CRNA 9 | CRNA Interview

Ready to rock your interview for anesthesia school? In this episode, we are joined by Richard Wilson, who shares invaluable strategies for successfully navigating through that life-changing (and intimidating) interview!

Richard has been practicing anesthesia for 15 years and has served as a Program faculty member for the last 11 years. As a faculty member, Richard serves on the Interview and Admissions Committee. In his tenure, he has formally interviewed over 600 applicants and counseled many more on how to make their application to anesthesia school more competitive.

In today’s episode, we cover:

  • The KEY characteristics that the interview panel is looking for in a highly competitive candidate
  • Red flags the committee will notice (and how to prepare yourself in advance)
  • The best ways to answer challenging questions (even the questions for which you don’t know the answer right away)
  • The importance of communicating your current knowledge, knowing your limits, and demonstrating your commitment and passion for growth in this field
  • A breakdown of just how much the interview matters
  • The value of showcasing your emotional intelligence in your interview
  • Resources available to you to help you practice, prepare, and NAIL your interview!!

Enjoy, and happy interview prepping!

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Tackling The CRNA Interview With Guest Richard Wilson MNA, CRNA

I’m excited to share a special guest with you. We’re going to cover the ins and outs of the CRNA School interview with my friend and faculty member, Richard Wilson. Some background on Richard is that he has been practicing SCG for several years and has served as a program faculty member for several years. He jumped into the academic side of anesthesia when he was asked to open a satellite campus for his program. Since then, he has overseen both academic and clinical progression of the students from their first day on campus all the way to their graduation and passing the NCE, which is boards.

As a faculty member, he serves on the interview and admissions committee for his program. He has also chaired that committee for several years, and in his tenure, he has formally interviewed over 600 applicants and counseled many more on how to make their application to anesthesia school more competitive. Welcome, I’m excited you’re here, and this is a great opportunity for you guys to tune in and learn from an expert. Nice to have you.

Thank you, Jenny. I’m glad to be a part of this and part of CRNA School Prep Academy and all the great things that you all are doing. I’m looking forward to this and being able to share some knowledge and some tidbits. Hopefully, it will help people navigate the anesthesia school interviews successfully.

Go ahead and tell me what are some key characteristics the interview panel is screening for during the interview process?

There are a lot of different things that we, as committee members, are looking for. It’s amazing that, as I talk to more faculty members, not only within our program but also across the nation, how many different aspects and characteristics that interview committees can glean from an applicant from a simple fifteen-minute conversation.

I even taught with some of our students afterward as they got into the programs. They’re like, “I didn’t even know you could see that in me when you interviewed us.” Some of those we’re looking at, “Can these people and applicants articulate why they want to be a nurse anesthetist?” That is one thing that sometimes applicants don’t think a lot about. They know they want to do it, but being able to articulate that well to an interview committee is key because that’s the basics.

We want to see, “Can they articulate their reasons why they want to become a nurse anesthetist?” The other things that we look for and that our key characteristics are, “Can they articulate what their clinical knowledge is?” That is diving deep into the patient care that they provide, into the protocols and understandings of it.

We’re going to talk a little bit more about that as we move through this episode because I have some great ideas as you prepare for interviews, taking a deep dive into those topics, those that you should be familiar with, and what they’re testing you with. Can you critically think, and can you articulate that knowledge? Can you speak of that knowledge in a fashion that tells a lot about you? Everybody knows this will be asked but it’s hard to prepare for: how do you handle a stressful moment?

Anesthesia school interviews are some of the most stressful moments that people go through in their lives. That’s probably because most of our applicants have not had to interview for a nursing position truly. It was likely that they worked as a PCT on the unit, did a residency on that unit, and were hired there. They never truly interviewed.

The pressure of never doing a formal interview and the pressure that the applicants put on themselves because of the big moment that exists here, which could potentially change their lives, plays into the stress they create on themselves. As I tell people and give advice, we’re trying to see, “Do you stand up to the pressure? Do you curl up in the fetal position in the corner and buckle down?” We’re going to talk a little bit later about some of the questions and how do you do that? How do you present yourself so that they can tell all of these great things about you?

I love how you start off with knowing your why. That is something that I don’t think a lot of people truly think about, in a sense that’s their why. It is why you want it. It’s “why are you passionate about pursuing this?” What is it about this that will get you excited to go to work every day? Know that it is hard to articulate an answer if you don’t take the time to sit and think about it and maybe even write it out. To spin it a little bit, we talked about some things that candidates should be aware of as far as what they’re looking for, but what would you say are some major red flags that you can see in a candidate coming into the interview other than curling up in a fetal position?

Anesthesia school interviews are some of the most stressful moments that people go through in their lives. Click To Tweet

We see several red flags again. We’ll talk about the interview process here, not the actual application. What we see when we look at the red flags is avoidance of eye contact. Eye contact in an interview displays that you have confidence in your answers. You have confidence in your knowledge that you want to communicate with the faculty and the staff.

Eye contact with the committee while you’re answering questions is key. That is one thing that we want to make sure that you can do because if you can communicate with the faculty during the interview- it could be during these stressful situations- then we know that when you get in the operating rooms, you’ll have the ability to also communicate with the faculty that we’ll be teaching you in the operating rooms. We look at consistent answers that are diving deep into the knowledge base rather than surface-level answers. The committees want to know that you understand the material that you’re practicing. If it’s a surface-level answer, they can’t get that. That’s another red flag.

