Nursing has a vast array of sub-specialties, and as a nurse, you have the opportunity to focus on particular types of nursing in your career. When you first begin as a nurse, you will start building hours and refining your practice, but as you gain experience, you may want to dedicate your career to a specific type of nursing or patient population. This is where nursing certification comes in, and allows you to demonstrate your experience and knowledge of a particular area. Nursing certification is available for registered nurses, advanced practice nurses and clinical nurse specialists.

Why Specialize?

A nurse who pursues certification in a certain field or nursing specialty demonstrates to her employer that she is an expert in that capacity. Many facilities reward nurses who become certified in their type of nursing by promoting them, offering them higher compensation and giving them greater responsibilities. A nurse who specializes and chooses to become certified must meet certain education, experience and exam criteria met to achieve the credential. 

Nursing Specialties for Registered Nurses

You can specialize in many types of nursing as a registered nurse without  pursing an advanced practice degree. These types of certifications highlight a nurse as an expert in her field and might help a nurse receive a for promotion in her unit. For instance, a nurse can become certified as a medical-surgical nurse through the American Nurses Credentialing Center. This certification examines a nurse’s ability to manage a patient on the medical-surgical unit and requires 2,000 hours of active nursing in the specialty during the last three years.

You can also get credentialing for patient populations, such as cardiac patients, geriatric patients and diabetics. One of the most popular nursing specialties is the Critical-Care Registered Nurse certification offered through the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. This credentialing organization offers many levels of certification for nurses of all kinds in the critical care specialty.

Nursing Specialties for Advanced Practice Nurses

Four types of advanced practice nurses are recognized according to the Advanced Practice Nurse Consensus Model: certified registered nurse anesthetist, certified nurse-midwife, clinical nurse specialist, and certified nurse practitioner. Advanced practice nurses, particularly nurse practitioners, can then specialize in a specific type of nursing. For instance, a nurse can choose to become a family practice nurse practitioner. A nurse can also choose to pursue acute care nurse practitioner certification. Both of these paths are open to nurses who have achieved advanced standing. He or she can choose to specialize in mental health, gerontology, pediatrics, diabetes education, and school nursing. Unlike the registered nurse certification, the clinical hours in school to become a nurse practitioner count towards certification, so a nurse does not need to accumulate additional hours for certification. Also, advanced practice nurses choose a specialty before committing to education and pursue the necessary certification upon completion of school.

Nursing Specialties for Clinical Nurse Specialists

Clinical nurse specialists are a special type of advanced practice nurse. Although they do not directly assess, diagnose and treat patients like nurse practitioners, they are integral to the functioning of the nursing unit. They are responsible for the education of the nurses under them and are often involved in research projects in the facility. A clinical nurse specialist will review data of patient outcomes and come up with solutions for how to improve those situations. Like nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists specialize in different types of nursing. For instance, a nurse could focus on adult health. Clinical nurse specialists are also involved in gerontology, pediatrics, public health and mental health.  These nurses are the experts in the nursing profession, and their certification marks them as an authority.

Accredited Nursing Specialists Certification Programs

The two organizations that accredit nursing certification programs are the American Board for Specialty Nursing Certification (ABSNC) and the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). The ABSNC only accredits nursing programs, the NCCA accredits other types of programs as well.  These groups are self-regulating, they comply with industry standards and professional benchmarks. There continues to be disagreements and debate in the field about some accreditation standards and their interpretation. Not all nursing groups choose to be accredited. Accreditation is a lengthy process that indicates a certification program meets the standards established by the accreditation body. Some smaller, newer certification programs, do not yet have the infrastructure in place to become accredited. All programs listed on Nursing License Map are accredited by either the ABSNC or NCCA. 

Retired Specializations

Sometimes nursing certification organizations retire certifications. There is no industry-wide criteria for retiring a certification program but the usual reason is that the demand for the specialty certification is small.  When an organization retires a certification, it usually give the nurses who are certified in that specialty years of notice.  They let them keep their credential active until it is time to renew it and then do not continue through renewal.  At that time they require them to not use the credential.  Some organizations subsume a certification program into another program and will grandfather the retiring credential into the new program.

For Additional Information on Specialization:

View the National Commission for Certifying Agencies Approved Nursing Programs

View the American Board for Specialty Nursing Certification Approved Programs

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