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CRNA 99 | Becoming A CRNA

The path to becoming a CRNA is definitely not easy. It takes time and money. So why all the fuss to become one? Is it really worth all of the things you need to sacrifice? In this enlightening episode, Jenny Finnell answers this elephant of a question. Informed by her own wisdom and experience, she paints an honest portrait of what it takes to be a CRNA. She discusses the different things you need to think about in your own journey to become a CRNA, helping you figure out whether it makes sense for you and where you currently are. So join in on this conversation and find out if you’re ready to take the leap.

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Is Becoming a CRNA Worth It?

Time And Money Investment

We are going to discuss if becoming a CRNA is worth the time and money it takes to become one. I’m going to try my best to keep it objective but I’m going to discuss different things that you should think about in your own journey to become a CRNA and whether this makes sense for you personally. Let’s get into the show. I want to start with the fact that becoming a CRNA is a very large time and money investment. It is now a DNP, which is approximately 36 months of schooling, so three years. You typically need to have at least 1 to 2 years of good-quality ICU experience prior to entering your program.

Equally so, during that 36-month time period, a lot of programs will ask that you do not work. All that being said, it was a Master’s program, which was 27 to 28 months on average. Now that it’s a 36-month program, I do know the vast majority of schools tend to allow their students to continue to work for the first semester or two while they’re still doing like a lot of their DNP project work.

Technically, you’d only not be working for the last 27 to 28 months, similar to what it was when we were in a Master’s prepared program. Let’s just say 36 months to keep it easy, though. That’s essentially 2 to 3 years of not working while you’re going to CRNA school. Some people like, “How is that even possible? How do you pay your bills?”

This is where I want to start because depending on what your background is and what your experience was like getting your undergrad degree, you may not be super familiar with taking out student loans. Everyone has different experiences and what that was like, whether it was difficult or hard, or whether they’re accepting or fearful of it.

I equally want to say that a lot of this has to do with your upbringing. At least I know for sure for me, I know I watched my parents routinely struggle with money and take out tons of debt and juggle. I don’t think that’s a good thing. I’m saying it wasn’t foreign to me. For as a child, seeing my parents do that, it felt like that was what you did.

That’s what adults do. They juggle debt, balance credit cards, and go to loan sharks. Now that I am an adult, I know that’s not what you strive to do. As a young college student taking out loans, for me, it felt like that’s what you do. You take out debt to advance your degree. I didn’t see it any other way or it felt normal to me.

When I graduated from my undergrad, I had about $85,000 in debt. You’re probably like, “For nursing school?” Yeah, that’s what I had. I did a four-year degree because my first time applying to the College of Nursing, I was rejected. I had to do another entire year to boost my GPA so I could get accepted the following year. I paid my way. This is way back in 2004 if I’m not dating myself or anything like that. Back then before the giant financial bust of 2008, it was relatively easy to get credit cards. When I turned eighteen, I applied for my first credit card through Chase Bank and I put my parent’s income on there because I was like, “Technically, they’d support me if I needed to.”

I put in their income and they approved me for a $20,000 credit card with no work history, just my parents’ potential income. I still have that credit card. Back in 2008 and 2009, they tried to take away some of my limits and I argued. I’m like, “You’re not taking this away. I’ve never abused it.” It’s a lot different now. It’s not as easy to get credit cards. It’s not as easy to get things like that because they’re a lot more careful with whom they give credit out to because it can be very dangerous if you’re not careful.

From there, I got my credit card and took out loans once I established credit. That first year of school, I’m pretty sure my parents paid the majority of my way other than what I charged on my credit card that first year. I probably did the irresponsible thing where I took out as much loans as I could. I’d pay down my credit card and rack it back up, take out loans, paid out my credit card. Not the best, but that’s what I did. That’s how I ended up with $85,000 in student loans when I graduated with my Nursing degree.

This is a long time ago. At this point, nurses make much different salary these days, but my first nursing job was $22 an hour. If you do the math, that’s less than $50,000 a year. I had $85,000 in student loans. My debt-to-income ratio was over 100%. Prior to graduating nursing school, I had always dreamt about becoming a CRNA. I got a lot more serious about becoming a CRNA going into my senior year of nursing school.

When I was a sophomore, when I had started in the College of Nursing, I started hearing about CRNAs and researching it more. I was like, “I think this might be what I want to do.” Back then, it felt cliché. Everyone wanted to do it. Everyone’s like, “That’s the best. I’m going to do it too.” I felt like everyone around me in nursing school was like, “I’m going to do it.” I’m like, “I don’t know if I’m even smart enough to do this.”

