Having a significant other in CRNA school can be extremely difficult. Many days are frustrating, exhausting, and filled with anxiety about the future. Pair that with the loneliness of basically being in a long-distance relationship for 2-3 years, and you’re in for a rough ride.

Don’t let this scare you, though- these issues don’t have to complicate your relationship with your significant other! It is possible to make the most of CRNA school as a team and come out stronger as a couple on the other end.

We’ll dive deep into five strategies to prepare for CRNA school as a united front, from school visits and applications to passing the NCE. Whether you’re already in anesthesia school or considering if it’s right for you, this article has something for everyone. The sooner you know what’s coming, the sooner you can start planning to crush CRNA school as a team.


| Table of Contents:

  1. Help your partner understand the realities of what you’re both signing up for
  2. This is a shared dream with a shared return on investment
  3. Plan ahead- way ahead!
  4. Build and maintain strong support networks
  5. Stay connected throughout your journey

 

Top tips to prepare for CRNA school

You both need to understand the reality of what you’re signing up for.

 

A winding pathway that a CRNA student must take

Missing special occasions

Thanksgiving, 4th of July, birthdays, and Christmas. What do all these special occasions have in common? When you’re an SRNA, you’ll miss most of them.

When you’re not studying, you’re at clinical. When you’re not at clinical, you’re in class. When you’re not in class, you’re studying. When you’re not studying, you’re at clinical.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat. For at least three years.

And when’s the best time to catch up on some studying? On days “off” when school’s closed, and so is the federal government. Unfortunately, those days are also perfect for spending with your friends and family.

As the second part of your program rolls around, clinical will consume most weekdays. For extra fun, add in classwork, research, and studying for the NCE after a twelve-hour shift. You may have had time to enjoy some holiday cheer during your first year, but it’s unlikely you’ll be able to later in your program.

The cost of CRNA school

On average, you can expect to pay between $93,000 and $110,000 for tuition, fees, and supplies over three years. It’s okay if you had to read that twice! This doesn’t include living expenses like housing, food, and personal costs.

On top of that sticker shock, SRNAs usually can’t work during school. Some students manage to work during the first year, but working once clinical rotations begin may be impossible.

This means you’ll have less money for essentials and luxuries. A mortgage and healthy food will have to take priority over cable tv and eating out every week.

Depending on how much you save between nursing and CRNA school, you’ll most likely come out of school with a not insignificant chunk of debt. Taking into account student and personal loans for living expenses, many CRNAs graduate owing well over $200,000.

This seems grim, but keep reading to see how much you can make as a CRNA, making it possible to chip away at your debt quickly!

Even when you’re physically there, you can’t really be “there”

Expect to be away most weekdays and home studying most weekends for 36 months. This equals nine full semesters (summer, too), which include classroom instruction, at least 2,000 hours of clinical work, a doctoral project, and an oral exam. After you graduate, you’ll take the NCE, which you’ll start studying for several months before graduation.

You’ll focus on classroom work during the first few semesters, though some programs begin clinical rotations as early as the second semester. You’ll also start your doctoral project in the spring of your second year.

Are you curious about how many hours a week you’ll need to devote to learning your new trade? The University of Kansas Department of Nurse Anesthesia Education says: “Becoming a nurse anesthetist is very demanding. Students should expect to devote up to 70 hours per week to program requirements, including clinical experiences, class time, and study time.”

So, what does this mean for your significant other?

They’ll often be alone, even when you’re physically present. And that means the bulk of domestic duties will fall to them.

Yet, the issue runs deeper than who takes out the trash or cooks dinner. It’s tough being in the same house as someone who’s “there” but not really there. Your partner may feel ignored, lonely, and resentful. These feelings will be even more pronounced if they work or shoulder most parenting duties.

This is a shared dream with a shared return on investment

CRNA vs. RN estimates for return on investments based on salary

 

The return on investment is incredible. CRNA salaries vary by state, but the national average is around $200,000. Critical care nurses earn less than half that. If you work for 30 years as a CRNA, assuming a 3% annual raise, you’ll make about $9.5 million. If you work under the same conditions as an ICU nurse, you’ll earn $4.3 million.

