CRNA As A Second Career For Nurses Cover Photo

Do you want to go back to nursing school as a second-career nurse but need help figuring out where to start? Is it even possible in the first place? How do you make that happen? Here to share her experience and success story is one of our CSPA students and an actual second career nurse, Kelly. Join host Jenny Finnell in her chat with Kelly to find out how she made the choice to go back to school. Get valuable tips and advice on everything you need from prepping for the interview to knowing how to make a low GPA work in your application. Find out more about Kelly’s CRNA story by tuning in!

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Going Back For CRNA As A Second Career Nurse With RRNA Guest Kelly

I’m so excited about this episode. We are embarking on this series; if you read the last one, we are bringing CSPA students who want to share their success stories with you. These stories are not only inspiring, but they’re so chock full of little gold nuggets. Something about making your own CRNA journey relatable is so powerful. In this episode, we have a special guest, Kelly. Welcome, Kelly, to the show.

Thank you for having me.

Thank you so much. What makes Kelly’s journey unique and why some of you out there are going to relate to this episode is that Kelly is a second-career nurse. She didn’t go into her career initially thinking she was going to become a nurse, but because of her experience, what she’s going to share with you, what led her into the field of nursing and then anesthesia.

I’m so excited to bring that to you because I’ve had people who were dental hygienists, accountants, vet techs, and all kinds of people who are like, “I want to go back to nursing.” They feel a little alienated and like, “Is this possible? I do not want to go back to nursing but to CRNA.” The answer is yes, you can. I’m excited to share Kelly’s story with you. Welcome to the show. Go ahead and let our audience know your unique background and how you stumbled upon nursing and then CRNA.

Nursing was a second career for me, as we talked about. When I was an undergraduate student, I knew I wanted to be in healthcare. I just didn’t know how. I saw students around me who were in nursing programs or were pre-med. It all sounded great, but I wanted to find a way to marry the things I loved about my own passions, like taking care of people, addressing communities that are in need, and then finding that cup filled from the science of it, like the pharmacology, pathophysiology, and the nerdy, sciencey things that we all love if we’re here at this point.

After my undergraduate degree, I ended up working in a nonprofit community, a public health clinic near my undergrad institution that served patients who were 200% below the federal poverty line primarily. Our patients were refugees. They were immigrants. They were people with housing challenges. It’s a broad, diverse array of people. The particular region that I lived in was very heavy, with all different types of refugees and immigrants. It was a diverse population. We provided medication and referral assistance to those patients who, if they came to our primary care clinic and needed a GI referral or a sleep study or needed to get fitted for a CPAP, would get a referral from me to one of the university institutions nearby.

I did that for about two and a half years and was reading notes all the time and interacting with patients. I was like, “I want to get a little more in with these patients. I want to see what’s going on. I want to put my hands on people and see what the deal is over here at these hospitals,” so I applied to nursing school and that’s the beginning.

I love your passion, too, for helping those in need and people that don’t have anything. It comes across how passionate you speak about it. When you decided to go back to nursing, how did you learn about anesthesia?

I loved everything about critical care when I first started learning about critical care in nursing school. My clinical rotation was in the surgical trauma intensive care unit. I knew on day one when I put a Pencil Doppler in an MDI socket that I wanted to be on that unit. I know that’s gross, but literally, the first thing I did as a nursing student was put a Pencil Doppler in an MDI socket for a stitch pulse. I was like, “This is awesome.” Since then, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career that would challenge me. It made me gross out at first, but it made me want to know more.

Working in a surgical ICU as well as a trauma ICU, I saw many postoperative patients come up that were disasters or even ones that looked perfect when they got there, but the case was not perfect. I looked at those people and was like, “You guys are the ones that managed every part of this. You’re the reason they’re up here looking okay now.” I was like, “What’s that?” I started to talk to more people in my unit. I got a good rapport with our CRNA since they drop off patients to us all the time anyway. I started to discover that this was the next step for me. This is an amazing way for me to take the things that I love about taking care of people even another step further.

You gave me goosebumps. You mentioned that you love the science aspect of going into healthcare and the nerdy part of it. That was step number one. Step number two was that you were like, “I want to get more hands-on,” because nursing’s very hands-on. You went back to nursing school. For a lot of critical care nurses, that’s them. They love the pathophysiology. They love pharmacology. What better unit to see all that unfold right before your eyes than critical care?

I also love that you love the surgery aspect of critical care in the sense that managing those patients, whether they’re trauma patients or surgical patients. I was in the medical ICU. While sepsis was huge and things like that, surgical patients may have lost their entire blood volume. Now, they’re coming to you. As you said, they may look great when they first get there, but you know there’s still a rough road ahead. They could go into TRALI. I also equally love that you spoke to CRNAs that you were getting a report from and established a connection and relationship with them to broaden your horizon.