I remember doubting it. I felt like everyone I was around was like, “I’ll be a CRNA.” I wasn’t sure, but I kept an open mind. It wasn’t until going into my senior year that I was like, “I want this. I know this will be right.” I had shadowed. I had some experience in the OR and it solidified my desire to pursue that career path. I made that shift.

For me to go into grad school, to not work for 2 or 3 years or whatever would be, to take out even more loans after already having $85,000 of student loans, what I was faced with without doing that was having, again, an income of $50,000 and the debt of $85,000. This is back then. I was like, “CRNAs make about $150,000.” I can go to grad school for about $70,000 more, which means I’d have a 100% debt-to-income ratio. I’d have $150,000 in student loans and make $150,000. Instead of having a $50,000 income and $85,000 of debt, I now would level out.

CRNA 99 | Becoming A CRNA
Becoming A CRNA: For me to go into grad school, to not work for two or three years would be to take out even more loans after already having $85,000 in student loans.

For me, I was like, “That makes sense,” because I’d earn more money. I’d have more debt, but I’d earn more money. Over a period of 30 years, I’d earn a lot more than I ever would make as a nurse. For me, that was my first rationale. My thinking was that I’m going to be increasing my earning potential over the span of a 30-year career.

That is worth its weight and whatever I would pay to go to grad school, whatever I would sacrifice whatever pain, whatever it would take, that would be worth it financially in the long run. Maybe not at first. I saw that it’s going to be worth it in the long run. Plus, I’d have a career I’d love. Don’t just pick this career path. Make sure you want to do it. I see it all the time where I see people pursue CRNA. They’ve never shadowed. They’ve never even seen a CRNA in action. I know the last few years have been hard to get shadow experiences.

Please, I’m not criticizing or saying how dare you because I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying do yourself a favor and make sure this is what you want to do. That’s step number one. If you shadow and you research this career path and you’re like, “No, I 100% know this is what I want to do,” then you equally are saying, “I know I’m going to make some short-term sacrifices for a long-term gain.” I don’t know if that’s an objective way of putting it, but my first thing that was objective is I assessed my debt-to-income ratio. That is objective. If you’re like, “I have no debt.” The other thing is, I had more than 100% debt-to-income ratio and I was going to level the playing fields a little bit.

Do yourself a favor and make sure this is really what you want to do. Click To Tweet

If you have no debt and you’re going take on debt, you still have to then objectively look at what are your earning potential over the period of how long you think you have left to work. If you have 10, 20, 30 years of work left, however old you are, and however you old you want to work, if you want to work until you’re 55 or 65, you calculate that and then compare what you currently now make as a nurse and what you currently make as a CRNA based on where you live. I will say CRNAs now make closer to $200,000 a year. It’s on average. If you’re making $80,000 or even $100,0000 as a nurse, I can’t believe I was making less than $50,000 back in 2009.

Anyways, if you’re making $100,000 as a nurse and you’re going to be making $200,000 a CRNA, that’s $100,000 every single year you work after that in addition that you have now in your life. If you take out $200,000 for student loans, but you have $100,000 extra for 20 years, that’s $2 million. Even if you pay interest on $200,000, which let’s say comes up to $275,000. That is what your loan comes back to pay off over 5 or 6 years, $250,000 that you’re paying off and $2 million more that you’d make in your lifetime. That is pretty objective to me that the clear answer is to go back to school to increase your earnings by over $100,000 more a year for the lifetime that you work as a CRNA.

Work-Life Balance

However, it’s not all about money. I know you’re probably rolling your eyes. “I get it. Money is a huge piece and it’s a very rewarding part of our career.” Equally for me, when I decided to go back to CRNA, I wasn’t just seeking money. I was seeking a work-life balance. I hated being a night shift nurse. I hated working weekends. I hated working holidays. I wanted to have kids and I wanted to be there for Christmas. I wanted to be there for New Year’s Eve. I wanted to be there at night to tuck them in. I didn’t want to be cranky and tired. In fact, I grew up with a nurse who lived across the street. We play with her kids all the time. We’d go over during the day on a Saturday and she’d be like, “Quiet.”

She would scream her head off because she was trying to sleep because she had to go to work that night. I’m like, “That’d be a miserable way to live.” Here I am, I chose to become a nurse. I didn’t want that for myself. I knew a CRNA wouldn’t work nights, wouldn’t work weekends. Don’t get me wrong. Some CRNAs can work weekends and nights.

