Nurses play an important role at all levels of health care. Nursing certifications ensure that nurses have the requisite education, experience and skills to care for patients and improve health outcomes. Having certain nursing certifications can help you secure a job, prepare for leadership roles and advance your nursing career.
A career in nursing means you’ll have a heavy hand in improving the lives and quality of care for patients across the lifespan. Make sure to do your research and prepare yourself adequately for any certifications you want to obtain.
What Do I Need to Know About Nursing Certifications?
There are many certifying organizations that are part of the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) and can grant nursing certifications. Requirements for obtaining a nursing certification will vary by organization and type you pursue. In addition, fees will also vary. Renewal of your certification is required to ensure that you still meet eligibility requirements and pursue any continuing education required. For most states, renewal of your nursing licensure is also dependent upon your certification renewal.
Depending on your interests and career path, you may pursue nursing certification through these organizations:
- American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB)
- American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN)
- American Board for Occupational Health Nurses (ABOHN)
- American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
- American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL)
- Certification Board for Diabetes Care and Education (CBDCE)
- Commission on Nurse Certification (CNC)
- Competency & Credentialing Institute (CCI)
- Infusion Nurses Certification Corporation (INCC)
- National Assistant at Surgery Certification (NASC)
- National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA)
- National League for Nursing (NLN)
- Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC)
- Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB)
- The National Certification Corporation (NCC)
- Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nursing Certification Board (WOCNCB)
The specific requirements per nursing certification vary. Some nursing certifications, like ER nurses or most critical care nurses, require verified practice hours but not additional formal education. Advanced practice certifications, like nurse practitioners or nurse anesthetists, require additional education, typically a master’s or doctorate in nursing.
For example, to become a family nurse practitioner (FNP) must have a registered nursing (RN) license and complete an accredited postgraduate program and a minimum of 500 clinical, supervised patient care hours before being eligible to sit for the ANCC FNP-BC certification exam. It is typically recommended that candidates work for one or two years before applying for any nurse practitioner programs.
There are fees associated with obtaining your nursing certification in addition to any educational expenses you might incur. These fees vary by certification: some require an initial fee while others do not. But virtually all require renewal fees to maintain certification. Some certifying organizations offer discounts for members. Fees range from under $100 to nearly $1,000, and renewal periods range from 1 to 5 years.
As the healthcare field changes, nurses must recertify or renew their nursing certification periodically. There are different options for renewal depending on certification. You may be able to renew by completing professional activities such as teaching, volunteering or completing continuing education. You may also renew certain certifications by exam.
In either case, you should also have a certain number of clinical practice hours, and a proportion of those hours must be completed within a certain time frame of the renewal date. This ensures that nurses have recent and relevant experience necessary for recertification. For example, progressive care nurses (PCCN) may recertify by completing continuing education recognition points or passing the PCCN exam.
Types of Nursing Certifications
There are many different types of nursing certifications. Some certifications are based on career level, with specific certifications for Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) holders and other Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN), some for Registered Nurses (RN), some for Certified Nurse Assistants (CNA) and more. Other certifications are based on specialization, like surgery, oncology, pediatrics and others. Your nursing journey will depend on your career goals and interests, and we hope this guide will help you decide which certification is best for you.
Advanced Practice Nursing Certifications
If your goal is to become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse, like a cardiac nurse practitioner, certified nurse-midwife or certified registered nurse anesthetist, you will need to earn a specific type of certification.
- Cardiac nurse practitioners must have a valid RN license, work for 2,000 hours in cardiac nursing, complete a nurse practitioner program, and pass the Cardiovascular Nurse Practitioner Board Certified exam administered by the American Board of Cardiovascular Medicine.
- Certified nurse midwives must be licensed as RNs, complete a nurse-midwifery program accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education (ACME), and pass the American Midwifery Certification Board exam.
- Certified registered nurse anesthetists must complete a nurse anesthesia graduate program accredited by the Council on Accreditation (COA), and pass the certification test administered by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA).
All advanced practice nurses must have, at minimum, a Master’s of Science in Nursing. Prior to applying to graduate programs, you will likely need your RN license. Requirements for the RN license vary by state. Most graduate programs also recommend a few years of work experience as an RN. During your MSN program, you may take advanced courses and complete supervised clinical hours. Once you complete your degree, you may need to pass a certification exam from the appropriate certifying organization for your specialization.
You might choose to pursue an APRN certification at the beginning of your career. This may allow you to move quickly into a specialty and gain work experience in your chosen field. On the other hand, you may want to work as a general nurse for several years to gain exposure to lots of different nursing fields and work environments before deciding on a path.