If you are asked this type of question, especially in an interview or even in your statement, the story that Kelly gave now, while I’m not sure if you did go into this in your personal statement, which we’ll talk about, I like it because it’s personable. I have never done any of those things before myself, but it’s relatable in the sense that it makes Kelly seem very human and true to herself. That’s what I get from this, and I know schools equally would love this type of background and story. I’m curious, too. Did you share any of this in your admission essay?

I did. I talked a lot about that experience of seeing healthcare from a primary care perspective and then taking that all the way up through into the surgical trauma ICU. For example, one of the things that I dealt with most at the clinic was, “I need help filling my Keppra. I can’t pay for my Keppra anymore. It’s getting expensive. I need to decide between feeding my kids and paying for my meds every month,” which we’ve all heard that story being told before.

All the way up in the ICU, I’ll see patients who have been in car wrecks because they had seizures because they ran out of their Keppra. The world isn’t just isolated in its pockets. It’s all interrelated, and I’ve gotten to see that happen in real time. I did talk about that, and I talked about the importance of detail. It’s this attention to detail in healthcare that we need to keep our eyes on.

The world isn't just isolated in its pockets. It's all interrelated. Click To Tweet

It’s easily missed, in my opinion. You are hyper-aware that you are looking for it. For the average ICU nurse, and I’m even speaking for myself in general, we’re being cognizant of those types of situations where patients may be trauma patients. The reason why this happened is that there’s a problem with our ability to provide care for these populations who can’t afford to take the medications they need for their lives. It then leads to bad outcomes. I love the fact that you have that background. You can bring more awareness into the community because of your passion for it, and it’s going to do so much good.

It made me want to work somewhere where I would get a lot of exposure to critical access hospitals and independent care because those patients are some of the most needed in terms of anesthesia and that type of care. They need that as well, and I want to make sure that they get it.


CRNA School Application Stats

I would love for you to share some of your application stats. I want to say that don’t play the comparison game if you’re reading, but I know equally you’re wondering. Everyone always wants to know this. Go over things like your GPA if you can break down your GPA. If you can’t, that’s okay, but if you know your science overall, last 60 credits, or what your overall GPA was. It’s the same thing with how much surgical ICU experience you had and things like that.

Everyone wants to know the GPA right off the bat. Don’t worry, guys. Mine’s not that competitive. Mine was a 3.0 for a science GPA. My last 60 credit hours were a 3.28. I was not ever considered competitive, at least from my side and probably many of your sides too. That was my Achilles heel applying to CRNA school. That was what held me back for so long. It was this fear of that number. It was going to drag me all the way down, and there was no way that I was ever going to get in. My GRE was 313. That was on one try.

I’ve been in the Surgical Trauma Intensive Care Unit for four years. The only nursing job that I’ve ever had is four years in STICU. I have my TCRN. I’m a Trauma Certified Registered Nurse. I have my CCRN. I was published in 2022 in Critical Care Nurse as the co-author of a study regarding EHR and time spent using EHRs in the intensive care unit.

As far as leadership, I am the chair of my unit-based council. I have been for two years. I’m the chair of the surgery and trauma service line at my hospital. I oversee six different units, including my ICU and the education community service opportunities that go on in those units. I’m a board member of the AACN chapter locally here in Charlotte. This is what I would tell anyone who’s applying to CRNA school. If you have an Achilles heel and you know what it is, and you’re worried about it, broaden your horizons. Do a lot of different things because all of it made up for the fact that my GPA wasn’t that great. I could speak to so many other examples of how I can put my head down, get work done, be dependable, and be reliable.

A nurse smiling with a patient in a hospital bed
Second Career Nurse: If you have an Achilles heel, you know what it is and you’re worried about it, just broaden your horizons. Do a lot of different things.

That’s impressive. I was like, “She’s continuing to keep adding to that.” That’s amazing, and I love that point GPA-wise. That’s why I stress so much. Stats are stats, but they don’t pick you based on a GPA. They don’t pick you based on your ICU experience. They want to know who you are as a person and what makes you tick. In Kelly’s background, she’s passionate about helping and serving populations that are in need, but she has a passion for serving. By being a chair on your unit-based council and a travel line for education and the AACN, and being published in Critical Care Nurse, all those things show that Kelly is wanting to give back and serve the population at large.

Not only the patients but the nurses that she’s working with because that’s exactly what she’s doing. She’s trying to foster mentorship and leadership within her own nursing community. That is huge. They might look at this and say, “Can she hang in our program? I love who she is. I love her community service. She’d be a great asset to our community.” The only thing they would have to question is, can she get through the rigor of our science courses if this is what her science GPA is? You did state that your GRE was 313, which is very good. Congratulations.

That was the other thing. I thought the same exact thing. I thought that I needed to show them that I could handle the rigors of an academic program. In some way, in the GRE, a lot of people have different feelings about what that means as far as your aptitude, but I did know that it’s a number. I needed to crush the number in order to show them I could take a test and study and put my head down.