Usually, weekends are overtime. You can do a 24-hour shift or a 16-hour shift as a CRNA, but you don’t have to. There are so many jobs where you don’t even have to. You can work at a surgery center. There’s not even a weekend as a possibility because they’re not open on the weekends. There’s so much more flexibility with a work-life balance that I felt like wanting to have kids and be more present that being a CRNA would give that to me.

I knew the money was great. I knew I’d have more options as far as shifts go and not have to work night shift, weekends, holidays and every other weekend or whatever it was back when I was working. Equally, working where I was working as a nurse, it would take eight years to get enough seniority to where you get off the night shift. I’m like, “If I keep doing this for eight years, I’m going to be half-dead by the time I make it to day shift.” On top of that, I don’t know about you, but day shift stinks. You run your butt off. I’m like, “I don’t even know if I want to work day shift.”

I don’t know. It was nice every now and then to change it up, but day shift goes pretty quickly. I equally didn’t like the ICU, so I was like, “I wouldn’t be able to do this forever. This is so depressing.” It’s flat-out depressing, let’s put it that way. I knew that I had to figure out a career path that would give me more financial freedom and more time freedom. The other objective thing is to pick this career path for more than just the financial aspect. Know that it’s the lifestyle you want to live, that you are okay with being in the OR and that you’re okay with a cold environment for the most part. You can have a bear hugger and have a jacket, but equally, that’s why shadowing’s great.

Pick this career path for more than just the financial aspect. Know that it's the kind of lifestyle you want to live. Click To Tweet

You can see how the CRNAs handle themselves all day, what their daily routine looks like, and see if it’s for you. It might not be. Just because you know you’re going to make a lot of money not working weekends and night shift, if you equally shadow and you’re like, “I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to put airways in people, draw up drugs, mix my own drugs, talk to the surgeon, or extubate someone.” I don’t know what people would think about our career. I don’t think our career is anything gross at all. That being said, you have got to lay eyes on it. You have to physically see what we do every day and how we handle ourselves.

I’ve had some people say, “Isn’t being a CRNA lonely because you don’t get to see your coworkers?” Sometimes you don’t see your coworker all day. It doesn’t bother me. I hate to say that. I like my coworkers, don’t get me wrong, but I’m a pretty big introvert. “How are you an introvert? You’re on the show?” Yeah, I know, but for most people who see me at work, I don’t usually talk. I do in a casual conversation, but I’m usually quiet and I usually have to keep to myself. I’m happy to hide behind the drapes and do my thing, go all about my day and go home. That, to me, is a great day.

I don’t need to socialize. I don’t need to talk to every single person. In fact, I physically find that exhausting. I can do it and I enjoy it. It’s funny because it truly does make me physically exhausted when I talk all day. I’m mentally and physically fatigued. I’m just not that person. Consider that. If you are that person who needs the constant socialization of being around someone else and talking, you can talk to the surgeon. They’ll probably yell at you. You don’t want to be disturbing when they’re doing surgery. You can chit-chat in the OR. People do it every day. I prefer to listen. I may occasionally chime in if there’s something that’s interesting that I want to ask, but for the most part, I enjoy listening.

I’ve seen CRNAs who routinely engage in that little chitter-chatter during the case. That’s okay. If that’s what you need, you need that social interaction, you can still get it in the OR, but you’re right. You’re not going to be working alongside your other CRNAs like you do your nurses. Your nurses are a curtain away or they’re a computer station away. They’re right there. The biggest time that you have to go socialize with other CRNAs, for the most part, is on your breaks. During breakfast break, lunch break or at the end of the day or the beginning of the day. Otherwise, for the most part, you’re in your room and you’re only socializing with the surgeon, the circulator, the nurse, scrub techs and the attending.

Work Environment

Sometimes you only see the attending for the induction and then you don’t see them for the rest of the case. You see them for the next case for the induction. It depends. It is a very different role than being an ICU nurse. Assessing that by shadowing is a great way to gather whether that’s going to be something that you’re going to enjoy. That’s the second thing you need to consider when you consider becoming a CRNA. Personally, I enjoy that part of my day. I enjoy the peace and quiet of getting to do my thing with my one patient, make them comfortable, wake them up nicely, take them, drop them off, give report, go back and do it again.