That sounds appealing, but does that make it worth $100K+ in debt and three years of intense schooling? If we’re just talking about the money, it’s absolutely worth it. Let’s take a look at why.

Though the published price of CRNA school may seem astronomical, chances are you won’t pay full price. Most students are eligible to receive federal, state, and institutional aid, drastically reducing their out-of-pocket costs. Let’s look at a scenario that illustrates how you can afford CRNA school, even as an out-of-state student at a top private university.

Let’s say you’re an ICU nurse, making $90,000/year, and your significant other stays home with your two children. You have $10,000 in savings, which you need to set aside for emergencies. Your total attendance costs will be about $80,000/year, including tuition, fees, supplies, personal expenses, and housing.

The College Board’s Net Price Calculator reveals that you can expect about $50,000/year in aid, leaving you with about $30,000/year out of pocket. If you’re borrowing $30,000/year for three years, you’ll owe $90,000 when you graduate. Your interest rate will be around 4%. With a ten-year payback plan, so you’ll pay an extra $19,000 in interest. After you graduate, expect a $900/month payment.

Even if you live in a state like Arizona, where the average CRNA salary is $144,000, you’ll be bringing home $12,000/month. By keeping your monthly expenses around $7,000, the average for a 4-person household, you’ll have plenty left to make your student loan payments, grow your savings, or pay your loans down faster.

Are you worried about finding a job after graduation? Don’t be. Nurse anesthetists work in every state. They’re employed at hospitals, physicians’ offices, surgery clinics, outpatient clinics, and in the military. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 13% increase in CRNA jobs by 2030- much faster than the 9% growth for RNs.

It’s about more than just the money

You’ll be making a comfortable amount of money after graduation, but what about all the other things that make for a fulfilling career? If work-life balance, flexibility, variety, travel opportunities, growth potential, professional respect, and community are important to you, you’ve chosen a great career.

U.S. News & World Report places nurse anesthesia at #19 in their 100 Best Jobs list for 2022. A 2021 study by the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) determined that 48% of CRNAs are “very satisfied” with their current positions.

Those who choose to become CRNAs share several common characteristics: they’re ambitious, intelligent, and high achievers willing to work to reach their goals. But becoming a CRNA isn’t just any goal- it takes years of commitment and struggle and is usually not chosen on a whim.

Because of this, if the dream to become a CRNA goes unrealized, the impact on self-esteem, career earnings, and interpersonal relationships can be immense. If a partner is not 100% behind their SRNA, the hardships of school will be even more intense, and the chances of failing will significantly increase.

This is why it’s crucial to see the investment in CRNA school as a shared dream and take steps to ensure the dream has a chance to become a reality. The truth is that the resentment that could come from missing out on achieving this goal could profoundly impact your relationship. It’s well worth a few years of difficulty to help your partner fulfill their purpose.

Plan ahead- way ahead!

Cut expenses and save money before you even start applying

We’ve already discussed how much school will likely cost, so let’s discuss ways to mitigate the impact on your bank account.

One of the most obvious steps you can take is to work extra shifts while you’re working as a critical care RN. You may be able to do this through your current employer, or you can reach out to recruiters or personal contacts for per diem work. If you start picking up extra shifts a year or so before you plan to start school, you should be able to bulk up your savings significantly.

Along with padding your savings, now is an excellent time to start cutting back on the luxuries. Not only will this help your savings account grow, but it will also prime you for the leaner years ahead. You can save money by getting rid of cable tv, cooking at home more often, canceling unused subscriptions and memberships, reducing your car payment, and getting a cheaper cell phone plan.

Another perk of eating out less and staying home together? You’ll have the much-needed time to connect and plan for the rigors of being in a relationship during school. When your finances are organized, even if those student loans are huge, you can be practical rather than fearful.

Start talking about the hard stuff early and often

When you spend long hours and days apart, communication becomes absolutely essential for maintaining your relationship. You’ll basically be in a long-distance relationship for the next three years, whether you relocate for school or not. The primary incubator of fear is the unknown, but the more you know what to expect, the less hold fear will have over you.