Did you take any other graduate courses or anything like that prior to applying?

I didn’t, which was a big risk. I applied once and got in the first time I applied to school, but I knew going in that this would probably be like a feedback year. I kept calling it my feedback year. I’m going to apply, and they’re going to tell me exactly what I’ll need to take, assuming they would tell me to retake classes because of my GPA, and then I would keep rebuilding and doing a lot of what I’ve been doing, but augment it, and take a class to buff up my GPA. That didn’t end up happening, which I’m very excited about. However, I did go in mentally prepared to get the feedback of, “You will need to retake some classes,” because I know it’s a weak spot in my application.

I also love your attitude about it because you call it a feedback year. That shows that you have the right mindset going into a competitive application. The fact that you knew that if this didn’t work out, you would get feedback and try again. I wanted to highlight that as well.

That’s what I kept telling myself, feedback and not failure.

We were talking before, and I mentioned that every time you say yes to something, you equally say no to something else and have to fill your own cup before you can pour it into someone else. She’s like, “Are you my therapist?” I’m like, “I would love to be.” You have to remind yourself that the right mindset can pull you through so much in this world. It’s important that you head into everything in life with that in mind.

Before you go ahead, I wanted to say that I also have another unique aspect of my application process. I did initially apply for a Bridge program. We’ve talked about not necessarily mentioning programs specifically, but this was a Bridge program that came out of a university up in Ohio. They have ten schools that are affiliated with this Bridge program where if you were accepted into the Bridge program after the completion of their curriculum, you would automatically matriculate into one of those ten schools affiliated with this Bridge program. Have you heard of these before?

Is that for nursing school?

It’s for CRNA school.

Yes, I do. Thank you for not mentioning the specific program. This would probably be okay, but I guess without knowing it, let’s keep it off. I know what you’re talking about. For those of you who are curious or if you want to reach out, feel free to do so at Hello@CRNASchoolPrepAcademy.com. I know exactly what you’re talking about, but because we haven’t asked permission, we’ll leave it off for now. That’s good to know because I didn’t know that. Did you do that because of your lower GPA?


CRNA School Bridge Programs

I did. I thought I would be a good applicant for that type of program because it was described to candidates who knew that they had a weak spot in their application and maybe wanted to strengthen their academic background and experience before applying and going to CRNA school. I thought that that was the right choice for me.

I applied, interviewed, and got into that program, but there was this voice in the back of my head that said, “You can do this the traditional way.” Give it a shot. See what happens. If not, that’s the choice you made. You can take that loss and keep it moving. I’m glad that I did. That would’ve been a fantastic option for me. Cost-wise, it maybe would not have been a great option, which is what I ended up saying to myself. It’s like, “This is a lot of money. Why don’t you try the traditional way?”

Just give it a shot and see what happens. If not, then that's the choice you made. You can take that loss and keep it moving. Click To Tweet

You did this Bridge program and applied to a regular school to see how it shook out.

Yes. I applied to the Bridge program. I got into that earlier but turned it down because I didn’t want to pay the money just yet. I knew it would be a good shot, but I wanted to give myself a chance. I owed it to myself to try it the old-fashioned way.

Thank you for sharing because that is unique. That shows, too, that you had faith in yourself and that you believed that you had a lot to offer despite your GPA. I love that. There’s nothing wrong with that. The Bridge program is a great option for many students, but as you said, you also equally think it’s for students who have been rejected and have already given it a shot. They’ll equally say that they want to see you give it a shot. They want to see you try the old fashion way, as you call it, but it is a great option for those who meet a lot of resistance otherwise. Thank you for sharing. You mentioned all kinds of leadership roles. What about your shadowing? Did you have any job shadowing experiences with CRNAs?

Yes, I did. That was a very cool and meaningful part of my journey. I always thought I could be a CRNA, but this experience made me believe I could be a CRNA. I had a patient that was crashing and burning at 1:00 in the morning because they do. That’s when they like to crash and burn on you. I had to take my patient to the OR stat in the middle of the night for revision of a wound that was bleeding profusely. This patient was hemodynamically unstable.

I took the patient downstairs to the OR. I presented the patient in front of the room. I said, “This is Mr. So-and-so. This is what’s going on. These are his lines, his drips. These are whatever vitals have been so far. This is where we’ve been out on our vent. I’ve given this type of product.” That was the case, basically. I dropped the patient off, went back upstairs, and tried to speed chart for an hour.

It was a quick turnaround time. When the CRNA came back up and dropped this patient off to me, she pulled me aside, and she was like, “That was one of the best reports I’ve ever gotten from an ICU nurse. You were thorough. You knew what you were talking about. I can tell that you know what’s going on with this patient.” She said, “Please tell me you’re applying to CRNA.” I pulled her aside, and I was like, “I, first of all, thank you for saying all that because it means a lot to me that people in the field see it, recognize it, and reach out.”