Monotone speaking is something that I noted. We get nervous, and sometimes we are not able to present ourselves well. If we have a monotone type talk, we wonder, what gets your engine revving? Can you get worked up in a situation now? Not to a point where you’re out of control, but when we talk about not having that monotone speaking, there’s a passion that is shown in the deflection of your voice. We follow that because we see, “They have a passion for what they want to do. They have a passion for the knowledge that they’re going to gain in the profession that they’re going to be answering.” Even that level of voice deflection can make a huge difference in an interview.

The last thing I noted was confrontational words, gestures, or poses. We get real defensive sometimes when somebody is challenging us. As faculty members, we will challenge you in an interview to see a reaction. We want to see what that is because there are going to be times in the operating rooms, whether it’s the nurse tech, surgical tech, nurse, surgeon, or even a preceptor that challenges you on a topic, on a treatment plan or a thought process. We’ve got to see that you could work in that team environment and work well in that team environment.

We can tell what confrontational words come out, gestures, or different poses that you have during an interview. All of those become red flags because we’re like, “If they’re going to be confrontational in something that means this much to them, such as an interview, what are they going to be like when they get in, and there are probably more at risk at that point in time?” Those are some red flags that come up. It’s all about the demeanor that you take and the depth of knowledge that you show that become red flags if you can’t do that.

One thing that you mentioned is the surface information that you have if that’s all you have. A lot of people maybe try to cram for their interviews. I don’t ever recommend that. Remember you’re doing 100 interviews.

In our program, we do anywhere from 60 to 70 interviews a year.

These panels can easily pick up on whether someone is spitting out information from a textbook versus whether they truly understand the concept. You’re not going to get a lot of benefit out of cramming. You need to tackle the interview and study way ahead of time, not just memorize numbers and stats. You have to understand what that means physiologically.

The tone of voice, we’re human. We all communicate. They say communication starts before you ever say a word. That is key, knowing that going into your interview- first impressions do matter. A lot of it is body language and the tone of your voice. That’s all great information. Thank you so much for sharing all that.

Jenny, if I can dive into a little bit more, what you’re talking about with the surface, there are many times that we, as faculty members, will tell individuals or the guidance we give is, “Don’t give us the Google answer from the night before.” A lot of the faculty members, as we talk about the surface level answers, can tell what’s a Google answer that you studied from the night before to memorize and give to them versus an answer that is understood since you’ve practiced many times.

I know this is a simple process and answer, but I’m a simple-minded individual. The way I ask people is something like, “Think about your significant other. Were you able to memorize their phone number after the first time you got it?” You mostly answered no. You had to repeat that information several times before you remembered it.

CRNA 9 | CRNA Interview
CRNA Interview: The pressure of never doing a formal interview, along with the pressure that the applicants put on themselves because of the big moment that exists here, which could potentially change their lives, really plays into the stress that they create on themselves.

Therefore, that’s what we tell you about the knowledge base that you need to have to go into interviews. It needs to be repeated several times so that it’s understood. That is confidence. When you understand it, you’re able to display that confidence to the committee; when you’re reading it or trying to recite what you memorized the day before or the night before…the committee can tell the confidence in your knowledge base from that. Those are two big things to think about.

I’m glad you mentioned that, and not to go off on a different subject, but speaking of confidence, I’ve spoken to some students who were told they were overly confident. Without going completely off on a tangent, have you seen that be an issue in any of your interviews?

The term that I like to use when I talk with people is there has to be controlled confidence. When we talk about confidence, there’s controlled confidence, and there’s arrogance. You want to avoid arrogance. Everybody can say they know that and understand that if it comes off as arrogance. Arrogance comes off as, “I know more than you.” They come off as, “I don’t need you. I’m here to get the interview. I’m pretty sure I’m going to get in. Overall, your program is a check box for me to get to the next level.”

What you want to say is mutual respect. Mutual respect, where the program wants you to be a part of their program because you’re a strong candidate, but they also see that you feel that they’re a strong program, and that’s why you want to be a part of their program overall. There is this controlled confidence where you have to show that you understand the stuff. You have a good knowledge base behind it. However, you do understand there’s still a lot for you to be able to glean and learn as you’re going through school and that you’re willing to seek advice still, seek help, and learn from those around you, even though you do have a great base knowledge.

That probably does tie into a little bit about being confrontational because if you’re confrontational, you’re not a team player. If you’re overly confident, you’re going to be less open to hearing someone else out as far as discussing a game plan. These are all great points that we’re playing out to people as they’re thinking about interviewing. Check yourself. If you know you’re like that, maybe recognize that and try to face that head-on, especially if they ask you what’s your weakness. Make sure you know what your weakness is and have a solution, a way, or something that you’re doing to be aware of that weakness.

I can expand on that a little bit more too, which honestly is a great point that you made about the weakness. You will get asked, what are your strengths and weaknesses? It may not be as straightforward as that, but they will be a question that indicates along that line. You hit the nail on the head. A lot of programs will be glad that you can verbalize what your weaknesses may be.