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Nursing Specialty Certifications
If you are not interested in becoming an APRN or do not have a lot of experience yet, you can still begin a career in nursing. There are a variety of nursing specialties as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) or licensed practical nurse (LPN).
The most basic certification in nursing relates to becoming a CNA. You may obtain certification as a CNA without a degree by completing an approved training program and passing a skills exam. As a CNA you may specialize in such areas as cardiology, pediatrics, psychiatry, geriatrics or home care, often without any additional special certification.
As a LPN, you may be able to pursue certification from The National Association of Practical Nurse Education and Service in:
- Pharmacology: applying specialized knowledge of drug dosage, interactions, side effects and more to safely administer medication
- Long-Term Care: caring for patients with chronic illness, with a special focus on geriatric care
- IV Therapy: administering medication intravenously
Other organizations offer specialty certifications for LPNs, including:
- Certification Board for Urologic Nurses and Associates (CBUNA) – Certified Urologic Associate (CUA): Caring for patients with problems in the urinary system or preparing for surgeries such as vasectomies
- Hospice & Palliative Credentialing Center (HPCC) – Certified Hospice and Palliative Licensed Nurse: Providing physical care, pain management, and emotional support for terminal patients and their loved ones
- National Alliance of Wound Care and Ostomy (NAWCO) – Wound Care Certified (WCC): Caring for patients with complex wounds, ostomies (surgical openings), or continence issues
- National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) – Certified Correctional Health Professional: Serving the incarcerated population
- Prepared Childbirth Educators, Inc. (PCE) – Breastfeeding Counselor Certification: Supporting and educating breastfeeding parents about lactation management
- The Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) – Certified Clinical Research Associate: Supporting nurse researchers and other research professionals in conducting scientific studies of medicines and treatments
CNAs and LPNs are often entry-level or early career positions, so additional certification at this level may help you advance your career and prepare you for further education and licensure. Choose the ones that will help you meet your career goals or match your interests. Some employers may help pay for these certifications.
Registered Nurse Certifications
To become a registered nurse (RN), you must have either an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from a school accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. You also need to pass the NCLEX-RN, administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Requirements to become a RN may vary by state.
Once you become a RN, there are a variety of specialty certifications you can choose based on your interests, experience, and future career goals. Some of these certifications include:
- Certified Addictions Registered Nurse (CARN) – Serving patients in recovery centers, hospitals, and outpatient care centers.
- Cardiac Medicine Certification (CMC) – Adult – Administering stress tests, monitoring EKG readings, providing post-operational care for cardiac surgery patients, and otherwise caring for cardiology patients in a variety of settings.
- Critical Care Certifications – Providing life-sustaining care for critically ill or injured patients.
- Board-Certified Case Manager (CCM) – Coordinating medical, social, and psychological care for patients receiving long-term treatments.
- Informatics Nursing Certification (RN-BC) – Bridging the gap between medical and technical needs by identifying, managing, and communicating health information and data.
- Nationally Certified School Nurse (NCSN) – Advancing the health and well-being of children in a school setting.
- Certified Occupational Health Nurse (COHN) – Observing and assessing the health of workers with respect to their job roles.
- Certified Gastroenterology Registered Nurse (CGRN) – Caring for patients before, during, and after endoscopies and colonoscopies.
In some cases, certification is not strictly necessary to work in a particular specialty but having the proper certification may help you find a job in a different facility or advance to leadership roles. Most certifications, however, do require you to have prior work experience in that specialty area. As you continue your career as a registered nurse, these certifications can demonstrate your professionalism and expertise.
Which nursing certification is worth it?
Nursing certification provides you with an official declaration of your education, skills and experience as a nursing professional. Earning a nursing certification may prove to employers that you’ve best standards set by credible organizations in the field to provide care for patients in different ways.
What is the best nursing certification for a new grad?
There is a perennial dilemma for new graduates: employers often want candidates with experience, but how can you get experience if you’ve never had a job? Registered nurses are considered entry-level in most job settings and you can get your RN license with an associate degree in some states. Nursing certifications often require some form of experience, so what your interests are in providing care to patients will likely determine what you earn a certification in.
What is the best nursing certification for someone without experience?
Almost all nursing certifications will require some level of experience and/or education. That said, each organization offering certification will have different requirements. Be sure to check with the organization first.
How often do nurse practitioners recertify?
Nurse practitioners must recertify their certifications to maintain their state licenses. The recertification cycles vary based on specialty and certifying body. Recertification or renewals vary depending on specialty and may range from every year to every five years.
Information on this page was last retrieved in June 2020.