I barely saw the potential in myself, but she saw it in me, and that made me feel like, “Maybe I can do this. Maybe I can succeed in this.” She said, “Do me a favor. Shadow me. Come and see what’s going on. We’ll check out what it’s like here to be in the OR.” I was like, “Sure.” I shadowed her a couple of times. Our cases were relatively straightforward from her side of things, but everything’s new for me. There’s no such thing as straightforward for someone who’s never been in that environment before. She was a huge mentor to me, not just by showing me the ropes in the OR and introducing me to people there but also by advocating for my success along the way.

I love how you emphasize the fact that you went from wanting to be a CRNA to believing you could be a CRNA because of this interaction with an actual CRNA. That’s the power of connecting with a current CRNA. It doesn’t even have to be massive. When I did job shadow, it was the same thing where having that experience lit me up where it made me want to even more. It’s the fact that seeing it in action and the same thing like, “Can I do this?”

It was the passion and the drive that allowed me to push through some of the rejections or some of the potential fears that I was facing. I love to see students get this experience. For you, you talked about your Achilles heel. It allowed you to say, “I’m going to quiet that voice down. I believe in my ability to do this.” GPA is not everything. I don’t like the H word. I don’t say the H word, but I highly dislike being limited by a number.

You mentioned the Bridge program, and I truly believe that’s what they believe as well. I have mentors of mine who are CRNAs who did not have the best GPA. They are phenomenal CRNAs. You do not have to be a rocket scientist and good at textbook-type tests to be successful in your career. Unfortunately, because programs want to keep their doors open, you do have to pass the tests to pass.

You have to believe in yourself. That plays so strongly into whether people take a chance on themselves. As you said, you were potentially not going to take a chance on yourself because you doubted based on that one potential limiting factor. You did look at ways to make up for it, which is powerful, and it speaks a lot about who you are. You have to believe and move forward.

We hear the term Imposter syndrome all the time. There was nothing worse than a concrete number to drive your Imposter syndrome all the way into your heart. It’s easy to say, “I haven’t precepted or charged that much.” That’s okay. A hard number is really hard to get over. All of you out there who are looking at your GPA gripping the table, I get it. I completely understand how that feels, but you have to find ways to push past that and shine beyond it because it’s worth it.

When I put myself out there, I knew what my GPA was when I put it in front of these schools. It was one of these huge risk things because I knew they were going to look at it and see that it’s not perfect, but nobody’s perfect, and you have to fight for that chance to shine beyond that number. I agree with Jenny completely. There are some people that have 4.0s that I wouldn’t want to spike a bag of saline for me, honestly. That sounds terrible, but it’s not everything is my point.

Yes, it sure is not. I’m curious now that you brought this up. Did they ask you about any of your undergrad grades during your interview?

Yes, they did.

This is pretty common, so be prepared. It’s okay. Naturally, they’re going to be curious. I’m curious about what you said about your undergrad GPA.

In the middle of my clinical portion of the interview, literally in the middle of dissecting some pathophysiology, someone at the table was like, “Your GPA barely made the cut off.” You can imagine I’m already second-guessing myself because this is the clinical part. It’s tough, and right out of the left field, they are like, “Your GPA’s right at the cut off.” I said, “I didn’t know how to study. I didn’t know how to learn, and I know how to learn now. I know that smaller class sizes are better for me. I know that a little bit of one-on-one time after class is the best way for me to learn.”

I gave concrete examples of how I study now and how I’ve been successful now. To age myself, when I took those classes that drove down my GPA, that was several years ago. I am not the same person that I was many years ago. It was my job at that moment, and it’s going to be your job, those of you with low GPAs, to show them that you are not that person anymore and that you’ve learned. I gave the example of my GRE being a good score and that I took and passed my CCRN and TCRN. Show them that you’ve grown and have different ways of tackling the beast because every beast is going to be different. CRNA school is going to be different from undergrad and nursing school too.

You hit it on the nail as far as you have to be prepared. The worst thing you could probably do, honestly, if they were to bring that up in an interview is to have nothing to say and to sound like you hadn’t thought it through. It’s to be expected if you have a lower GPA or a C or even a D in your past. You may need to have to explain that and not as an excuse per se, but what have you done to be better? I love that. Did you have any issues getting references for your CRNA application?

No, I didn’t. I had a good network in the unit where I worked. It’s my home unit. I’d been here for four years, so it was not challenging for me to get those recommendations, but I know that is a challenge for those of you who are traveling or who have sought out different experiences in different ICUs.

Who did you end up asking overall?

I asked my manager. I asked my clinical supervisor on nights, and I have two PAs I talk to who can vouch for my clinical aptitude and are the best out of anyone up there because we work essentially one-on-one with them.