Sometimes, your significant other will feel lonely, ignored, undervalued, or resentful. You’ll be dealing with the highs and lows of successes and failures at school, and your partner will be right there feeling all that with you. The key is acknowledging these feelings as normal and expected and being honest with each other about how you feel without placing blame.

Talk about how money will be tight and about how missing out on the little luxuries will feel. Talk about how many hours you’ll be away or unavailable and how that will make your partner feel. Talk about how you’ll probably miss some significant events and how that will affect your relationship. Basically, just talk. Be open-minded, patient, and honest with your partner from application to graduation.

Organize your home, finances, and routines

Since you’ll spend long hours in the OR, studying, and in class, you’ll have less time to help with domestic duties. Before school, you may have been able to wing it regarding things like housework, meal planning, budgeting, and exercise. However, this “take it as it comes” approach will likely backfire once your life is 100% dedicated to school.

A better plan is to work as a team to create a realistic plan to stay healthy and maintain a clean home. Create routines and habits now that ensure you’re both eating nutritious meals, exercising most days, and staying on top of housework.

Doing a major declutter of your belongings before school starts can clear the physical and mental space needed to focus on school. You’ll benefit from having an organized and distraction-free environment where you can focus on your school work. Your partner will benefit because there will be less stuff to maintain, meaning they have to shoulder less of the household burden.

Take the time before school starts to deep clean your home, create a fair household duty plan, or carve out a bit of your budget for regular cleaning help. At the very least, don’t add to your partner’s chores. Pick up after yourself, do your own laundry, and have at least one duty that you “own” (taking the trash out, weekly vacuuming, changing the sheets, etc.)

Meal prepping or planning as a team once a week will give you valuable time together and good nutrition to power you through long days. If you can afford it, meal delivery kits are a great way to ensure proper nutrition. You can choose from ones where all the prep work is up to you, or you can buy ones that you just pop into the oven (or microwave!). Though these can be pricey, they will still save money over eating out.

Now that you have healthy meals sorted out, it’s time to focus on exercise. Even though fitting in exercise may feel impossible, even 30 minutes a day can significantly impact your stress levels. If you can plan your workout to include your partner, that’s even better. If not, make sure you support their daily workout, especially if you have kids.

Build and maintain strong support networks

Realize you and your significant other will have different networks

We’re all at various stages in our relationships when school starts. Some people have been together for years and have experienced many ups and downs already. Some are in the first years of their relationship and haven’t had the chance to weather many trials together. CRNA school is guaranteed to stress your relationship no matter how long you’ve been together. Because of this, you both must have strong support networks.

Your primary support, besides your significant other, will be your classmates. You’re all going through the same rigorous program simultaneously, dealing with grueling study schedules and picky preceptors. You’ll become close because these people truly understand what you’re going through.

Your partner likely doesn’t have this built-in support system. It’s great if they do have family, friends, or therapists to lean on during the more challenging times. However, these people will unlikely understand how difficult it is to be with someone going through an intense program for several years straight.

It can be especially challenging for your partner if you have to relocate for school- with or without them. If you move together, they’ll need to start a support network from scratch. If you move without them, they’ll struggle without your physical presence and help domestically.

Where your partner can look for support

Chances are your classmates will have significant others and children of their own. This is an excellent opportunity for your partner to connect with others experiencing the same hardships. Set up a barbeque or dinner for all your classmates and their families as soon as school starts. Encourage your partner to get phone numbers and connect on social media. When they are struggling the most, remind them to use those contacts!

Depending on the state you live in, you may be able to find free or inexpensive therapy for individuals and couples. Having an impartial ear to unload their frustrations onto can be a relief for many people. The key is establishing these therapeutic relationships early- ideally several months before school starts. This way, you and your partner have reinforcements in place before a crisis occurs.

Your school should have a department that can provide mental health resources for you, and many have separate resources to address the stresses graduate students face. The AANA offers a great Student Wellness program. Here you can connect with other SRNAs to build your support network and help your partner find articles and resources targeted to them.