What is going to impress that program or that faculty member on the interview committee is going to be the fact that you have a solution for it. We can all identify what our weaknesses are. I can tell you many about myself, but it means nothing if I’m not going and trying to work on those weaknesses. If you do that, that shows. If you can verbalize that you know your weaknesses, that you’re working on it, or you have a plan to work on that, it shows the committee, the interview group, and the program itself that you have the motivation to be better and grow. Whether it’s academically, clinically, or personally, that’s key to getting through an interview.

The next question, I think a lot of students worry that if they mess something up, they’re automatically not going to be accepted. I hear a lot of students say, “The interview went great, except for this one question I didn’t get right.” I’m here to ask you, do they have to answer all the questions 100% correctly to be considered a good interview?

No, they do not. That is a huge stressor for a lot of people. I do understand that. A lot of people consider that they were competing with 70 other people interviewing. They’re going to get everything right. I have to get everything right. You have to remember some of these questions are truly designed to put stress on you. To do that, we’re going to have to ask questions that you may not understand, you may not know why we asked it, and you may not have knowledge of it.

It may be seeing how far you’ve spread your wings to learn information. The committee consists of experienced practitioners. As Jenny said, I’ve been doing this for several years in the academic facility and clinical practice. We’re going to have a whole lot more knowledge than you are on a lot of these topics. We’re not truly asking questions for you to teach us. We’re trying to assess the knowledge base that you have, not for you to try to outsmart us as individuals. There are going to be questions that you can’t answer. That’s okay. You don’t have to get 100% correct. What they’re trying to assess and look at is how are you critically thinking through the process?

That’s one of the other things that we ask or try to decipher from a question that you may not get correct. Were you able to pull information to gather that you have learned? Maybe it’s asking about a PA catheter, and you’re pulling information from three different areas that you’ve done some research in or had patient experience. Were you able to pull that together and possibly come up with a logical answer to it? It may not be 100% correct, but who knows? The committee may look at you and go, “Now I see what line you’re going down. That’s not a bad line that you’re following.”

Eye contact with the committee while you're answering questions is key. Click To Tweet

Concentrating on trying to get 100% of the questions 100% correct creates so much of a stress level on the applicants that they will forget basic information sometimes. It is all about these questions trying to see how much knowledge you have while you’ve been working in the ICU. How much have you gained, and compare that to the number of years of experience? You may not get 100% correct. That is okay. We even have applicants that tell it to us afterward. We tell them, “No, we didn’t expect you to get that question right.”

We ask questions at a higher level because we want to assess how high of a level of knowledge you have and compare it to the number of years of critical care experience you have. We would expect somebody with five years of experience to have more knowledge-based than somebody with one year of experience because of what they’ve been through. That’s why we’re asking that. Sometimes we want to see how you have the knowledge you can go to.

I’ve truly been in interviews where I’ve called mercy. I said, okay, “You’ve got me. You did well on that.” We’ve got questions, and they were like, “Should I have gotten that one right?” We’re like, “I wanted to see how much knowledge you had gained.” It tells us the motivation that they have for going and acquiring new knowledge on their own.

What about them saying, “I don’t know.” Would you rather them take a stab at it and tell you what they can tell you about that question, or do you rather than say, “I don’t know,” versus making something completely incorrect?

I have a term or a phrase that I use called walk the line. What I mean by walking the line is I know a lot of our faculty members do not like to hear the term, “I don’t know,” or the phrase, “I don’t know immediately.” Somehow some way, I’m not even sure how this even happened, but years ago, it got passed along on the blogs, the forums, and so forth that says, “What they want to know is that you know your limits and you know when to ask for help when you’ve reached your limits. Being a good team player, providing great care means knowing your limits and where you can ask for help.” I don’t disagree with that to a degree. However, I think there’s a point where it can be harmful.

In an interview, if I’m asking several questions and the applicant is constantly saying, “I don’t know, but I’d ask for help.” They think they’re answering it in a positive way that’s showing the committee they know their limits. However, if you have 10 questions and 5 of them are in that answer form, it puts doubt in the committee’s mind, “What do you know? How much knowledge do you have?” You’re all critical care nurses. You all have been critically thinking. You know, at least one year, if not more. You’ve had at least four years of nursing school. There’s a lot of knowledge that you’ve gained. You have to assimilate it and share that with the group.

I do want to see that they possess some base knowledge or are able to think through the process critically. What do I recommend? I recommend starting with something that you know. If we’re going to ask about ventilator management, you say, “I don’t monitor and manage vents because that is the respiratory therapist’s job in my unit.”

The way I look at it is it’s still a monitor to know your patient. It’s like a PA catheter that you don’t manage. You must have some knowledge about it. We’re like, “Start sharing the knowledge you have.” You’re like, “There are ventilators there. What it’s doing is it’s maintaining our lung function for our patients. The problem is either oxygenation or ventilation.” You start talking about what knowledge base you have. This way, the committee sees that you do understand some. If they ask her, “Why are you using this mode versus this mode?” Maybe talk about what the different modalities are, and you know about the modalities.

If you’re not sure why that surgeon chose this mode, pressure control ventilation versus volume-controlled or APRV versus bi-level level, whatever it may be, maybe you cannot come to the exact answer, but get to a point where you’ve explained as much as you can about the knowledge you have on that topic. You can maybe say, “To find out exactly, I’d have to dive more into that.” Instead of the initial answer, “I’m not sure. I’d have to ask somebody.”