Do you attend any open houses or CSPA conferences or anything like that?

I’m trying to remember. I did a lot of little webinar-type of things. I did one for one school. I used the CSPA resource bank. I felt like all the time, as I was applying, I was looking around and seeing what resources were available for the schools I was applying to get a better idea of the school, the metrics, and the expectations from those places.

You probably did attend some type of virtual open house. You did connect with your school. I like to point that out because it’s insightful. Most successful students I have found most of the time have attended either an open house or have at least connected with their school in some way prior to even applying. I know you mentioned your GPA, but were you unsure about yourself otherwise? I know you spoke that once you had that shadow experience and connected with the CRNA, you truly started believing, but did you always feel very sure about this path?

That’s a good question because the more I think about it, the more I think I am very sure about this path for me. It felt like the right thing for me. As far as approaching the application process, there were a lot of moments of doubt of, “Is this a group that I would fit in with? Are these people who think like me in the sense that we can get some good work done together?” That will be with like-minded people who have the same goals in mind when I’m in the OR one day.

That was a fear of mine because, for me personally, it’s important to be surrounded by people who are not on the same exact page as me, but we all have a common goal in mind that we want the person on the table to come out of it better than as good as we can, whatever that means for that patient. Also, putting our own egos on the shelf and realizing that this is not about us at the end of the day. This is about the patient.

Some of the people that I’ve interacted with over the years, we’ve all heard, “The money is so great. The schedule’s awesome.” I’m like, “You are right, but this is more than just a paycheck. I’m going back to school and spending this money and time in my life to have a fulfilling job, and I want that to be fulfilling.” The biggest puzzle piece for me along my journey or the biggest fear was that I would not find as much of a passion in this role, but I’ve learned every day that there are so many people that think that way and feel that way out there, and that’s exciting for me.

That’s something that I haven’t heard often. I can speak from my several years of being a CRNA that you are head-on. When you’re in the operating room, you are a team. It’s a team effort. Everyone in that room has that goal. It is nice because people are there for that goal and purpose to get the patient safely off the table. You collaborate and work together. That part is fun. You also learn a lot from that. That’s what I like a lot about teamwork because I learn, and I love learning.

Learning is fun and stimulating. It’s growth. It’s both educational and personal too. Sometimes that’s not even technical knowledge. Sometimes it’s only finesse. Sometimes it’s a preference. Even learning a preference to me is growth because it allows you to see a different perspective. That happens every day in the OR 100%. I love that you love that because you will be fulfilled.

You are picking a career. Money and schedule are nice, and I’m all about scheduling big because we have three little kids. My schedule now is everything, but I equally wouldn’t like my job if I didn’t find it fulfilling. I don’t care what schedule they gave me or how much they paid me, but if I physically hated doing what I did, then it wouldn’t matter. All those other bonuses and perks wouldn’t matter.

Thank you for sharing that and being very vulnerable in that process. I 100% know with confidence that you’re going to find your crew. You’re going to find your people. I will say now that at least in my own experience, and I’ve heard this from so many students, when you go to CRNA school, the people that are in your class, and I’m not saying you have to connect with every single person in your class, but you will find your lifelong friends there.

You will find your tribe. You will find the people who get and understand you. It’s amazing. I will always have these friends. We may not talk every day, but we went through so much together. That’s what it is too. You’re going through CRNA school together, and you’re supporting one another. That right there builds a long-lasting friendship.

This is getting me super excited to start.


CSPA Resources And Interview Prep

Yes, I’m excited for you too. Out of all the CSPA resources, I know you said you dug into a lot of them. Was there anything or any things in particular that you hit maybe more than once or found useful in your time preparing?

It’s hard to pick one, but I know when I was getting ready for my interviews. I applied to five schools and was extended two interviews. When I was preparing for those interviews, I did the five-day prep. I looked at those videos, took notes, and studied them. If I had any questions about the content, I dug deeper on my own time in those videos because it was so comprehensive. One of the biggest challenges when preparing for an interview is knowing that there’s a ton of stuff out there, but how to find that good, condensed place focused on the goal, which is exactly what the CSPA did essentially.

Healthcare professionals in a meeting smiling with coffee, a computer and a large dry erase board in the background
Second Career Nurse: One of the biggest challenges when you’re preparing for an interview is knowing that there’s a ton of stuff out there, and finding a really good condensed place that’s focused on the goal.

It’s like, “These are things you’re going to need to know as an ICU nurse or a critical care nurse that are directly applicable to the world of anesthesia, and it’s right here. It’s in a condensed place.” Focus on that and then focus on having your own patient example. It gave me peace of mind of like, “I’m not only holding my hands out in the dark hoping I’d bump into the right thing. It’s exactly tailored to the future CRNA.” That was a huge help for me. I used the forum. Richard Wilson put up a Math or a Pharmacology review that I found helpful. That was a live session. That was fun. I felt like I was in class again.