Nail down your communication skills

How we speak and how well we listen are always crucial in intimate relationships. When we’re going through challenging times, communication becomes even more critical. When people feel tired and stressed, misunderstandings are more common. The less understood we feel, the greater the tension.

Examining how you and your partner communicate before school starts is helpful. This way, you’ll be able to set your emotions aside and focus on pushing through conflict.

There are four basic communication styles. Take a moment to look at the illustration and reflect on how you usually communicate. We all want to “win,” but we also want our partners to feel like their feelings are being considered. The best way for both parties to feel heard is by focusing on assertive communication.

 

Communication style chart highlighting Assertive Communication

 

Being assertive is different from being bossy or demanding. It’s a respectful way to protect your needs, build trust in your relationship, help prevent future stress, and improve your self-esteem.

To communicate assertively, start making these strategies part of your everyday life:

  1. Express your needs clearly and respectfully.
  2. Treat others’ needs with respect while reserving judgment.
  3. Make compromise part of how you operate.
  4. Speak calmly but firmly and in a conversational tone.
  5. Avoid exaggerating words like “always” or “never.”

Stay connected throughout your journey

Connect face-to-face at least once a day

You’ll often feel like you’re in a long-distance relationship, even if you live together. Unfortunately, this is unavoidable as school sucks up so much of your time. Yet, you can take active measures to stay connected and come out of school stronger as a couple.

Carve out 15-20 minutes a day to be together face-to-face. Some days you’ll have to see each other over FaceTime, and other days you might be able to cook and eat dinner together. Maybe you can even plan to exercise together each day. This way, you can work on lowering your stress and increasing communication at the same time.

The key is to be 100% present during your limited time together. Put your phone away, push tomorrow’s test to the back of your mind, and give your significant other your full attention. It seems like a small gesture, but this time will be invaluable when you’re living parallel, stressful lives.

Celebrate your wins together

CRNA school is an emotional rollercoaster. You might ace a test one day just to get knocked down a peg by your preceptor the next day. Or everything might be going great in clinical, but your doctoral project has hit a significant snag.

Knowing the path ahead, you and your partner can plan for these ups and downs. You might see some milestones that you know you’ll be celebrating, like the transition from classwork to clinical, along with some milestones you’ll have to brace yourself for (your oral defense, for example). Anticipating your future and finding joy in your triumphs helps you see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Celebrate your big wins together, but don’t forget the small ones. Celebrating making it through the day-to-day stresses can help boost your morale. Aced your pharmacology exam? Let your partner share your joy. Terrified of starting your clinical rotations, but you work through your fear? Count this as a win you earned together.

Travel together if you can

Depending on your program, you might get the chance to travel around your region or the country for clinical. Some rotations might be in interesting cities or places you’ve never considered traveling to before. While you won’t have much time to explore, just being somewhere new can ease your stress.

If your significant other can travel with you, they can also benefit from being away from the stresses of home. It’s probably not practical for your partner to stay with you for your entire rotation, but even a night or two can help you reconnect.

If possible, schedule an extra night and day at the beginning of your rotation. Get a hotel for the night, eat a good meal together, and spend time focused solely on one another. This time together will help settle you before starting your rotation and fill your partner’s cup, too.


Your action plan

We know this is a lot to think about, but you’re going to rock this- together. Start with keeping communication open and being honest about what’s coming. It may feel overwhelming at times, but planning ahead and working as a team will set you up for success.

  1. Discuss the realities of what you’re signing up for. Be honest about how much you’ll miss and how school will affect your family financially.
  2. Get excited about the opportunities in your new career. You’ll be highly employable and well compensated after all your hard work.
  3. Make plans for success well before school starts. Focus on good communication, growing your savings, organizing your physical environment, and creating a plan for maintaining your health.
  4. Cultivate a solid support network for yourself and encourage your significant other to do the same. Keep communication open and assertive at home so both parties feel heard.
  5. Stay connected as your journey unfolds. Make it a point to connect face-to-face daily, celebrate the big and small wins together, and reconnect through traveling together if possible.

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