If you do not answer those, the committee starts to wonder, “What are we working with here? How far behind are we?” We’re going to have to teach them a whole lot if they do not know anything. They’re also looking at it, saying, “They don’t even have confidence in the knowledge that they do have. They’re not willing to share.” This is your time to control the interview as an applicant and give your knowledge base, let them know what you do know, and you can also show them that, “I did finally reach a limit, and I was willing to reach out to somebody.” You’ve accomplished both avenues of what you want to hear.

I agree that is a common misconception. I’ve even been under that misconception, but I will agree that by saying, “I don’t know.” If it’s one question where maybe you tried to tell them what you do know but can’t go into all the detail they want, I think that’s okay, but you don’t want to say I don’t know and not give them anything because then they have nothing to assess. That’s excellent the way you explained it. I hope that sheds some light on that topic for everyone. The next question is, when asked the question “tell me about yourself”, what exactly are you looking for?

CRNA 9 | CRNA Interview
CRNA Interview: Eye contact in an interview really displays that you have confidence in your answers. You have confidence in your knowledge that you really want to communicate with the faculty and the staff.

I do smile when this one comes across because this is a question that seems like it’d be easy to answer but truly is difficult to answer. You want to make sure that you are sharing with the committee enough to get to know you but not so much that you are divulging everything that exists about you.

You’re finding the line of how much do I tell because I did submit a CV, I did submit a personal statement. They do have my application. Am I supposed to rehash what I said on my application or not? It becomes a difficult and almost anxiety-laden type of question for a lot of our individuals. The other part of that is, if we think about this in true nurses, a lot of them don’t like to talk about themselves.

They are humble people. It’s hard for them to even share about themselves and what their strengths and weaknesses are. It is hard for them to share and talk about who they are or try to think of the perfect answer to this question that the committee wants to hear. This should be a brief summary of who you are as a person and your clinical experience.

I recommend most of these interviews are anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes long, maybe up to an hour, depending on what programs you interview with. You’ve got a lot of people wanting to ask you questions and wanting to get to know more about you. A lot of that’s already in your CV and your resume. I tell people to practice this and keep it within about three minutes. Remember, the longer you go on about this, there are two things that can occur.

One is the committee becomes bored. They become disengaged because I’ve already read some information about you. They know this stuff about you, or you’re going into many details. That’s not what they were looking for in the question. They’re not looking for somebody to lay out their entire lifeline from a high school student who had surgery to an ICU nurse several years out. What happened every step of the way for them to stay interested in anesthesia school, and why they want to go to anesthesia school now.

This should only be about three minutes maximum, in my opinion. That’s because the more time you spend, they become disengaged. It also takes away from time that you can spend explaining your clinical knowledge and your personal background as a nurse, and what you have gained during your experiences as a nurse that is going to help you be successful in anesthesia school.

It can become a long answer. It can lose tension. It can draw focus towards things that you don’t want it to draw focus towards. To me, it should be brief. Three minutes long, it should be more about here’s who I am as a person, who I am as a clinician, and maybe why I want to go to your school, but you don’t want to get personal and detailed in that introduction right there. Always say, at times, less is more, and I know that’s a double-edged sword. The applicant would want to pique the committee’s interest so that they may want to dive more into that area, but let them do the diving instead of you giving them too much information.

I’ve had some students who’ve reached out to me. They’re worried and scared about the question, “tell me a difficult time you’ve dealt with” because maybe they have something pretty dark in their past. They’re nervous to answer “tell me about yourself” because maybe they have a rough past. Maybe being aware of what you’re sharing, not going into that much detail, and keeping it to the point while you’re there is always best.

We have a lot of people, and I’ve seen it several times, who have some things in their past that are difficult and hard. We respect that. That shows a work ethic, that shows fortitude in an applicant that is admirable overall. You don’t want to be too personal. Whatever that difficult situation is, there are ways to approach it in an interview where you’re able to get that across without giving personal details on it.

What you want to draw their attention toward and this is why I say, “Be careful about the details you share.” You want the committee’s focus to be on the fact that you had a difficult situation, and you may have to share a little bit about it, in general. Usually, if you’re in a difficult personal situation, most committees are not going to dive into it and ask you, “Please give me the details of this.” We know that’s inappropriate, and we’re not going to do that.

What we’re going to say is, “You had a personal situation that you said, we can tell through the poise and demeanor that you have, that it was a difficult situation in your lifetime. We see how well you’re doing now.” We see the fortitude of that willingness to overcome those situations and that strength shown by overcoming those situations. You want them to be able to focus more on that.

Even that level of voice deflection can make a huge difference in an interview. Click To Tweet

However, if you start to get into the real gory details or the personal details of it, including specific situations, what they end up taking away from it is what happened during that more than the strength it took for you to get over it. You want to make sure that you’re gearing their focus based on the information that you share. Not bad to share situations, personal situations, that are difficult. Please understand that I would not anticipate they are to ask for the details. If you stay at a high level, they will too, but they’ll still be able to see your strength, fortitude, and ability to overcome difficult situations.

Focus more on the outcome, the strength that you have from it, and not so much on the details of the actual difficult situation. That’s all great advice for those of you who may be in that position where you’re struggling with that. Would you say the interview matters more than the overall application requirements? How do you score the interview in comparison to things like GPA, GRE, and ICU experience?

