Do you enjoy a specific area of nursing more than others? Do you understand what earning a nursing certification entails and how it could benefit you? By law, registered nurses are not required to be certified in any specific area. However, many nurses who choose a clinical specialty decide to become certified in that area.
If you're interested in advancing in your career, or you are thinking about moving to a different specialty, earning a certification may help you pursue your goals.*
Most certification programs are created by, sponsored by, or affiliated with professional associations and trade organizations interested in raising industry standards. Certifications are earned through an assessment process and, depending on the credentialing organization, may need to be renewed within a specific timeframe.
Certification is voluntary, differing from state licensure, which provides the legal authority for an individual to practice professional nursing. That said, some states (such as Minnesota and California) also offer certifications as well, and there could be separate requirements to keep the certification up to date in addition to, or in lieu of, the nursing license.
Certification credentials provided by professional or trade organizations are nationally recognized and portable, meaning the credential is accepted from one hospital or organization to another, and they are valid in any state.
Obtaining a certification establishes professionalism. It lets your employer know that you are dedicated to a certain subject area and that you took the time to educate yourself further in the field. Moreover, it demonstrates commitment and exemplifies knowledge, expertise, and competence. In many instances in today's health care world, nursing certifications are becoming mandatory, such as those required for nurse practitioners. Many hospitals and physicians' offices are encouraging their nursing employees to become certified in their chosen fields, as it improves job satisfaction and may reduce a nurse's exposure to risk.
Nurses can work in various settings and with many different patient groups. Due to these diverse opportunities, there are numerous certifications that a nurse can earn and maintain, including: Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN), Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse (AOCN), Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), and Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP). A number of new certifications in case management, nursing education, and professional development have also recently opened up for nurses.
Nursing certifications not only reflect a high professional level and competence, but also enable nurses to provide the best possible care to patients. Certification can also provide more opportunities for further education and advancement.
What's the process for getting certified?
The first step in obtaining a nursing certification is to review the certification's eligibility requirements, which normally include a specific kind of nursing education program. Then, find a program that offers the type of qualifying education you need. Many health care organizations offer nursing certification programs in their field of expertise. For instance, if a nurse is interested in becoming certified in caring for patients with diabetes, the American Association of Diabetes Educators offers a certification program in Advanced Diabetes Management. If a nurse works in a physician's office specializing in treating patients with diabetes, it could be helpful to hold this nursing certification.
One leading nursing credentialing center is the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), which offers a wide variety of specialty certifications. In many cases, academic degrees can be one requirement of eligibility. The online Bachelor of Science in Nursing-RN-to-BSN program and the online Master of Science in Nursing program at Kaplan University are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (aacn.nche.edu/ccne-accreditation).
Once you have reviewed and met all the eligibility requirements and enrolled in your chosen program, you will want to study the exam materials and prepare for the final exam, which you have to pass in order to gain your certification. You will want to study the exam handbook, take the practice tests, and perhaps join a study group, either online or in person, to help you prepare for the exam.†
After you have passed the final exam and earned your nursing certificate, it is usually valid for about 5 years, after which you will need to renew it.
Before you earn any nursing certifications, you'll need to be educated in the field-and you may even want to earn an advanced degree. Kaplan University's School of Nursing offers doctorate, master's, bachelor's, and associate's nursing degrees, as well as certificates and diplomas.