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6 reasons I chose NOT to follow the typical critical care nurse’s career path

Thinkstock / 4774344sean

Thinkstock / 4774344sean

A critical care nurse who did NOT become a CRNA.

Yep. That’s me.

For anyone who has spent more than a year in the world of critical care nursing, you’ve probably heard of, know of or have worked with a critical care nurse who went back to school to advance their career and became a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA).

ICU = CRNA

In my first few years as a critical care nurse, this was the norm. In fact, it was so commonplace that it was almost an expectation. Most CRNA programs require some level of previous critical care experience (I hear the minimum is now only one year) before you can apply, let alone interview or be accepted into their program.

When I changed jobs early in my career, it was actually a question posed to me during my interview. “Do you have plans to attend CRNA school?” I learned later that the unit I eventually worked on was a bridging experience for most nurses who were looking for that experience that was needed before moving onto CRNA school. (The turnover rate in that unit was relatively high for a number of years since nurses would be in and out in two years.)

Suffice it to say, when I made the decision to advance my career, many felt (and falsely assumed) that I was moving on to CRNA school. I use the term many very loosely. Virtually everyone I came in contact with in my nursing world kept asking how things were going in anesthesia school (true story). Sadly, even after I graduated from my Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP) program, many would ask where I was practicing as a CRNA.

-sigh-

I did not follow the “popular” choice. I chose my own path, both for personal and professional reasons.

I will admit that I almost followed the crowd…had it not been for my shadowing experience during my last semester of my BSN program. I falsely assumed I knew what CRNAs truly do and how their work days flow. I knew before I left that shadowing experience that pursuing a CRNA degree was not for me.

I applied to the ACNP program the very next week.

I’ve spent my entire career at the bedside. I learned during that shadowing experience that it’s where I belong and it’s where I’m most satisfied.

Here was my thought process for choosing ACNP over CRNA:

Personal:

  • I enjoy the bedside and everything about it
  • I like talking to and educating families
  • I actually like the ICU environment and all that it entails

Professional:

  • At some point later in my career, I want to teach, which would be an easier transition as an NP
  • I don’t do well sitting for long periods of time
  • I don’t prefer repetition (even though I care for the same illnesses, each patient is unique)

In the end, I just could not envision myself working the daily responsibilities of a CRNA. While there were, of course, MANY perks to being a CRNA, I knew I would not be happy. And in the end, I wanted to enjoy the job, not just the idea.

I tell you my story so that you don’t fall victim to the pressures of what is the “norm” or natural progression of a nurse’s career. Choose your own path, because in the end, you’re the one who has to walk it.

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