Is CRNA School Harder Than Medical School: Difficulty and Course Load

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Obviously if you’re here you’re considering CRNA school and wondering “is CRNA school harder than medical school?“. Well, the answer to that question might not be a simple “yes or no”.

As, we discussed in Nursing School vs Medical School, the answer still wasn’t a simple yes or no. It really depends what program you’re in, what kind of student you are, and the type of material covered. While everyone has heard before that nursing school is hard, what about CRNA school?

How does CRNA school compared to nursing school? What are the differences between CRNA school and medical school? Is CRNA school harder than nursing school? All of these questions we hope to answer and more!

CRNA School: What is it?

What is a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

A nurse anesthetist (CRNA) is a registered nurse (RN) who has completed either a master’s or doctor’s degree in Nurse Anesthesia. Some degrees, depending on the school, can be labeled as “nurse anesthesiology” as well (some CRNAs go by nurse anesthesiologists). CRNAs provide anesthesia for surgical patients, anesthesia for obstetrics patients and analgesic support for other patients.

They are full practice, stand-alone, licensed and board-certified practitioners. Because CRNAs are advanced practice nurses, they can practice independently. However, most nurse anesthetists practice under an anesthesiology in a hospital setting. Usually an anesthesiologist will be assigned to several operating rooms (4-6) with a CRNA in each room to continuously monitor the patient.

CRNA Salary

CRNA salaries can range from state to state, but typically hover anywhere from 150,000 to 250,000 per year (source). Some CRNAs will work independently and charge a “per hour” rate, but this also can vary depending on the state.

CRNA salaries can range anywhere from 150,000 to 250,000 and up.

There are also opportunities as a CRNA (similar to nursing or physicians), to work multiple shifts for overtime and bonuses which can substantially increase their salary.

What is CRNA School

CRNA school students (SRNAs).

CRNA school is the schooling required for a registered nurse to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist.

Students can either receive an MSN, DNP or PhD degree when completing Nurse Anesthesia school. However, in the coming years, most schools will be transitioning their programs to purely DNP or PhD programs (source).

There isn’t a huge salary benefit to having a DNP or PhD over an MSN degree. But, you do receive more education and complete a research practicum. While it is more popular to receive a DNP (clinical doctorate) degree, there are some military programs that encourage CRNAs to get PhD’s (source).

A student in CRNA school is referred to as a SRNA (student registered nurse anesthetist) or RRNA (resident registered nurse anesthetist).

How to Get into CRNA School

CRNA school lab.

How do you get into CRNA school? While a lot of the same tips for getting into nursing school apply for CRNA school, there is a few extra tips specific for graduate school.

  • Calculate Your GPA: Know where you stand compared to other students and averages.
  • Talk to Staff: Get to know the staff while you’re in nursing school (if you can), it helps to get advice from them.
  • Talk to Graduates: Talk to other CRNAs, shadow CRNAs and get to know everything about their jobs.
  • Work in the ICU: ICU experience is necessary however, getting the best ICU experience is vital for improving your chances.
  • Consider What Schools You Apply For: See what CRNA schools around you are available and what the average acceptance is.
  • Practice Interview Questions: It is important to keep up-to-date on what questions you will be asked and how to answer them.

In addition to passing an interview, you also need to have other requirements (depending on the school) for admission.

These can include:

  • 3.0+ GPA (or even higher)
  • 16+ hours of CRNA shadowing experience
  • 1-2+ years of critical care experience (MICU, SICU, CVICU, Neuro ICU, etc.)
    • Some schools will take burn center, pediatric ICU or other forms of ICU experience
  • Graduate “admission” courses

CRNA School vs Nursing School: Difficulty

So, is CRNA school harder than nursing school? The simple answer is yes. But, for some students it might be of similar difficulty. The main difference between CRNA school and nursing school is that CRNA school builds upon knowledge you should already have. Nursing school teaches you a completely different way of thinking, analyzing and consuming information.

While the information and material in CRNA school is harder than nursing school, it is a bit different. The information is almost 100% pertinent to what you’re experiencing in clinical rotations. So, you truly get practice not only studying, but using the information learned. But, in nursing school, you have to learn such a broad range of information, it can make it difficult to apply everything you are learning in clinical.

