March 19th is Certified Nurses Day. A large number of nursing certification programs exist (I count 92!). This number alone tells me that this is something important that all nurses should consider. I was proud to use the credential CCRN during my days working in a medical ICU. The exam was tough and maintaining the necessary continuing education requirements was challenging, but my own sense of pride and the respect I received from patients, my colleagues, and my employer made it worth it.   

So what is specialty certification exactly? The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) defines certification as “a process by which a nongovernmental agency validates, based upon predetermined standards, an individual nurse’s qualifications for practice in a defined functional or clinical area of nursing." Many other definitions exist, depending on where you look or from which organization you are seeking certification. In general, being certified demonstrates that you have advanced knowledge and competence in a given specialty. 

Barriers to certification have been identified as time, cost of preparation and examinations, test anxiety, lack of support from supervisors, and continuing education requirements (Valente, 2010). Overcoming these barriers, both on personal and professional levels, is important because of the value and benefits associated with specialty certification. Kaplow (2011) categorized this value associated with certification into three realms: value to patients, value to employer, and value to self. 

With regard to value to patients, certified nurses demonstrate greater confidence in decision making, increased patient safety (including less falls and decreased pressure ulcers), and higher patient satisfaction. Also, certified nurses have been shown to be more likely to provide care based on evidence-based guidelines (Kaplow, 2011). 

Specialty certification sends a message of commitment to a current or potential employer. Nurses who are certified demonstrate a personal responsibility to their education, and in turn, patient care and outcomes. Some studies have even shown an association between certification and turnover, vacancy, staffing, nurse retention, job satisfaction, higher nurse performance, and patient satisfaction (Watts, 2010). 

Finally, the personal benefits that come with certification are numerous. The sense of accomplishment, feeling of empowerment, and validation of knowledge had a great impact on my confidence. Other benefits can include an impact on salary and career advancement, as well as improved marketability (Kaplow, 2011).

If you’re interested in learning more about certification, take a moment to read Your guide to certification. This handy table of specialty certification boards and contact information along with the associated credential and requirements is a good place to start your journey to certification. Good luck!

References: 

American Nurses Credentialing Center. (2012). What is Nurse Certification. Retrieved March 15, 2012, from ANCC website: http://www.aacn.org/wd/certifications/content/consumer-whatiscert.pcms?menu=certification  

Kaplow, R. (2011). The Value of Certification. AACN Advanced Critical Care, 22(1). 

Valente, S.M. (2010). Improving Professional Practice Through Certification. Journal for Nurses in Staff Development, 26 (5). 

Watts, M.D. (2010). Certification and Clinical Ladder as the Impetus for Professional Development. Critical Care Nursing Quarterly , 33(1).