Feature

The Value of Nursing Certification

Empowering nursing excellence

Nurse in blue scrubs sitting on a desk reading a textbook.

Sarah’s Certification Journey

Sarah is a dedicated registered nurse with three years of hospital experience. During nursing school, she learned about certification, but at the time, she did not yet meet the requirements, so she put it out of her mind. One day, she stumbled on an article in a nursing journal and realized that she was now qualified to become certified in her specialty.

After discussing the idea with her manager and a mentor, Sarah learned that her hospital offered many resources to support her certification journey, including access to a library of test review books. The hospital would even pay exam fees.

It took several months of hard work to prepare for the certification exam, but studying opened Sarah’s eyes to some exciting recent developments in her specialty, which she eagerly passed along to her coworkers. She also connected with other nurses studying for their certifications, so they could all support each other.

When Sarah passed the exam later that year, her colleagues celebrated her achievement and added her name to the unit’s plaque of certified nurses. Her manager recognized Sarah’s commitment to her professional growth and began recommending her for other opportunities.

Before long, Sarah was a charge nurse and serving on her unit council. She stayed close with the nurses she’d bonded with during their after-hours study sessions, and other colleagues began to turn to her for her expertise, enhancing the practice of her whole unit. Looking back, Sarah marveled at how much certification had transformed her career.

While Sarah is fictional, her story is an example of how certification can enhance and validate a nurse’s skills and professional credibility, opening a multitude of opportunities for career advancement. Let’s explore the immense value of nursing certification, highlighting the benefits it offers to nurses, patients, healthcare organizations, and the healthcare system as a whole.

What is Certification?

The first specialty nursing certification program in the United States, for nurse anesthetists, was established in 1945. Today, there are more than 180 different certifications in dozens of specialty areas. The American Board of Nursing Specialties (www.nursingcertification.org) defines certification as the formal recognition of a nurse’s specialized knowledge, skills, and experience, demonstrated by the achievement of standards identified by a nursing specialty as promoting optimal health outcomes. Those standards are determined by a board or other certifying organization, which also administers the eligibility requirements.

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What are the Prerequisites?

Attaining board certification requires an applicant to pass a standardized exam. Before being eligible to sit for the exam, applicants must demonstrate that they meet certain minimum requirements. The requirements vary considerably depending on the certifying organization and the specific certification involved, but some common prerequisites might include one or more of the following:

  • Holding a BSN (or higher) nursing degree
  • Having a certain number of years of nursing experience (or the equivalent)
  • Having a certain number of practice hours in a related nursing field
  • Having completed a minimum number of hours of continuing education in a related field within a particular timeframe (e.g., within the last three years).

Most certifications also require that the applicant hold a current, active RN license.

There may be multiple ways to meet the requirements. For example, additional years of fulltime nursing experience might be an acceptable substitute for an academic degree requirement.

Fulfilling the requirements and successfully completing the exam entitles a nurse to use a credential after their name (e.g., medical-surgical nursing – board certified, abbreviated MEDSURG-BC).

How Much Does it Cost?

Board certification may involve a number of fees. There is usually a fee to sit for the exam, and an additional retest fee if not successful on the first attempt. Some certifications require application fees as well. Various optional test preparation materials (such as practice tests and study guides) may be available at extra cost.

Discounts are often available for members of professional organizations, and some certifying bodies offer financial support for qualified applicants. There may also be military discounts for servicemembers and veterans.

Hospitals sometimes provide financial support and other resources for employees seeking certification. Initiatives like the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) Success Pays program allow employers to directly cover the cost of eligible certifications for their employees (including a free retest if needed).

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Certified nurses must demonstrate continued competency through periodic renewals and professional development. For example, MEDSURG-BC certification is valid for five years.

What are the Advantages?

Enhanced Expertise Nursing certification goes beyond the basic education and licensure requirements that apply to all RNs. Certification signifies a nurse’s dedication to advancing their expertise and skills in a specialized area of practice, providing nurses with in-depth knowledge and the latest evidence-based practices.

While certification is not necessarily required to practice in that specialty area, some employers strongly prefer nurses to be certified in their areas of practice

Professional Advancement

Nursing certification opens doors to professional opportunities and career advancement, providing a competitive edge in the job market. Earning a specialty certification demonstrates commitment to lifelong learning, and is associated with greater job satisfaction and increased confidence.

Certification can also serve as a stepping stone to pursuing advanced degrees or specialized roles such as nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, or nurse educator.

Improved Patient Care

Nursing certification significantly contributes to improved patient care and safety. With their specialized knowledge and skills, certified nurses are better equipped to identify potential risks, anticipate complications, and provide timely interventions.

Certified nurses can also be instrumental in promoting patient advocacy and shared decision-making. Their expertise enables them to more effectively communicate complex medical information, empower patients to actively participate in their care, and promote health literacy. As a result, patients of certified nurses experience benefits such as enhanced outcomes, reduced hospital stays, improved satisfaction, and increased trust in the nursing profession.

Organizational Benefits

Healthcare organizations that promote and support ongoing professional development and nursing certification reap additional benefits. Certified nurses bring a higher level of competency and expertise to their roles, helping to reduce medical errors, adverse events, and the overall cost of care. They also contribute to streamlined workflows, more efficient patient management, and improved interprofessional collaboration.

The ongoing professional development certification programs requirements ensure that certified nurses stay current on the latest advances and best practices in their specialty.

In the dynamic landscape of modern healthcare, nursing certification holds immense value for nurses, patients, healthcare organizations, and the entire healthcare system, signifying a nurse’s commitment to excellence, expertise, and professional growth.


LYNN W. NEWBERRY, RN, DNP, CEN, NE-BC, is the education and outreach program manager at the American Nurses Credentialing Center.


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