadowing which program they went to, and what they liked about it? Was it integrated or front-loaded? Did they enjoy their clinical rotations? Did they get a lot of regional experience? Did they feel supported by the faculty? And in what sense?
Ask them if they met their numbers, how they studied during school, what did they find the most challenging? How did they cope with stress? Get the nitty-gritty about how their CRNA school experience was.
Do - Be prepared to see some disgusting things
I remember the first time I was in the operating room and I could smell the cautery. I felt so sick, and I seriously questioned whether or not I could be in the operating room on the daily. The CRNA I was shadowing saw my hand over my mouth and nose and he told me, don't worry you get used to it. And it's true, you do.
But I will say if you get really queasy with seeing blood or hearing certain sounds or smelling certain smells, if you're just a really sensitive individual, make sure you shadow in the operating room multiple times. However I'm guessing, your role as an ICU nurse prepared you for some of the very gross smells and sights that you will be seeing.
If you start to feel hot, feel dizzy, or the room starts to go black, just let your CRNA know and find a seat. It is not uncommon for medical students or people who are shadowing in the operating room to feel queasy and feel like they are going to pass out. Don't be too embarrassed, it happens more than you think. Don't try to tough it out, step out of the OR, take a breath of fresh air and drink some water. It doesn't mean your career as a CRNA is over. You might just need to shadow and be in the operating room more than the average person.
Do - Ask the CRNA if they have any advice for your journey
Ask the CRNA that you're shadowing, what they would tell their younger selves when they were applying to CRNA school. Ask the CRNA for general advice on what they think that you should do or consider when applying to programs. Granted, things have changed a lot in the last couple of years in regards to the anesthesia profession, however, there are a lot of very wise CRNAs out there.
Overall, don't be afraid to ask questions and remember, learn as much as you can about the CRNA profession so that you can have a really solid answer the question, of “Why do you want to be a CRNA?”
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