Each program is different. Each program considers things differently in their applications. Some will take GRE scores, and some will not. Everybody is looking at GPA and clinical experience, but the interview is a huge portion of what you are going to be great at in your overall application. I would venture to say that most programs considered this bigger than anything else.

If you’re talking about a scoring system, this may even own a 60, 40, 70, or 30 type score where 70% of your entire score and overview counts based on your interview or 30% counts on the GRE, application, GPA, and your clinical experience. This is huge. Not to put any more pressure on anybody than they already put on themselves, but these are the reasons. It’s big. This is what they are looking for and the reasons that it can be big and considered important.

GRE, GPA, and clinical experience are all papers. It is numbers data that’s put on paper. The only thing that truly is going to show is whether you can fit into a program, be successful in that program and be a successful nurse anesthetist is a personal interaction; that’s the only thing that can truly tell it. I’m sure we all can go back and say, “We’ve looked at different things. Somebody looked different on paper than they did in person.” I know that exists.

The interview committee is trying to gauge everything, and this is their chance to gauge who you are, gauge your ability to understand a clinical application of what you’re learning in the ICU, gauge the ability or the sense of the applicant’s personality, their work ethic and motivation. All of this plays into whether there’ll be a fit for one program or another.

I talk about this all the time. There are over 100 programs in the nation. I discuss with people and try to convince them. This may be your number one program, whether it’s our program or somewhere in California or Ohio. That may be your number one program. However, understand that it may not be a fit for you. You may not be a fit for them, which means you won’t be successful. This is the program and your chance to gauge how you fit together.

As much as they are interviewing you as an applicant, you as an applicant are interviewing them as a faculty and as a program. That’s key to know. You may not fit in a program in Ohio. However, the one in Michigan may be a fit for you because they may focus on some different areas. That’s why I always say the interview is important because they can tell what person you are, your work ethic, ambition, and ability to interact.

All of that plays into it because what they’ll look at is say, “I know Jenny. I interviewed her. I love her personality. I know the CRNAs and facilities she’s going to clinically train at will love her personality. Let’s take Jenny. She’ll be a great fit. However, I interviewed Richard. He’s a smart guy, but knowing the clinical training site he’s going to be at, they’re not going to mesh well, and he won’t be successful.” It is all about being seen. If you’re a great fit for the program, you can successfully complete the program and the goal of every program.

Your goal as an applicant should be, “I’m going to get into a nurse anesthesia program, successfully complete it, pass the national certification exam boards on my first attempt and get a job.” It never should be, “I’m taking a shot in the dark to see if this works out for me.” This is more important than any of that. That’s why programs and applicants should take it that seriously and see if they’re a fit. That’s what the interview is all about. It is seeing if you’re truly a fit for their program. That’s why it’s usually weighed more than some of the paper stats that we talked about a little bit earlier, like the GRE, GPA, and clinical experience.

I’m happy you shared all that because 4.0 students don’t get accepted to anesthesia school. I can’t tell you how many students reach out to me. They’re like, “My coworker with less experience, lower GPA, less of a GRE score got in. I didn’t.” It usually comes down to the interview. Just because you’re better on paper doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to perform better in the interview. You need to put your focus there.

CRNA 9 | CRNA Interview
CRNA Interview: We ask questions at a higher level because we really want to assess how high of a level of knowledge you have and compare it to the number of years of critical care experience you have.

Not all schools, even if it’s your dream school, may be the right fit. I know some people are torn because maybe they feel they can’t move based on family or other obligations. It becomes stressful for them when they feel like they only have one shot at one school. The reality is if you want CRNA, you have to be open to the idea of possibly uprooting your life to make that happen. Some schools may not be the right fit for you, and it may be a good thing that you don’t get in because maybe you wouldn’t be successful in that program.

Sometimes things happen for a reason, even if they may not seem like they are a good thing at the time. I faced rejection, and that felt like, “Should I keep going? Maybe it’s not cut out for me.” The program I got rejected from was in my hometown. It was ten minutes from my house. That would have been convenient, but instead, I commuted over two hours one way to go to another program, and I did awesome in it. I loved it, and that’s my Alma mater. I have a lot of love for that program. Even though it was more inconvenient for me to go there, it was the right fit. Know that the end is not in sight if you get you’re rejected, and know that the program may not be the program for you.

Talking about rejections, a little background on myself. I understand, and this is why I love doing this type of show. I love being a part of the program that you have created. Coming out of high school, I had done well in high school and did okay in my college career, but my first degree was not Nursing. It was a Biology degree.

I was looking at medical school, and I got waitlisted twice for medical school. I was like, “I’m going to go do nurse anesthesia based on what I had seen about it from a personal experience in the operating room as an operating room surgical tech for a short period of time.” The one in my hometown that I was living in at the time, I got waitlisted there my first year.

It was this passion that I had for it. As I think about that, what drives me to want to help others is I received some help during that time. I want to give it back in the long run, but there’s got to be a commitment there. That’s also what people see, and what programs see. That’s something you are thinking about in the interview and how important it is, if they see that you have that commitment. This program is four hours away from you, but you want to be there.

I know this is a question that’s always asked, “How do I answer the question of ‘Have you applied to other schools?’ Do I tell another program that I’ve applied to other schools?” Yes, you do, in my opinion, because a lot of committees look at that and say, “If they’re applying to 4 or 5 other schools, that means they’re dedicated that they want to do nurse anesthesia.”