Quietly sit, watch, monitor, give drugs, listen to the banter, but don’t say anything and just get to be in my own world. I enjoy that. Mentally it’s stimulating yet relaxing. I don’t know how else to describe it. That’s how I see it. I remember being in the ICU. I was always on edge. I’m pretty sure my eye would flick every single second of that day because it was always like, “What’s going to happen?” It always felt like there was so much chaos going around on around you that you couldn’t help but be sucked into it. Even if your room is under control, you’re sucked into what’s going on down the hallway.

In the operating room, it’s not like that. Don’t get me wrong. You hear codes called overhead and you know people are in OR too, and you’re like, “I’m glad that’s not my room,” but for the most part, you get to stay in your room and do your case. To me, that is a very objective way to analyze whether this is worth your time and money to pursue it if it’s the type of daily work environment you want to be a part of.

CRNA 99 | Becoming A CRNA
Becoming A CRNA: A very objective way to analyze whether this is worth your time and money to pursue is if it’s the type of daily work environment you want to be a part of.

If you work 40 hours a week, that’s a good chunk of your time for the rest of your life. To make sure that you’re going to enjoy the environment and what the day looks like to you is really important. If you’re going to enjoy it, it’s going to be worth your time and money to achieve it. That’s why I’m going over this with you.

Assess your current debt status and what the realistic expectation is as far as the salary range of where you currently live and do that individually. I’m in Ohio. It seems to be all over the board these days. You would think like Ohio would have a lower hourly rate because the cost of living’s not nearly as high compared to places in like New York and Manhattan. I heard that there was a CRNA in New York that was making $240 an hour. I’m like, “I’m making $200 an hour.” I know $40 is not nothing, but still, that’s like $80,000 more a year, but your house probably costs $500,000 more than mine does. I like Ohio.

Assessing the cost of living ratio where you currently live and what CRNAs make per hour in your area is a good rule of thumb. The quickest way to assess what you typically make as a CRNA if you’re working 40 hours a week and you’re making $200 an hour, that’s $400,000 a year. That’s a quick way to do mental math. That’s what it approximates to a full-time salary. Double what you make your hourly rate. If you make $80 an hour, that’s about $160,000 a year.

Flexibility In Your Schedule

My first job as a CRNA was making like $86 an hour and then I went up to $96. Now I’m PRN or locum. You make either from $140 to $200 an hour as that. You don’t have W-2 benefits, but depending on how you live & do your taxes, you can find ways to make those savings and come out on top versus working as a W-2. Plus, the flexibility. That’s everything to me. Flexibility in your schedule is so huge, especially when you have little kids and things like that.

As far as flexibility goes too, I wasn’t doing nights or weekends, but for example, if I was doing eight-hour days, that’s Monday through Friday, which is hard to get appointments in or to have a day off during the week when your kids are in school. If you’re a parent, you know what I mean. It’s like if all you have is your weekends, you feel like the world’s spinning around and you can’t keep up.

It’s like you need to have that one flux day where you can either get an appointment in or get some grocery shopping in or clean your house without the kids being around. What I ended up doing was I did five eights one week and four eights the next week. I had a day off every other week. Twice a month, I had a day off that allowed me to get appointments in for the little kids or for myself or have flux days where I could like grocery shop or clean the house or do something. It broke up my months a little bit. It broke down to like a 36-hour work week for the paycheck like what you’re used to as a nurse.

There was so much flexibility in my hours and I did every shift under the sun. I tried 13-hour shifts, 14-hour shifts, 16-hour shifts, 24-hour shifts, 10-hour shifts, and 8-hour shifts, the day off every other week kind of thing. I played with my schedule in a lot of different ways. In some places where I worked, 46 hours was a standard work week. That was what they considered standard 100% FTE, which I was like, “No, thanks.” That is overtime. You pay a lot per hour, but that’s why. No, thanks. You’re going to have to see what else is out there. You can find what you want. To reiterate the fact that I was able to apply for a job when the ORs were shut down, I got four job offers when the ORs were shut down nationwide.

If anyone says that we’re market saturated, it’s not true. You will always be able to find another job in your local vicinity if you’re not happy with whatever they’re offering you, time and pay. If you’re not willing to do something like locum or stay PRN, you might be set to what they typically pay per hour in the area. They tend to fall in buckets of city buckets, if you know what I mean. For Ohio, there’s Toledo, Cleveland, Akron, Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton. Those are all like pockets. Every pocket is a little different. You can find outliers within those pockets where they pay a lot better, but you have to sniff them out. Keep that in mind.

