Is CRNA school worth it?

3 years of continuous schooling, training,and clinical studies. Waking up at 4:30am to drive an hour and half to the hospital for clinical. Round the clock studying for testing. Nearly $200k in debt… All this after 4 years of RN schooling and 3 years of practical experience in the ICU working as an RN.

This was what I went through to become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA). Was it worth it?? After working for nearly 6 years in the hospital and ambulatory care setting as a CRNA, I can definitely say, Oh Yeah!!

Would I do it again? No. It was tough enough to be away (socially) from family and friends for 3 years straight and the continuous driving on a dangerous interstate highway for 3 hours a day…

The driving, in full disclosure, was my choice. I could have rented an apartment or small house closer to school but I wanted to live at home with my wife and new baby. Plus it saved me tons of money.

I won’t go into detail about CRNA school today, I’ll save that for another post. However, in general, the school I chose was a doctorate program. 3 years of round the year schooling and training. Our longest break was during Christmas and New Years for about 3 weeks off.

You don’t have much time for yourself, or family, and definitely not for working. Our school highly discouraged any work during our 3 years of schooling. As a result you are totally reliant on student loans for living expenses, plus paying for school (tuition, books, equipment, etc).

After graduation, what a glorious day that was, I walked away packing a little over $170,000 in federal loans. And I was on the low end in my class. Some had a staggering $200k or more debt, especially if they did not have a working spouse offsetting some of the cost of living.

I was fortunate that my wife was working, making enough for us to live on, for the most part. Having our first child during my 2nd year of school did not help our financial situation, but life throws you curves sometimes… By the grace of God and the help of our family with babysitting we got through it.

Fast forward to my first job as an actual CRNA. In the summer of 2015 I passed my board exam, making me an official CRNA in the eyes of the national and state licensure. With a hop in my step I walked into the Operating Room to work at the same hospital I worked as an RN in the ICU.

That first year I chose to work as a 1099 employee, meaning I was a paid a lump sum every 2 weeks but did not receive any benefits (health and malpractice insurance, retirement) from my employer. My first year salary totaled a little over $250,000. My eyes were popping just watching the money roll in.

After paying my own benefits I cleared around $180k for the year. Definitely nothing to sneeze at, especially for a new grad who hasn’t seen a paycheck in over 3 years before this job.

I also chose to not fund a retirement account during my first year of working, choosing instead to focus on paying off my student loans as quickly as possible. When the year was finished I had paid nearly $70,000 toward my loans.

At the end of year 1 my wife and I, along with our now toddler, were still living a fairly modest lifestyle. We could now buy pretty much whatever we wanted but we were still living in my grandparents old house, rent free. We bought a new SUV but I still drove our paid off small car I’ve had for the past 5 years. The loan payoff was still on a roll.

Fast forward again to year 5 as a CRNA. My yearly salary has held steady, averaging about $185k. The loan payoff slowed considerably after year 1 due to us building our dream house where the old farmhouse once stood on my great grandparents farm. We also had kid #2… kids aren’t cheap. But I kept chipping away at the debt mountain, what ever we had left over at the end of the month went to the payoff.

Almost 5 years to the day of starting my first CRNA job I finally paid of all $170+ of my student loans! I’ve had quite a few momentous days in my life so far: our wedding day, both children’s birth, graduation, passing boards, and now no student loans. It ranks way up there…what a burden lifted!

I am now in my 6th year of working as a CRNA and I couldn’t enjoy it more. I can’t imagine doing anything else than walking into the OR each day and helping people get through surgery. Each person is facing what might be the toughest day of their life, and I get to be a part of aiding them through it.

I appreciate you reading my blog. If you like learning about my life as a CRNA please subscribe.

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