CRNA Shadowing

Nov 23, 2022

With so much to consider when choosing the CRNA path, shadowing a CRNA can feel pretty intimidating. Let’s break it down!

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When should you aim to get your first CRNA shadowing experience?

The short answer is- as soon as possible.

You should start looking at shadowing a CRNA as soon as you think CRNA may be the career path for you! This means that ideally, you start this process as early as nursing school, possibly high school.

If you do not consider CRNA till later in your ICU experience, that is perfectly fine. Just be sure to shadow a CRNA at least once before committing to applying to school.

Why should I prioritize CRNA shadowing experience?

The main reason for this is because you are making a LARGE commitment and a CAREER choice that you want to be 100% SURE about.

The last thing you or any program wants is a student who gets to the clinical portion of school and decides this ISN’T for them. (Yes, this does happen.) This is why ALL schools place a lot of value on shadowing experience.

What if my school doesn’t require CRNA shadowing experience?

Well, your school may also not REQUIRE the CCRN or only require a 3.0 to apply. But that doesn’t mean you will appear to be a competitive candidate for your desired school. If you apply without the CCRN or with just a 3.0 (without doing anything additional), you may not even be considered for an interview.

So, before you spend $100 on an application fee PLEASE make sure you go above and beyond their expectations to apply. This will be how you set yourself up for success.

This step also requires you to GET TO KNOW YOUR SCHOOL and for them to GET TO KNOW YOU, especially if you feel like you may have “a less than competitive” application.

Get to KNOW what a day in the life of a CRNA is like. 

These CRNA shadowing experiences will be invaluable when your interview panel asks you to describe “Why CRNA?” or asks “How has your ICU experience prepared you to be a CRNA?” It will also help you write a persuasive essay that displays your full knowledge about this career path.

Multiple experiences are best because the aim is to have around 40 hours of shadowing to be competitive (with the last 16 hours to be within one year of your application).

This doesn’t mean if you only have ONE experience or NONE that you shouldn’t apply, so please do not interpret literally! These are just suggestions from what I know competitive and successful students to have.

What if you cannot find a CRNA shadowing experience?

Gaining a shadow experience can be challenging for some depending on your location, and your hospital’s policies. I always recommend starting where you currently work. Reach out to the Chief CRNA or MD and ask to gain experience in the OR with them, (call the hospital operator and ask for the anesthesia department or Chief CRNA).

Another option is to call your local anesthesia program and ask who the student coordinators are for the surrounding hospitals or clinical sites. They would be the CRNA’s who could most likely KNOW HOW to help you. Do NOT just GIVE UP… please reach out to your program if this is your dilemma.

Has COVID messed up all your plans of shadowing? 

This is why I recommend reaching out to your program, they are very familiar that this has been a huge dilemma for MOST this year! Ask your program if they will accept a phone call with a CRNA to be acceptable instead.

This is one of the reasons I created a virtual shadow experience for my CRNA School Prep Academy Students. Remember, they may still prefer an in-person experience so please do not stop trying to gain this experience.

I have also known students who meet resistance over the phone to just start showing up in anesthesia offices to ask for an experience (providing their PPE) or even travel out of state to gain experience. This is how they managed to gain shadowing hours despite covid.

Ultimately, if you are having trouble please reach out to your program for guidance, and do not let a few “no’s” deter you from seeking out other opportunities.

It is crucially important to start this process early and do not wait till the last minute to gain shadowing experience. If they see shadowing from a period of over a few years, versus a few months it will appear that you have had a long term interest and invested long-term in pursuing this career path and not just trying to checkboxes on your application.

What questions should you ask when shadowing a CRNA?

I get asked this question a lot. It is nerve-wracking when you do not know what to expect or even what they expect from you. Here is my advice for your questions to ask the CRNA on shadowing day:

  • Make sure you have some kind of communication before your date that explains where you are supposed to meet and what time that is. Leave yourself extra time so that you can wander a few hallways and still not be late.
  • Bring a small notepad with you to take notes on the routine of the CRNA: What questions do they ask in pre-op? What drugs did they use? What type of equipment did they utilize? What were the case considerations? What were the different cases you saw? Do you have any questions on why they did certain things or chose certain drugs?
  • I encourage you to ask the CRNA questions that will help you understand if this career path is right for you. Questions like: What is your favorite part of being a CRNA? Least Favorite? Why did you pursue CRNA? Do they find this career path stressful and why? What is the most rewarding part of this career? What is their favorite type of case or anesthesia to provide and why? What is their work schedule like? How do they compare ICU nursing to being a CRNA?
  • Ask questions that will help you understand their background and experience in school. Keep in mind if they have been out of school for 10+ years things may have changed since then. What did you find to be the most challenging part of your CRNA education? What study habits helped you the most? How did they juggle family etc…? What was their ICU background? Did they get good clinical experiences? Did they feel prepared for boards? Knowing what they know now would they do it all again and make the same choices (meaning schooling, work-life balance, etc..)

It is important to gauge your environment and keep in mind the surgeon does not want to hear you laughing or carrying on a conversation when they are in the middle of an operation that requires full attention from the CRNA. Use your best judgment on when to ask these questions, if you are in a fast-paced room or a high acuity case it may be best to quietly observe and take notes and save questions for breakfast, lunch break, and end of the day.

If you are in the middle of a case and want to ask questions just use your best judgment to make sure the CRNA has the time to answer them. My rule of thumb in an OR is SPEAK SLOW, SPEAK LOW and DON’T SAY TOO MUCH. Not all surgeons will be shy about lashing out at a student who is getting on their nerves and being disruptive.

Have fun, enjoy, and relax. Remember you do not need to continually ask questions, just soak it all in and take notes and then after you have time to reflect on them, then ask questions. This experience is for you to see if you can see yourself in this role.

Be friendly and introduce yourself, you never know, your future program faculty member, preceptor, or mentor could be present and it could be a chance to strike up a conversation. Do not be shy about talking about yourself or why you are pursuing CRNA. Your CRNA may want to get to know you as much as you want to get to know them. Just be conversational and it could turn into a future reference letter, a mentor to reach out to intermittently, or future shadowing experiences.

Happy shadowing, and cheers to your journey!

Check out the virtual shadowing experience and all of the other opportunities included inside CRNA School Prep Academy here



    1. Ryan David Dodd says:

      Awesome words of advice! I’m a nursing supervisor at one of the hospital systems where I currently work, so I have a little occasional exposure to some of the CRNAs. I ran into one a couple months ago and his testimony was part of my tipping point. The pilot light has been burning for a decade. That conversation opened the gas line. So, after reading this, I emailed him and am hopeful that roughly 20 months away from my first application submissions, I may have opportunities with Nelson Caviedes and the Tidelands Health CRNAs. If there are any CRNAs familiar to the Academy staff in the Myrtle Beach or Columbia, SC areas that are open to shadowing over the next year, please reach out with contacts! Thanks again. So happy I found CSPA!

      1. Jessica - CRNA School Prep Academy Team Member says:

        This is fantastic!! Thank you for sharing! In regards to gaining shadowing experience, if you haven’t already done so, I recommend posting in the ICU Dreaming About Anesthesia Facebook group (I’ll include the link below just in case) and/or the membership forum since you’re a CRNA School Prep Academy member. I’m willing to bet you can find someone in your area! Cheers to your future!

        ICU Dreaming about Anesthesia Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/I.C.U.DreamingAboutAnesthesia

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