Actively Seek Out The Next Thing

It’s hard to find everything as far as schedule, money, and practice type. It’s hard to find everything you want in one place. Usually, to get the pay you want, you’re sacrificing something. Maybe the hours of flexibility won’t be there, but you can make what you want per hour. Sometimes there’s always a give and take. We’re always making a lot of money per hour. I had to drive an hour away to go there and I’m like, “No. Hour-drive, not for me.” Give and take. The other thing about being PRN or a locum is that you’re not always guaranteed the next assignment. That’s what you want. You have to actively seek out the next thing all the time.

It's hard to find everything you want in one place. Usually, to get the pay you want, you're sacrificing something. Click To Tweet

Maybe it’s an hour and a half away now or maybe it’s 45 minutes away or maybe you’re lucky and it’s 15 minutes away, but it’s not predictable. It’s the same thing with the PRN. There are some months when they can’t get enough of me. Other months are like, “We need you once.” You’re like, “Okay.” PRN and locum are nice, but you have to be very good about when you’re working a lot to take that money and set it aside for the months that you’re not working as much.

It’s more work to budget and to plan for the months that are not going to be as high. You can take two PRN jobs. That way, when one place is slow, you could probably pick up more hours at the other place. That’s what I know most CRNAs do that are PRN. They have more than one PRN. They can be a little more flexible when they have hospitals that don’t need them as much for certain months and vice versa.

Take Out Loans

The next thing to consider, some of you were like, “I’m entering senior high school with no debt. I’m afraid to take out loans or I don’t want to take out loans.” The reality is unless you have a spouse who can fully pay your way or parents who can help you, you’re going to take out loans. It’s the golf ball you have got to swallow. It’s not the end of the world. I’m speaking for myself. You’re not wrong in being upset.

No one wants debt, I get it, but when you reflect back on the amount of earnings you’re going to make more per year as a CRNA, it’s a very relatively small amount of debt you would take to become a CRNA compared to how much more you make per year, every year after that. As long as you’re aware of your spending when you’re done with school, you’re going to be able to pay that off in a very reasonable amount of time. A CRNA that I knew back when I worked with her had graduated with $350,000 in student loans. That being said, she’s only probably making about $200,000 a year as a CRNA at that time, W-2 position.

That’s over 100% debt-to-income ratio. Remember where I was before with my $50,000 a year salary and my $85,000 of student loans? I remember her complaining about it and like, “We paid off in seven years. I’m practically paying $4,000 a month. It’s a big chunk of your income to pay towards student loans, but that was the only way to like get a decent interest rate and things like that.” Be careful.

For this particular person, it wasn’t her program. It was the fact that she had two other degrees and they were private degrees, so they were all expensive. Keep that in mind. If you are set on having as little debt as possible when you’re done with school, sniff out the programs that are the most affordable and be willing to move to go to those programs. That’s the best way if you live in an area where the CRNA school is astronomically expensive.

CRNA 99 | Becoming A CRNA
Becoming A CRNA: If you are really set on having as little debt as possible when you’re done with school, sniff out the programs that are the most affordable and be willing to move to go to those programs.

Some CRNA schools are $200,000 and that’s just tuition. That doesn’t even count your living expenses. You will probably come out with $250,000 or $300,000 of student loan debt. I even talked to one of these students. He had kids too. He was probably looking at $400,000. Be aware of what that would make your lifestyle. Afterwards, you’d you might be making more, but for the first seven years of your CRNA career, you might not get to live any better because you’re going to be paying off all those loans.

I wish I knew the exact numbers, but I don’t. I know ballpark numbers. I came out with about $160,000-ish of student loans when I was done with school. We didn’t have kids when I graduated. We rented a house that was like $1,000 a month to rent. This was back in 2014. It was a small house. It was three bedrooms or something like that. It was plenty big enough for us, two adults and a dog.

We did that. I joined the open-heart team, which was a pay increase. I did 24-hour shifts. I picked up a lot of weekends into 24s, which was $140 an hour or something like that. In one 24-hour shift on the weekend at $140 an hour, I made a lot of money. That first year out of school, I didn’t even know I did it, but I had paid off close to $80,000 in debt in that first year. We even went to Whistler for a ski trip. Pretty much anything extra I had was loans. We didn’t have any kids. As I said, I drove my thirteen-year-old Nissan Sentra until the door handle froze off or broke off in the snowstorm. We didn’t splurge. I never got my nails done. I probably did my hair twice a year. I went to the salon twice a year. We never went out. We barely went out to eat.