It’s the study sessions we started. I know what you’re talking about.

I was like, “Here I am in the midst of a ton of stress,” and I’m still like, “I’m in school.” I’m such a dork. By clicking around, you’ll see this list and pages of helpful things. I used a lot of different things.

I love your reference. One of the main reasons why we created the NAR Bootcamp, the Nurse Anesthesia Resident Bootcamp, is because we’d see students get accepted and buy all unnecessary books to try to start reading. We’d see students binge-watch YouTube, like Khan Academy or whatever, and spend an exorbitant amount of time trying to read anesthesia books or things that are not going to serve them where they’re currently at in their journey.

We developed our bootcamp and CSPA for that very reason because we wanted to make sure that you had everything you needed in one spot. You don’t have to worry about trying to read all the things and know all the things that are out there on the internet because it’s not realistic. You’re not going to get a good understanding by doing that. You’re going to have surface-level knowledge if you try to do that. If you focus on the concepts we teach, we build upon that, and then you grow your understanding. From there, it allows you to display your knowledge in the interview.

It gives you a head start when you start your programs too. That’s secretly what I am aiming to do too. I don’t necessarily speak to that because everyone’s like, “Get me in.” What we’re doing is making you stronger students. I say this probably more to the faculty I talk to and stuff, but we’re building future leaders. That’s truly what I believe. I believe we’re building CRNAs who are pay-it-forward CRNAs. We’re building CRNAs who are going to go into this career path and have a lot of fulfillment or enjoyment. They’re going to school and have a better understanding. They’re going to have an easier transition.

They’re going to not be as stressed and all of that. It’s about the journey. If you can make that journey a little bit more manageable, that’s how CSPA gives a good foundation for that. I’m excited to hear you dug into everything. Thank you for sharing. I’ve heard that five-day interview prep shouted out so many times. I’m so glad it’s been so helpful. How did you feel your interview went? I know you said you had two interviews. Did you feel that both of them went well?

I still have my own gripes about it. I’m like, “No, probably not,” but they did because I got into both schools that I interviewed at but very different styles. The first one was in-person. It was all day, and it was broken up into sessions. I thought it was nice to meet everybody else who’s in the same boat as you. It’s something that I did intentionally. If you’re one of those people that gets a little bit spooked by everyone else around you and you start to compare, I sat in the front of the room so I wouldn’t be staring at the people in front of me all day.

I was like, “I’m going to focus on myself because that’s what I’m here for.” Instead of watching people, they sit back with their hands behind their heads and their legs up on the table being like, “I got this. No problem.” I’m not one of those people, so I was like, “I’m just going to sit in the front, focus on myself, and we’re going to get through this day.” It was broken up into three different portions. One was emotional intelligence, one was a clinical portion, and one was a grab bag. It’s a little bit of both.

There were about 2 to 4 people per session, and there were about 15 or 20 minutes long each. Those were spaced off throughout the day. They have you on a schedule. The second interview that I did was all virtual. It was all online. There was a meet and greet at the beginning of the day, and then you had your specifically scheduled interview during any time in the rest of that day that you were scheduled. That interview was two parts. It was about an hour long. One was clinical, and then one was a professional and emotional intelligence-based session.

You sound like you had a pretty good blend, even in both experiences, yet different. Many schools are heavily focusing on this emotional intelligence aspect because they all tell you, “We can teach you the knowledge,” but it’s much harder to make a quick change when it comes to emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence can be built, and it can change. If you’re reading this and you’re like, “I stink in that area,” it’s okay because I sure as heck did too. If you’re not, “emotionally intelligent,” it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It doesn’t mean anything negative.

It simply means that you’re not in tune with yourself. That’s what emotional intelligence is. It doesn’t mean you’re a rude, mean, or inconsiderate person, but when you’re in tune with yourself, that allows you to be in tune with others. Recognizing how you react to certain things others do allows you to quickly and better communicate in an effective way. That’s it.

That comes with time and age. You don’t start off at sixteen years old. I can’t even imagine what a sixteen-year-old emotional intelligence is. It probably doesn’t even exist at that point. Maybe it does. Everyone’s different. It’s more about paying attention to yourself first and understanding who you are and how you interact with others, allowing you to create meaning and communication within your own environment. It can be built upon. It only takes a lot of time.

Schools know that they can teach you knowledge pretty quickly, but emotional intelligence takes you to do the work. It’s not like someone can say, “You need to do this.” You’d be like, “What’s your problem? What’s wrong with me? Nothing’s wrong with me. I’m fine.” We need to recognize and be a little more humble in the sense that, “Maybe I have some room to grow. Maybe I should pay attention to that. Maybe I should recognize that. Maybe it is my fault.”