“It is not that it’s a matter of convenience because we’re ten minutes away from her, and she’s willing to drive two hours. It shows her commitment to this profession of nurse anesthesia. As a student, I know she will do everything she can to be successful because of that passion that she shows towards it.” Those are several different things as you think about the interview, why it’s important, and what all they can show about an applicant.

Back to the actual interview, do you try to ask questions to catch students off guard? Why do you do this? What does that show in the applicant if you can ask him something off the wall?

We ask them things that they may not have knowledge about or that they may struggle with. Part of that is because it’s fun for us. I’m kidding about that. The reason we do that is you’ve seen it enough times in the operating rooms in your experience, Jenny, we have to think on our feet. If we ask typical clinical questions that you know you will likely have coming into an interview or typical personality questions that you anticipate having in an interview, that doesn’t tell us much. You are probably well prepped on those from the months that you’ve been spending anticipating an interview and preparing for it.

However, many different scenarios come up to us in the operating rooms that we haven’t had time to think about it. We have traumas that come in. We have code. We have patients that go severely hypotensive or hypertensive. We’re not sure. We haven’t had time to think about what exactly is happening here in the span of three days prepping for it.

We’ve got to be able to see that these applicants can handle stress and think on their feet at the same time. It’s not necessarily the exact answer you get, but the thought process you go behind and that you use to answer that question. If somebody asks you, “What type of shoe would you be and why?” It’s not that they’re trying to find something weird out about you. They’re not trying to figure out, are you a boot? Are you a loafer or a flip flop? They’re not trying to figure all that out.

Concentrating on trying to get 100% of the questions 100% correct creates so much of a stress level on the applicants that they will forget basic information sometimes. Click To Tweet

Where they’re trying to see is, if I throw something odd, weird, and different at you, can you think on your feet? Can you come up with an answer and logically explain it? Can you say, “Yes, I’d be a boot? Here’s why I’d be a boot. I want to kick somebody.” That’s what they’re looking for. Looking at the posture, verbal interaction, and knowledge you may have behind something; if it’s a clinical topic that you may not know a lot about, if it’s an off-the-wall question, it may be trying to see, “Can you think on your feet? Can you logically think on your feet, explain and have a conversation with me?”

If you can do that, I feel like probably when you get into an operating room where truly everything is about the clinical side of it, and you will have some base knowledge based on what you bring, and what we teach, you’ll be able to interact with the surgeon, the nurse anesthetist, the anesthesiologist, whoever you need to take care of your patient safely.

You know as well as I do. That operating room is a stressful environment. We expect our nurse anesthetist and also our student nurse anesthetist to perform at a high level while you’re in there. We want to make sure that they’re up to that challenge and they’re able to function well in that environment where you have to think on your feet a lot.

If you can keep your composure, especially when something isn’t ideal, let’s say the patient bagels down to heart at twenty. If you start freaking out, everyone in the room will freak out versus you saying, “Stop what you’re doing. Stop stimulation. I’m going to treat this and give the patient time to recover.” If you can go about that whole situation calmly, you move on, and the case goes on. They don’t even remember that. It wasn’t even a big deal, and you know when to escalate things, being put under that second-by-second pressure of how to handle a situation, whether it’s truly an emergency, something that you have to escalate quickly.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you don’t call for backup. I am a big proponent of calling for backup and getting someone else to the room, or at least notifying them, because sometimes situations escalate quickly. It’s nice if you say, “Send so-and-so to the room to attend the room.” Now you’re in a full-blown code. It’s nice that you asked for that when you initially saw there could be a problem.

Back to testing off-the-wall questions to see if you can give an answer to that, it doesn’t necessarily matter what it is. I’m a slip-on sandal. I like Nike because I’m pregnant. When I bend over, I can’t breathe. I’m excited a winter’s over, and I can stop putting on boots. That’s a great insight there for those types of questions. One of the last questions for the interview that I’m going to ask you is, how do you look at emotional intelligence and how do you think it plays into the success of a student in a program?

Emotional intelligence is huge. This is what many of you already know. This is a topic that’s becoming more popular, especially with my program faculty. You hear the terms emotional intelligence and emotional quotient, both of them EI, EQ, are the same type of knowledge base that they’re looking at. What emotional intelligence is looking at is, do you know yourself, and do you know how you’re going to interact within environments? That is huge.

Whether it’s the academic environment or clinical environment, are you able to know who you are and how you will interact? Why does that play into the success of a student? You read studies that show that clinically and academically, EI or EQ contributes heavily to a student’s success in a program. Even to the point now that faculty members programs or using EI and EQ as a deciding tool of whether students get into a program or not. If you haven’t read up on EI, I do encourage you to go out there and do that because it is going to be huge. The more data that comes out on it, the more programs are going to use it.

How does it play into success? We’re all going to have hiccups. If I told you that I finished our program when I went to anesthesia school with 100% success, every day I walked into the operating room, everything went well, and every day I took an exam, everything went well, I would truly be lying to you overall.

EI was not a topic back then. However, what they’re finding out is what happens when those bumps and bruises occur, when those hiccups occur, whether it’s in an academic setting or the clinical setting… We’re seeing those with high emotional intelligence do better overall. The study showed this, and I’ve personally seen this in programs.