We were not big on going out to eat people anyways. We watched movies at home in the comfort of our couch and we gorged ourselves on our couch. We didn’t have a very extravagant lifestyle. Honestly, we were used to living pretty cheap in school because we had to. We never had cable. We only went out for maybe our birthdays for dinner or our parents would take us out for our birthday dinner. That was the only dinner out we got. We were so used to saving. I couponed. We were big savers and thrifty when I was in school. When I graduated, we did the same thing. We didn’t think much of doing anything else. It wasn’t necessary for us to start splurging.

That very first year, I was shocked when I had paid off $80,000. At that point, we were like, “Let’s get a house.” I want to get out of this. We want to have kids. We’ve never owned a home. We got a house, then we had a kid and then the cycle began where it was like, “We have no extra money anymore.” It’s funny. Not that we did, but the money went much quicker at that point because now I had a car. My car handle broke off. My old Betty had to go to the graveyard.

My dad took her back in for a few more years until she finally conked completely out. She lived to be fifteen years old, a Nissan Sentra. I drove her for a while. I decided when I was six months pregnant. It was a level one snowstorm. I had to go to work because I worked at Level One trauma center, so there was nothing shutting down in our hospital. I didn’t have a garage. I was trying to unbury my car from our parking lot and I was yanking on my door. I’m like, “Come on.” The door handle snapped off.

My husband’s car was parked in front of me. If I couldn’t get in my car, I could not get out of our driveway. I started chiseling my other door. I’m like, “I’m going to be late for work.” I’m chiseling my other door. I’m six months pregnant, huffing and puffing. Finally, I got my other door open. I crawled in from the passenger seat to get over to the car seat to drive to work. That’s when I was like, “We can afford a car. I’m pregnant. Let’s get a nice car.” I still have that car. It’s a Honda Pilot. That is where the cycle began.

We looked for a house. We bought a house and we had a kid and that’s expensive and taking maternity leave is expensive. We had another kid and now we have three kids. That whole cycle began when we started finding we had a lot less free money to throw at my debt. Equally, I became less aware of paying it because I wasn’t thinking about it. I was thinking about too many other things. I graduated. I didn’t refinance any of my stuff and I had been paying a bunch of extra on it. We had kids and all the other stuff, and I forgot about paying extra. I had my loan set for a 30-year repayment.

We were only paying $600 a month or something, very bare minimum. I still remember some of my government loans had like 8% interest. I was like, “I need to refinance this.” I refinanced. I combined all my student loans into one big giant lump loan, but I got a 3.2% interest rate. It was crazy, ridiculously low at that point. I refinanced for a five-year repayment plan, which was automatically withdrawn from my account. It’s gone now. I don’t have any student loan debt, which has been amazing. I got delayed on that because I didn’t fully pay off my student loans until I’d been out for seven years. The first year I paid a lot and then the second year, I hardly paid anything.

Finally, after our son about turned one and I was like, “I probably should start saving for his college. Where are my student loans at? I got to get on this.” That’s when I refinanced and set for a five-year repayment. I knew I had to set a payment plan because if I didn’t, I was not going to think about it. Being smart about refinancing when you’re done and realistic with what that looks like as far as monthly payments. For us, it came to like $1,100 a month but I paid $1,800 a month. Technically, I paid all my loans off in like four and a half years. I always made sure I’d paid extra.

There were a few times when I had to stop that extra payment, like during COVID. We moved from Toledo to Akron, Ohio. We had to stop paying extra because then it was an expensive part in our lives where we needed every extra dime that we had. For the most part, I always paid extra. Being realistic with what that’s going to look like. As a nurse, I was only making about $3,000 a month take home approximately. my husband and I were living at like $4,000 a month, essentially. When I graduated from CRNA school, I was bringing home, take home closer to like $8,000 or even $10,000 a month plus my husband’s income.

For us to spend even $2,000 a month in paying back my student loans when we were used to $4,000 a month, now even with paying macro student loans, we were still bringing home and living on $8,000 a month. That’s the lowball. We still doubled what we earned every month and could live accordingly to that. Keep in mind what that’s going to look like. Do the numbers. Do the math. That’s how you’re going to be able to look at this objectively and figure out whether the time and money are going to be worth going back to CRNA school. It’s what it’s going to look like for you, not only financially after school, but what it’s going to look like financially to pay back the debt that you anticipate that you will have.