Another main difference is, as mentioned before, CRNA school builds on what you already should know. While you’re working your 1-2 years of critical care experience, you should be learning as much as possible. This includes; managing hemodynamic medication drips, monitoring critical lab values and vital signs, experience with sedation medications, and management of advanced airways and ventilators.

Having this prior experience can help make the information in CRNA seem less unfamiliar. There is still an abundance of information to retain. However, as said before, it can make the information more familiar and therefore potentially easier to learn.

CRNA School vs Medical School: Difficulty

Is CRNA school harder than medical school? Again, the quick answer is probably not as far as the information goes. But, there are some aspects that are most likely harder than medical school.

Medical School (MD Degree)

Medical students in a lecture.

Firstly, for those who don’t know, medical students hold a bachelor degree prior to applying for medical school. Most have some sort of biology or anatomy degree, but that isn’t required. So, during medical school itself (4 years), students learn the basics of anatomy and physiology, chemistry, biology and other required courses (pharmacology, etc.). They also go through clinical rotations and lab practicums.

CRNA School (MSN, DNP, PhD Degree)

Whereas CRNA students have already had this prior exposure in nursing school. CRNA students go through nursing school (4-5 years for a BSN degree), then 1-2 years of nursing residency (critical care experience), then 2-3 years of CRNA school. So, before students even start CRNA school they have almost 3 years (because of clinicals) of real life experience in the field, which can be a huge advantage.

CRNA School vs Medical School: Courses & Workload

Although medical school and CRNA school courses are extremely rigorous, there is a lot of debate which has a harder course load. CRNA students have advanced pharmacology, phamacotherapeutics, pathophysiology, and organic chemistry courses. After taking these courses, CRNA students than complete clinical rotations and labs for the remainder of school. And, depending on how your curriculum is set up, some students may have a more front loaded didactic course load (this helps ease the course load while taking clinical courses). However, keep in mind that some CRNA schools completely spread their didactic courses throughout clinical courses instead.

While medical students take a year of microbiology, molecular biology, physiology, anatomy, and chemistry courses. Then, med students go into a year of clinical training and lab. Finally, they finish with two years of clinical rotations and residencies (then will go on to finish residency as an MD).

So, as I said before, there is a lot of debate between which is harder. As I mentioned with nursing school vs medical school, I think the difficulty will be different for every student. But, as CRNA students are nurses and have been through nursing school, they have experienced the level of difficulty before.

CRNA School vs Medical School: Grading Scales


While grading scales can be skipped over, they are very important to consider. When it comes to CRNA school, most schools (if not all), use a traditional grading style. This means that you get graded on a 0-100 grade point scale, along with a minimum required grade.

While nursing school might have a passing grade level of 72 (our school was 77 or a C+), CRNA schools can have passing levels as high as 85-90 (B or B+). Most colleges passing levels are somewhere around a 65 (D+), nursing and CRNA schools both have higher levels of passing. This, especially in nursing schools, can help weed out students early on.

Medical school grading is usually completely different. They are on a pass-fail grading scale. However, for both nursing school and CRNA school, clinicals are typically on a pass-fail scale.

But, for many med-schools, they use the pass-fail approach for the entire duration of school. While this might seem more difficult. It is similar in many ways, if not less difficult. It does depend on how the class is structured, but there are many nursing school classes that the only graded item are tests. And, in that way, they are basically pass-fail as well.

CRNA School vs Medical School: Long Term

CRNAs have the advantage of being able to get right into the work force and make a good amount of money. Typically you only need about 7-8 years (including nursing school and work experience) to be a CRNA.

While physicians require at least 8 years of schooling before starting residency. Then, they need usually 2-4 years of residency before starting a full-time doctor salary (155,000-255,000+ depending on specialty).

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, you can’t go wrong with either career. When it comes to the question: is CRNA school harder than medical school? You can’t really answer that until you go through both yourself I know a few nurses who have gone to medical school, but I haven’t talked to any CRNAs that have gone to medical school or vice-versa.

But, in the end, both are awesome career choices and talking to CRNAs or physicians, most love their job choices!

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Full Time Nurse

Striving to help nurses and nursing students succeed.

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