It was a Tuesday in July and I had just arrived on the unit to start my shift. I remember so clearly, I was in the break room putting my lunch in the fridge. I decided to check my phone one more time before my shift started. I had been checking all day and nothing. I opened my email and there it was. A response back from the CRNA program I had applied to many months before. My heart began to race and I honestly wasn’t sure if I wanted to open the email right before work. What if it was bad news? I hesitated, then tapped the message. My eyes darted quickly through the email for key words. “Would like to offer you…”, “…starting May”, “We all look forward to…”. I was in. I was actually IN!! I just grinned. I couldn’t believe it. It was finally happening. I shoved my phone back in my bag and left to get report. That night I started my shift knowing that I would one day be a CRNA. Me, a CRNA. I couldn’t stop smiling, even if I wanted to. At the time it was all I wanted and I was on cloud nine.
My Ivy League Experience
I’d like to start by saying that, overall, my experience at my school was a positive one. I got a great education and clinical experience in my program. I earned my second (accelerated) bachelor’s degree and my Master’s from the same ivy league institution. I’m writing this article in hindsight, to look more objectively at the value of my education. Bear with me.
Let’s start with the positives. I had access to a high quality simulation lab run by dedicated faculty members. Our sims were always appropriate to where we were in the program and the scenarios were practical and useful in the OR. We had great clinical rotation sites throughout the city and neighboring states, which gave us ample opportunity to learn. Most of us rotated to at least 3 different hospitals during our program, with the option for more sites if desired. I’m glad I trained at many different hospitals during my program (5 to be exact). I got to experience different environments and OR ‘cultures’, as well as wider range of cases. We had a couple of cadaver experiences, which was useful for going over the anatomy for regional blocks and neuraxial anesthesia.
However, my experience with my ivy league program was not all positive. One of the biggest frustrations I had was the lack of opportunity for regional anesthesia for student nurse anesthetists. I attended block workshops on my own time (Saturdays), in addition to the training provided by my program and still, I struggled to get my numbers. Opportunities were given to residents over SRNAs at my primary site. In fact, I never placed a single peripheral nerve block at my primary site. All of my numbers came from my specialty rotations.
Another negative was the cost. I remember whenever I would make a comment about the cost of my program, I’d get the response, “Well, you’re paying for the name.” So, that begs the question, how much of a premium should one pay for a name? I was paying $5,000 per credit.
Two Years Later
Fast forward 2 years and I had successfully completed my MSN in Nurse Anesthesia. This was me on my last day of CRNA school. I was on my way out of our lecture building for the very last time. All tests were done. All papers submitted. I. Was. Done. As you can see I was (overly) excited. During the next few weeks I began to tie up loose ends. I got my credentialing paperwork submitted for my first job, I got my study calendar together for boards, and I did my loan exit counseling. The latter is what brought me right back down to Earth. I logged in to studentloans.gov and typed in my information. All of my outstanding loans were listed… I had to scroll down to see them all. $119,000. This was not even including all of the interest that had accrued while I was in school. I felt sick to my stomach seeing it all at once.
I had a flashback to the first month of my program. I had just applied for my first round of loans to cover the summer session. I asked my mentor (a senior student) how everyone else was paying for school. She laughed and said “Just keep taking out loans. It’s kind of like monopoly money.” It certainly didn’t feel fake. The word overwhelmed was an understatement for how I felt that day.
My Loans Got me Thinking…
By the end of my CRNA program I had started to read quite a bit about personal finance. I knew I had a large income increase coming my way and I wanted to do things right. The way I saw it I was in the red. I had a 6-figure negative net worth and I had a long road ahead of me if I wanted to get back to broke.
After the initial shock of my student loans wore off I could start to think about things more clearly.
- After talking with friends/classmates, I realized I was at the lower end of what people had borrowed during our program. So, there was that.
- I wondered if I had made a mistake attending such an expensive school. I had dreamed of going to this school and I think that dream may have clouded my judgement. Why didn’t anyone stop me?!
- I made a decision to pay my loans off quickly. I wanted them gone, like yesterday.
- I knew I needed a game plan and some discipline if I was going to pay off my loans as quickly as I wanted (I aimed for 2.5 yrs).
- Truth be told, I currently had a negative net worth, so I felt the money I was earning from my first job really didn’t ‘belong’ to me.
- I couldn’t help to think that if I didn’t pass my boards all of this was for nothing. Banks or the government don’t care if you finish school or pass boards. You still owe them the money.
In the end, I wrote out a plan to pay back my loans and did so in about 2 years. It felt great (no, AMAZING!) to be debt free but I couldn’t help but wonder… did I need to take out so much money to become a CRNA?
So, Was it Worth It?
Was going to an ivy league school worth it? What was the value of my education? Did I get a better education, both academically and clinically, by going to an ivy league school? Could I have gotten a comparable education, or even a better one, at another college for less?
I thought about my answer for quite a long time and came to the conclusion that no, it wasn’t worth it.
I say this because at the end of the day, we all take the same boards. The NBCRNA doesn’t care what your GPA was, or what rank you were among your peers. That’s all the illusion of school. What matters most is that you learned what you needed to learn during your program to pass your boards and to provide safe care to your patients.
During my program, I met a lot of students from other schools on my rotations and while some programs kept students in class for longer before starting clinical, by the end everything seemed to kind of even out. Students who were weaker clinically at the beginning generally caught up by the end. While students who were behind academically studied harder and improved their scores. Those who didn’t left the program. That’s the thing about CRNA school… it’s kind of ‘self-cleansing’. If you don’t learn what you need to in the time you’re given to learn it, you’ll be asked to leave the program.
While there is a high standard that every school should meet there must be a point, cost wise, where there’s no longer an increased rate of return. The extra $40,000- $60,000 you invest in a ‘better, more expensive’ program doesn’t give you that much more of a leg up in your career or better educational value than a less expensive school would.
Take a look at this. I randomly selected 12 schools across the country:
Take a second to look at tuition costs versus pass rates. As you can see they don’t correlate. Spending more money for a program does not guarantee you a better shot at passing the boards. In the end, we all take the same boards and have the same hour and case log requirements.
Although I may have overpaid for my education, I left my program a strong provider. I’m thankful for that but I can’t help wonder how much farther ahead I might be financially if I had gone to a less expensive school. Food for thought.
Did you attend an ivy league school or purposely avoid attending one? Was cost a major factor in choosing your program?