Know Your Job Market

I already mentioned this before, but the next thing is to know your job market. Know where you want to live when you’re in school. This is also why shadowing CRNAs is a good way. I’m not saying you go into your shadow day and be like, “What do you make?” I probably wouldn’t do that, but this is why also getting to know the CRNA and having more casual conversations with them, “What was it like looking for your first job?” You don’t have to outwardly ask them what they make per hour, but you can start talking about the job market, whether they had an easy time finding a job, whether they got everything they wanted in the job, and then they may lead into how much they make or something like that.

I would say gather from them whether they feel comfortable with that conversation versus you outwardly asking. Some people get weird about talking about money. I don’t know why. I’ll tell you anything numbers-wise, who cares, but some people are weird about money. It’s probably how they grew up. A lot of it has to do with how you grew up. I’m telling you right now, you’re screwing up all your kids. I’m kidding.

Also, there are things like Glassdoor or there’s something called GasWork. There are probably other things out there now, looking at different job offers. I will say that sometimes they’re not very accurate, so be careful. They don’t always give you a good reflection of what you can make as a CRNA. The best way, in my opinion, is to shadow and talk to those specific CRNAs near you and the city and location where you anticipate wanting to live when you’re done with school.

I know some of you plan on going to CRNA school in other states and moving all around. You’re probably going to have to pick a city and go with that to get your objective number. I want to go back to your current situation. What’s your lifestyle right now? I know some of you have been traveling. You’ve been making good money, so a lot of you were like, “This seems it’s going to be a huge step back.” I saw someone post something about his pay stubs as a traveler and it was gross income, which is before taxes. It was $8,000 or something. He must have been every two weeks or whatnot.

If you’re making gross, which means you’re probably making $12,000 take home after taxes and everything else, medical, approximately, I don’t know, maybe $13,000. You may be like, “Jenny, you said you made $10,000.” This is back when I first started. If I worked full-time now when I make $150 or $140 an hour, that’s $300,000. That’s more than that per month. If you do the math, that’s more like $20,000. I don’t work full-time, but you have to do the math and then figure it out from there. Knowing what your market pays per hour, if you want to be W-2, do you want to be PRN? Do you want to do locum? Some locum CRNA positions are paying well over $200 an hour.

If you made it your point to do locum CRNA positions, that’s $400,000. That’s $35,000 a month. That’s a lot more than $13,000 a month. That’s double that or more as a CRNA. Even though travel nursing pays well, if you did similar things as a CRNA, you would double your earnings. If you’re a travel nurse and you want to take a W-2 position and settle down in a nice, quite, quaint little city and be in the suburb, maybe it would look very similar, but you wouldn’t have to travel all the time. You get to have a home base. Traveling would be incredibly hard with kids. You’d miss a lot of time with kids. It’s a real nice flexible thing to do when you’re not tied to having young children or any sickly elderly parents that you’re taking care of or whatever your situation may be.

Not everyone can do it. Usually, as you get older, the less likely you’re going to be able to travel. Some people still make a point to do it. There are local travel assignments even around me that I could go home. That’s what I looked for when I took my locum position. I’m like, “I’m not spending the night anywhere. I’m coming home. I’m kissing my kids goodnight. I’m only working eight-hour shifts only when I want to.” That’s what I did. It was essentially a PRN locum position where I said who, what, when, and where. They do exist. You just have to look harder for them.

A great way to do that is by networking within your community, being supportive within your state association, going to those meetings, connecting with various CRNAs, and asking around. That’s always the best way to find positions within the community that are little unicorns. Know your current situation and what’s realistic for you as far as what your work would look like after school and what it currently looks like for you.

Even if you were not to go back to school now, would you always remain a traveler? Is travel nursing always going to be this lucrative? Ask yourself those questions. Would it give you a better quality of life that you wouldn’t have to then be on the road all the time? Would that be something you would prefer and still earn as much?

Would you want to travel as a CRNA or work locum or PRN? Maybe have three PRN positions where you can essentially work full-time and make more per hour as a 1099 CRNA and earn $350,000 to $400,000 a year. That’s possible too. That is double what you make as a travel nurse, but you could work local PRN positions at random hospitals throughout your city.

Assess all that even your lifestyle desires. Again, I mentioned I didn’t want to work as a bedside nurse. I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t like working in the ICU. I don’t know if there would’ve been too many nursing positions if I’m being honest, that I would’ve enjoyed. I probably would’ve gone to the OR if I would’ve stayed a nurse or a PACU or something like that. I wouldn’t have stayed in ICU. I even think now I’ll go work a med spa or something and just do injections. I’d become an injection nurse. Why not? That sounds relatively low-stress.