Those with high emotional intelligence, they are able to decipher the situation, figure out how they may have created that situation, contributed to that situation, or figured out they did not contribute to the situation. It’s something that occurred, be able to move on and grow from yet. That’s both in the academic and the clinical study. You think about hiccups in the academic setting. Maybe you don’t do well on a test or two because of your study tactic or method. However, that tactic doesn’t work in graduate school, just because it worked at an undergraduate school or it worked for the CCRN or the GRE.

CRNA 9 | CRNA Interview
CRNA Interview: As much as they are interviewing you as an applicant, you as an applicant are interviewing them as a faculty and as a program.

Being able to have that EI and be able to say, “This didn’t work. I’m going to back up and realize that there’s something I’m not doing right. Eighty percent of the class is doing well on this. I’m not one of that 80%. It can’t necessarily be the instructor, the material or the methods. It’s got to be something I’m not doing to understand all of this.” That’s what EI is about when you look at programs.

I’m not doing something clinically correct. Is everybody else? Everybody else isn’t getting it either. I’m good. I’m right. I’m part with everybody else. There’s truly a part of emotional intelligence that is key in determining success. There are a lot of programs out there now that use this in their interviews, whether they ask the questions about it or have you take an EI test as part of the application. They’re using this because the data is truly showing in the research that academically and clinically, those with a high EI are being more successful in the program, and those with low EI are struggling or not making it through.

A lot of this comes down to insight, self-reflection and a lot of it is a mindset. How healthy is your mindset? A lot of this EI, EQ comes down to analyzing. Is this something I’m doing? 9 times out of 10, you should be willing to accept some responsibility for any action or outcome that happens, or at least assess it to see if this may be something that I contributed to. If I didn’t, openly assess it and don’t take everything personally.

Even if I say, who I like working with in clinical as a student or as a coworker, do they get defensive, and do they stop themselves? That’s emotional intelligence right there: do they have the willpower to stop before they quickly react harshly to us in a situation? Some of the EQ tests that are out there are called Casper. That’s a popular one that programs are now using that I hear about. You can’t go take it on a whim, but there are some free IQ tests out there if you search it on Google.

Daniel Goldman has an audiobook, or a book if you want to read; I don’t ever sit down and read. I like audiobooks. You can listen to it on audio. It’s a great resource for you guys to learn about EQ. I also like Angela Duckworth. She has a book called Grit. It is, in my opinion, a scale or a measurement of EQ. That’s a great resource too. It is something to be aware of and something that is new, up and coming, but something that schools are seeing as important when it comes to assessing their students before they’re accepted.

Daniel Goldman was one of the initial researchers for EI. That’s why a lot of his materials are out there. Another one I found, and this is not an EI per se, but it truly is somewhat along that line, is 16Personalities. I’ve used that myself, and I’m not going to tell you which personality I was. I’ve used it with some of my students who may have been struggling that we’ve asked them to complete this.

We use this for all of our students in our recent professionalism course, trying to teach a little bit more about EI and EQ, so we had them do a personality test. 16Personalities was great- it gave you some good feedback, looking at who you are and how you interact with others. How you interact with others is going to determine a lot about your day, a lot about your educational experiences, and we’re all working in a team. Your program faculty is part of your team. They’re not your enemy. Your clinical faculty is part of your team when you’re there in that setting. Being able to interact with them and recognize all of that is going to create a better team environment, which in the long run provides better patient care.

16Personalities is a great free resource. It’s a quiz. My only suggestion, when you take it, don’t answer neutral. Try to be on one side or the other. You’re going to get more accurate results. I also would love to share with everyone. For those of you who are not aware, Richard Wilson does work with me inside CRNA School Prep Academy with our students. He has been an amazing resource for everyone in our community. I would love for you to share with people what your involvement is and some of the services that you offer inside the academy.

Jenny, thank you, and I appreciate bringing me on board and having me as a part of this. It was by happen chance that somebody mentioned it, and I jumped on to see what was going on because I had an interest in this. I saw all the great things she was doing and what she was creating. It’s been a pleasure for me to be a part of this and to see it grow.

I get excited every day that I see something new coming out. I stay active on the forums, whether it’s inside CRNA School Prep Academy or in the Facebook forum that you’ve got, and give as much advice as I can from personal experiences I’ve had, whether it was as a student, a faculty member, or a nurse. I’m trying to give guidance on some topics.

There’s a lot of false information out there. I caution you guys always to be aware of that. A lot of people share their experiences, and they have little experience, even though it’s great that they’re willing to share. Even with information I give, you should be taking into consideration all the other things you’re hearing, too.

How you interact with others is going to determine a lot about your day, a lot about your educational experiences. Click To Tweet

It’s not that one of us says something and it is the rule of law, rather it should be taken into consideration and weighed with all the others. I try to stay involved with that. I try to make sure that I’m giving as accurate information as I can and give advice where I can to prevent people from not getting in within a year. We’ve calculated it out. We’ve done the numbers.

Every year you delay for any reason, whether it is not taking the GRE because you need it too, not getting the CCRN, not getting another year of experience in the ICU, to delaying your app because you don’t think it’s a right time for you. This is a staggering number to think about. Every year you delay your application, you’re making a nursing salary, not a nurse anesthetist’s salary.

