Most of us aren’t fans of exams, and that includes nurses. (Can we get a “Nurses! They’re just like us.”?) But credentialing is a core component of a healthcare career, and you can’t practice without it in many cases, let alone apply for highly coveted jobs.
But what are the different nurses’ certificates, and how do you obtain them? We’ve prepared a “nursing certificates 101” to teach you the basics, from certified nursing assistants to advanced practices.
What should I know about nursing certifications?
Not all certifications are mandatory, nor should they be treated as an easy-in to a nursing job. After all, you can’t simply take a test and be guaranteed a career. If only life were that simple…
While some certificate programs are necessary for your career, others simply act as the proverbial cherry on top of your stellar resume (alongside your excellent bedside manners and scrubs that make you look like a boss).
Different types of nursing certificates
This nursing certifications list is divided into two main categories: those required for licensure and those required for specialization.
Licensure certifications are mandatory. You can’t prove your competency as a nurse without them, and you’ll need a new one at each stage of “leveling up” in your career. Positions that fall under this category include certified nursing assistants (CNA), licensed practical nurses (LPN), licensed vocational nurses (LVN), registered nurses (RN) and advanced practice registered nurses (APRN), to name just a few. Many of these career milestones for certified nurses also involve a set number of in-person clinical hours.
Specialty certification, on the other hand, is usually optional, but it can make you a more attractive job candidate since such certification indicates a top tier skilset. You’ll find many options for specialization, but some of the most popular focus on pediatrics, family care and occupational health.
Which nursing certification is worth it?
There’s no use in arguing if licensure exams are “worth it.” Like a set of premium but affordable scrubs, you can’t call yourself a nurse without passing them first. For specializations, however, some exams can be more valuable than others—especially if you’re playing the long game when it comes to your nursing career.
For LPNs and LVNs, IV therapy certification will allow you to perform your daily tasks with increased proficiency, and long-term care certification opens you up to job opportunities in nursing homes or outpatient settings. These two certifications work well together, allowing you to be able to administer medications intravenously to a senior resident.
One of the most useful RN certifications is pediatric nursing, which allows you to work with children. You can also try nurse informatics, which pairs IT practices with frontline nursing. Don’t forget, RN certification requirements include passing the mandatory NCLEX-RN exam. Clinical experience may be required for some professions, so be sure to group order scrubs with your co-workers to make sure you’re well-equipped for the task.
For APRNs, almost everything is a specialization at this stage, from critical-care nurses to acute care nurse practitioners. Personal preference and long-term career goals determine what certifications you’ll find appealing. However, one of the most in-demand jobs is being a family nurse practitioner. You can also consider a nurse anesthetist certification, which is one of the best-paying specializations.
What are the best nursing certifications for new grads?
Of course, not all of these specialties are great if you’re looking for nursing certifications without experience. But don’t worry. Just like group ordering scrubs for you and your classmates, we’ve got you covered here, too.
If you’re new to the field, one specialty certification to consider is essential life support, which includes skills like CPR. It’s a pillar of emergency care, and it’s relatively easy to obtain. Another useful certification to have under your hat is advanced cardiovascular life support. This board-certified specialty extends past essential life support and shows you’re well-equipped to handle cardiovascular emergencies.
If you’re a new grad with an obvious career goal, focus on the certifications best-suited for your job.
Why are certifications important?
A nurse’s learning continues long after graduation (in fact, you might say it never ends, thanks to clinical practice certifications). Certified nurses have more authority attached to their names, too, so patients can be more receptive to their advice—just like they would with a doctor.
On the business side, healthcare facilities are interested in certified nurses because it lends credibility to their organization, building a brand of hiring only the best. They also prefer certified nurses because it reduces their legal liability; if they have the best clinical specialists, there’s less chance of them making an error that puts a patient’s life at risk.
How do I achieve a certified nursing specialty?
Certified nursing specialties are a relatively straightforward process, although they do take time and a fair amount of studying. Whatever the certification might be, you’ll need to consider four factors: academic requirements, clinical experience, finding a reputable board of accreditation and fees.
This includes the schooling necessary to your career, like a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) or Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). It contains essential licensure exams, like the NCLEX-RN or the NCLEX-PN. Without them, you can’t progress to the next step.
Certifications usually require a set number of hours spent in a frontline setting. RNs must put in a significant amount of time to gain experience before qualifying as family nurse practitioners or pediatric nurses.
Find an exam testing facility
On top of this, you’ll need a reputable organization to administer the certification exam, such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Available ANCC certifications are listed on their certification webpage, along with the price for each exam.
You’ll always have to pay for your exams; that’s a given. But exam costs can vary greatly, ranging from less than $100 to several hundred. Don’t assume there’s a baseline price without checking the details for your specialization first.
In the meantime, if studying for your certification is stressing you out, and you want a little “me time,” here’s a list of the best nurse gifts for self-care. Good luck with those exams!