Be realistic with what your expectations are for your career and what you want to do with it and see how CRNA fits in there. CRNAs can work at surgery centers too and live the surgery center life. Surgery centers are usually fast-paced, even though you’re like, “That should be low stress.” Not to mention that even though you tend to get healthier patients, anything to anyone can happen at any moment. Crazy things can happen to even healthy people because sometimes cases go awry. If they’re doing a nose job when a perfectly healthy person, but what if they inject epi directly into an artery or vein in the nasal cavity and then they go into V-tach arrest? Crazier things have happened.

CRNA 99 | Becoming A CRNA
Becoming A CRNA: Just be realistic with your expectations for your career and what you want to do with it, and see how CRNA fits in there.

Equally, there are a lot of vessels up there. They could have a massive bleed. Surgery centers are not low-stress. Anything in anesthesia can always have that potential to be stressful. For the most part, surgery centers are a healthier patient population, quicker cases and usually, you get out early or on at least on time. You can end your day at 1:00 or 2:00, depending on where you work.

This is huge because the next thing I want you to consider is that every year you wait to go to CRNA school, you delay income. You might be like, “I’m making the travel money now,” which is all great, but if you’re delaying starting CRNA school to make an extra $80,000 a year as a travel nurse, not that that’s nothing, that’s a good amount of money to make in addition to what you used to be making as a regular nurse, but think about it. I said, on average, CRNAs make $100,000 a year. Technically, if you did that for three years, you’d be losing $60,000. Some of you would do it because you’re like, “I’m saving, so I can pay for CRNA school in cash and not have the interest in the debt.”

Run the numbers. Run the math. If that makes you feel good to have cash so you can pay in cash, so you don’t take out loans, do it. I just want you to be aware that it may not always make sense financially to delay it, considering that CRNAs can make a substantial amount more when you’re done. Essentially if you delay school for three years so you can make an extra $50,000 or $60,000 as a travel nurse, what are you losing out on for those three years as a CRNA salary?

You’d graduate three years sooner as a CRNA and you could be making $200 an hour at that point. It depends. Not if you’re a W-2. I don’t know. You could find a W-2 that’s $200 an hour. There is a CRNA that’s in a small little rural location, that I was shocked to find that they’re paying $200 an hour as a W-2. I was like, “What?” There are jobs out there like that. The only reason I even knew that is because I worked locum with them and they told me and I’m like, “That’s amazing.” If I lived over there, I would totally do that too.

You should put it in perspective with the time that you would miss out on having a CRNA income versus trying to work harder to save as a nurse. It makes more sense to get the minimum requirement, the two years of ICU experience and then go to back to school versus trying to work to save and you paying cash. That could take you an extra 3 or 4 years to save and that’s 3 or 4 years of a CRNA salary that you’re now not going to earn. It could hurt you. You could lose money. Do the math, run the numbers, figure it out, and see what works best for you.

I hope you guys enjoyed this episode. I hope you found it insightful and something to think about. I know I’m speaking biasly, but it’s worth it for the time and money it takes to become a CRNA. It is a big sacrifice. It can be challenging. It can feel icky because it’s like, “This is scary. I’ve never done it.” I get it. I remember being scared, being like, “I hope this is going to be okay.”

This is also equally why you go into it with a plan. You have a number in mind of what you know you need to live on every month and then you equally know your financial options. What’s your current credit score? Are you going to need a co-signer? Do you have a spouse? Are you going to live with your parents? Do you have your car paid off? Do you have any credit card debt? You’re going to have to assess all of these things prior to starting school.

You’re equally going to have to know, in the case of an emergency and I need cash, what am I going to do? For me, we had $10,000 in cash reserves. I spoke to you before that I got my first credit card at eighteen. I had a lot of credit and I had good credit. I equally knew that worst case scenario, I could put money on my credit card and then I could transfer that balance to a 0% card and pay off over eighteen months.

If you have good credit and you have a credit card, you’re always going to be getting offers to transfer balances for 3% interest. You’re not going to get a private loan for 3% interest these days. Credit cards, honestly, are the cheapest way to borrow money. That goes with a good credit score. Knowing what you would do if you had to get cash quickly because stuff will happen. Our dog got sick. My car broke down. I ended up getting asked to be a maid of honor at a wedding that was out of state. That was expensive. We wanted to go to Puerto Rico, which we did. We went on the off-the-beaten-path Puerto Rico trip, which, looking back, felt safe, but I don’t know if that’s the safest thing. These are all things to think about. You take care and thank you so much for reading. I will see you next time.

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