Should a standardized entrance examination(s) be required for applicants to nurse anesthesia educational programs?

A valid, reliable entrance examination, specific to nurse anesthesia, does not exist.  Programs are required to enroll students who are academically and experientially prepared for nurse anesthesia education in the following ways:

  1. Applicants have achieved academic success in baccalaureate-level degrees thereby demonstrating critical thinking abilities consistent with that level of education. 
  2. Successful completion of the NCLEX requires critical thinking abilities appropriate for the registered nurse role and responsibilities.
  3. Applicants are required to complete one year of full-time work experience as a registered nurse in a critical care setting.  Critical care nursing experience fosters the development of clinical competencies and critical thinking abilities gained at the entry-into-nursing practice level. 
  4. The COA’s Standards for Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs and Standards for Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Programs: Practice Doctorate glossaries define “Critical Care Experience” to ensure that applicants and programs have a clear understanding of the minimum critical care acumen for admission to nurse anesthesia programs.  The knowledge, skills, and abilities outlined in this definition require the RN to possess and utilize critical thinking abilities.
  5. Students enrolled in programs awarding doctoral degrees are required to possess both ACLS and PALS certification before beginning clinical activities.  These certifications verify adult and pediatric life support competencies, including the diagnosis and management of life-threatening conditions.

Given the variability in the definition of critical thinking, and the paucity of valid/reliable tools to assess critical thinking, universities and programs are provided the latitude to assess these attributes in ways consistent with institutional policy and available evidence. Examples include submitted essays, spontaneous writing exercises, the Graduate Record Examination, Miller’s Analogy Test, and others. In addition, a variety of critical care nursing examinations are offered by several certifying organizations. Given that universities and anesthesia programs establish their own admissions requirements and there are many examinations available, it would be very difficult to a) define which examination(s) would be acceptable, b) produce evidence supporting why they are acceptable, and c) convince universities that any specific examination is a critical admission criterion. No evidence exists that any certification examination available to registered nurses (for example, the CCRN) predicts success in nurse anesthesia educational programs.