A lot of emotional intelligence is sometimes accepting that you could have done something better and not getting defensive about it. Can you see how that’s a little bit harder to teach? Sometimes people are coming at you saying, “You need to improve upon your attitude,” and you’re like, “Who are you to say that?” I’m not going to get through to you versus taking on someone who’s already very open to that type of feedback, as you call it. It makes it so much easier in clinical too.

I love the way you put that. It’s about asking yourself. Take a second to ask yourself, “Why did I react the way that I did?” Explore that a little bit more and find out like, “Why was I so angry when she said, ‘You need to do this differently?’ Where did that come from? Am I hungry?” That’s my answer most of the time. It could be as simple as like, “I’m hungry,” or it can be, “I had a terrible day, and I had an argument with someone before I got to work. I’m not in the mood for anyone to give me feedback now.” It’s about being a little more conscious of, “Why am I acting the way I am?”

It's really about asking yourself. Just take a second to ask yourself, “why did I react the way that I just did?” Click To Tweet

It’s the why. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Some people are like, “That sounds so basic.” The way I challenge myself and the way I’ve equally challenged some of my own students in that precept is when you get to the why and understand why you felt that way, you have to ask why yet again. You then have to investigate. “I felt angry because maybe their tone came across that they weren’t pleased with me,” and then, “Why does that make me feel icky? It’s because maybe I’m insecure about that. Why am I insecure about that?” Maybe something in the past, even if it’s in your childhood, you were teased about that.

Maybe you were self-conscious about that because it made you feel like you were less of a person. You were unworthy. I’m talking deep. It sounds ridiculous, but when you get deep with your whys and not just one why, you’ll unravel a whole lot about yourself and understand that you are fully in control of the meaning you place on the world around you. That meaning can shape your thoughts, feelings, emotions, happiness, and how fulfilling your life is. It’s not to get too foo-foo on this episode, but I wanted to put it out there to challenge yourself. Start doing it.

For those of you who think this is wooey and everything, I’m here to tell you that they are going to ask you in an interview, “Why did you feel that way? Where do you think that feeling came from? Why do you think you reacted like that?” When you are ready at your dream school, you got there, you’re ready for that interview, they start to ask you why you reacted the way you did, and you can’t figure out why, now is the time to start thinking about why you react the way that you do or why you feel the way you do in a tough situation.

When you get the language for this, too, you will be able to tell them why and they will be able to see how you handle stress and how you handle it when you’re uncomfortable. You don’t want to blank. You don’t want to freeze up when they say, “You got upset. Why?” You’re like, “I don’t know. Because they were wrong.” Nope, it is not the right answer. You’re exploring this for your own well-being and not only in your personal life but on interview day, which a lot of you are here for that in a lot of ways.

Thank you so much, Kelly. That was great. It goes to show exactly why they’re asking these questions is because they want to see if you’ve started to unravel yourself a little bit. Thank you so much. This episode is amazing. I would love to end this episode though to share with the community a couple of things. One, if you could go back in time and do anything different, what would that be?

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot because part of me wants to say nothing. I wouldn’t do anything differently, but we would all do something differently. The only thing I would’ve done differently is, as soon as I figured out that I wanted to pursue CRNA, it’s retaking one class so I could edge myself up a little bit more. It’s not retaking Chem 101, but taking an Advanced Pharmacology or Pathophysiology course from an institution that also offered a CRNA program that I was interested in. I would probably have done transcript audits much earlier as well to get some concrete feedback on how to go forward. Honestly, I feel very lucky that my journey turned out the way it has so far.

You had some things that you would have done differently, like taking an Advanced Pathophysiology or Pharma or looking at your transcripts a little bit heavier earlier on. I believe that you are who you are, Kelly, because of your past and your struggles. That, to me, is beautiful. It’s not that I want everyone to struggle. That’s not what I’m saying, but I know my past struggles, childhood, and where I am now made me who I am. It made me aware and passionate. It made me care. If I hadn’t had my own personal struggles, and same with you, I don’t know who I’d be. I don’t think I would be the same person.

It’s easy to say, “I wouldn’t change anything.” As you said, there are always some things that you could have done differently. I love that example. That’s a very concrete thing. Ultimately, you are who you are. That’s something to be proud of. Be respectful of that. Don’t turn around and say, “I wish I were a better student earlier on.” Why? It’s because it made you learn how to work hard. It made you learn how to improvise. It made you learn how to go above and beyond in other ways to compensate.

That taught you discipline, grit, and perseverance. You wouldn’t have that if you were a straight-A student. I love my sister. We’re best friends but growing up, she was a straight-A student, and I was not. I was barely a C or D student. I struggled to get Cs. I remember my parents gave me a hard time like, “Why can’t you do it? You can do better.”