I’m not saying it’s all about the money because if you’re going into this for solely the money, you’re in it for the wrong reason. You’ll burn out quickly. It’d be miserable. For those that want to do this, that’s a $75,000 loss for every year you don’t optimize your chance to get in because of the difference in the salary aspect of it. That’s huge.

My goal is to give feedback and information. You’ve created a lot of services on there, which I’ve been happy to be a part of as a faculty member to give my advice on it. You’ve created the mock interviews. I don’t do mock interviews. We’ve talked about that with a conflict of interest, but it’s a great service out there that I think is underutilized by the group overall. 

Everyone should have a mock interview.

I think everybody should have one too, that’s my opinion. This can play into the parts we were talking about in the interviews. When you talk about mock interviews, you do a mock interview, you get feedback, and you need to go practice that. That’s why I think it is huge when you talk about mock interviews. We also do essay critiques or personal essay and personal statement critiques. You can submit that through the CRNA School Prep Academy. 

People ask what’s the difference in that. The more times I read it, the more edits I can make, and sometimes the more I see as we’re going through it to get this. The goal is to get it sounding as if it’s a professional statement, making sure that we’re not too personal and you’re portraying to the interview group what you want to portray to them as an individual and as an applicant.

We do CV resume reviews, making sure those are cleaned up grammatically correct, flowing in the right manner, using the right verbiage, making sure you’re not setting yourself up for failure in an interview by the words you put in your resumé. We also do transcript reviews. That’s something that I’ve been doing.

I will take a look at your transcript and try to figure out your overall GPA, your science GPA, and the last 60 hours I’ve been trying to include in there because some schools are looking at that. I’ll give you feedback on whether I think you need to take science courses or not take science courses, how many you may need to take, and what that impact would have on your application overall. Those are a few.

One of the things I’m looking at getting set up with my calendar is one-on-one consultations. There are many people that say, “I didn’t get in, and I don’t know why I didn’t get in. I want to make sure that when I apply again, I’ve got all my ducks in a row.” If you want to combine all of those into one, we do a one-on-one consultation. I’ll spend an hour with you.

I don’t do a full transcript review with those, but I will look at what you have in your grades and give you some feedback. We can have conversations about why you want to go to school, what you want to say to them, and how you get in contact. I’ll cover a lot of different materials when we do one-on-one. That’s a lot of new stuff that I know you’ve added that I’m glad to be a part of. I appreciate you adding me in with this stuff.

CRNA 9 | CRNA Interview
CRNA Interview: 9 times out of 10, you should be willing to accept some responsibility for any action or outcome that happens or at least assess it to see if this is something that maybe I contributed to. If I didn’t, openly assess it and don’t take everything personally.

These resources are gold if you ask me. It is something that I wish was around back when I was doing all of this. I utilized my mom, dad, and sister. They were great, but it is nice to hear from someone who has so much experience in doing this day in and day out. That input is invaluable. By far the mock interviews, when people get into schools, I always say this, “They give a shout-out to who did their mock interview.” Nine times out of ten, they’re always saying, “Big shout out to so-and-so, who did my mock interview and CRNA School Prep Academy, and for Richard and Jenny.” It’s a highly thanked service because it is important and valuable.

What Richard was saying about having more than one experience, I’ve had students do 3 or 4. That’s all personal choice, but sometimes keep in mind, school interview styles are different. It’s nice to have an all-emotional intelligence style interview followed by a heavy clinical style interview, and we can offer those two different types of experiences.

It’s also a great way for the SRNAs and our community to get involved. These SRNAs, a lot of them already sit on interview panel committees and work closely with the program directors. They’re aware of what makes a good interview and a one-on-one consultation. That would be the most amazing way to completely roundabout and look at everything you have to offer because many times, students don’t get feedback from their program, or they get one-sentence feedback. They don’t get clarification.

They’re left trying again without a lot of guidance. What if they fail for a second time? Richard can come in there and help you put your best foot forward or move forward into your next application cycle or even your first application cycle. Richard, I’m equally as thankful and honored to have you a part of CRNA School Prep Academy.

It was funny, he reached out to me, and he was not like, “Who are you?” He had heard of my name through online forum submission, and I’m always happy to share what I’m doing. I’m excited that you took an interest in what I’m doing and want to be involved in it. I’m glad we’ve grown together now over the last several months.

2020 has been a whirlwind, to be quite honest. It’s been great, but it’s been a lot. I’m excited about the monthly workshops. We didn’t mention that, but Richard helps me do these monthly workshops. Every other month,  give or take, he’s presenting a topic on some type of educational topic. The last one was a DNP project presentation, which was awesome. I’m getting ready to do a hemodynamic workshop. In April and May 2021 he’s doing a two-part pharmacology workshop. We also do monthly Q&As for our students.

CRNA School Prep Academy students, we have resources for you. Part of the problem with your journey to CRNA is maybe you don’t feel like you can get your questions answered, or maybe you’re getting advice, but maybe it’s not the best advice. That’s where we come in. I’m excited to have you a part of this, and I appreciate your help.

You have no idea. None of this would be possible without your help because there’s not enough time in the day to do everything. Thank you so much for joining us on this episode. I hope you mark it as one of your favorites. You better download it and save it. As you embark on your CRNA journey, we’re here for you.

Thank you, Jenny.

Thank you so much.

Good luck, everybody.

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