I started thinking as a kid, “I’m not enough. I’m not smart. I’m not ever going to be smart. My sister barely studies and get As. My brain must be different.” It gave me a complex. What it did and didn’t necessarily do for her, and I see this now as an adult, was it made me learn other ways to work around it. It’s like what you spoke to. It didn’t have to overcome the mental blocks and the fear of not being enough and not being smart enough and all those things. My sister, when she got out of college, struggled when things didn’t go well. She didn’t know how to improvise. She didn’t know how to get herself out of the gutter.

I call it that because I frequently had to get myself out of the gutter. I had to learn pretty early how to pick myself back up after being kicked down where she hadn’t been kicked down until she was an adult and in the workplace. It was hard to watch her struggle that way for someone I love. She’s fine now, don’t get me wrong. I saw it as two different paths to get there. We’ve both gotten more emotionally intelligent and figured out how to compensate for whatever our weaknesses are, but they look different at different ages.

Students who get straight As and go to CRNA school can possibly be in for a little bit of a rocky discovery where they’re going to be kicked and have to deal with that for the first time, possibly even academically. I have one of my classmates and, equally, one of my good CRNA friends. She was a straight-A student, and she got her first C ever in her entire life when she was in our Advanced Pathophysiology course, which was before CRNA school even started.

Our program allows one C, and if you get any more Cs, you’re out. She had her one C before the program even started. You can only imagine the anxiety. She ended up being on a beta blocker. She had massive test anxiety because of that one experience and never experienced a C. It wrecked her. It’s like an identity crisis situation where she was like, “Who am I? Maybe I’m not actually smart. Maybe I am not going to do this.”

As friends, we did a lot with her and helped her through that, but I’m glad she had us because she could have given up right then and there. I hope that leaves you guys with something to think about. Kelly, one last question. I know we spoke to some specific examples, but how did CSPA play a role in your success?

CSPA was a huge role in my success. It was nice and good for me mentally to see a community of people who didn’t have it all together. It’s not that I love watching everyone not have it be perfect, but to me, the CRNA applicants that got in were picture perfect with not a toe out of line. They had it all going for them. Seeing these posts that are like, “I have a terrible GPA. What do I do? I feel like I bombed this interview. What do I do?” I’m like you, guys. I want to reach out and be like, “I’m sure you didn’t. I’m sure you are amazing.”

This sounds obvious to everybody else. When you’re surrounded by these top-tier, high-performing people all the time who want to crush it and do their best in their type A, and they’ve always knocked it out of the park, and you’re not that person, you sit there and think, “I can’t cut it with these people. I’m not good enough.” There are both top-tier, high-performing, high-caliber people and people who doubt themselves in the same place.

It’s all a bunch of those people helping each other see their potential and learn from each other, grow, and point out resources. It’s this roadmap that I otherwise would not have had in my journey. I couldn’t be more grateful for some landing pad for every anxiety, doubt, and insecurity about this process. If you haven’t subscribed, buy in because it was worth it for me as far as my journey. It would be helpful for anybody. Even if you feel like you’ve got everything locked in, explore it a little bit more because it’s only going to serve you and make you a stronger applicant and candidate at the end of the day.

A nurse picking up supplies from a supply table in an operating room
Second Career Nurse: It would be helpful for anybody, even if you feel like you’ve got everything locked in, to just explore it a little bit more because, at the end of the day, it’s only going to serve you and make you a stronger applicant and candidate.

Thank you, Kelly. That’s so sweet. You were so spot on with the fact that the community’s there, whether you’re a high achiever or someone who’s always struggled. We’re all in it together. My friend, who equally struggled, was a rock star in clinical. She had job offers at every single clinical site she went to. I’m like, “I’m not getting those,” yet she struggled academically. We all have our own unique strengths, and that’s to be celebrated.

What the community does is celebrate you. We pick you up when you’re down. We cheer you on when you’re up. We push you forward. A lot of times, that makes a pivotal difference for those who are otherwise questioning. It’s so easy to play the comparison game. I know you mentioned that soon as you see people and you’re like, “I’m never going to be that,” the reality is that’s okay, and that’s good because you are you. That’s what we want. We want you. We want Kelly. We don’t want Kelly to be Sarah. It’s okay that you don’t look the same because you’re going to go and change this world, Kelly. I’m telling you now. I’m so honored to be a part of your journey.

You’ve been a huge part of mine, so I appreciate it genuinely. I can’t thank you enough for having this, for hosting this, and for thinking of this. You mentioned that I’m called to serve, and so are you. You are clearly called to serve because this is you giving back to those people that were like, “I’m not an A student.” You see the potential beyond the metrics and the numbers. Having someone in your corner like that means everything to people who know that they can do a good job in this field but just can’t get past the process of applying. I appreciate it.

The feeling is mutual, Kelly. Thank you so much for coming to the show. To the readers out there, we appreciate you. Thank you so much for tuning in to every episode. Until then, take care.

Important Links

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