1. Dooley, Wanda C. DNP, MSN, CNE, FNP-BC

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Take a look around your clinical facility and you'll see nametags that have RN; some with RN, BSN; and yet others with BSN, RN. Have you ever wondered why some nurses have a string of letters after their names and others simply list RN? If you earn multiple degrees and certifications, how do you know in which order to list these credentials on your nametag? What about on your resume or for academic activities or presentations?

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First things first

For nametags, the answer is actually pretty straightforward and fairly simple. You list credentials in order of importance from both a legal and professional standpoint. According to the American Nurses Credentialing Center, a standardized format for listing credentials ensures that everyone understands their significance and value.


First, review the nurse practice act for your state to learn how RNs are supposed to identify themselves. In most states, even nurses with doctoral degrees must identify themselves on their nametag as an RN.


After you pass the national licensing exam and become an RN, those two letters will go with you wherever you go. In addition to receiving that all important RN credential, you may also have earned a BSN degree or you may have advanced your education further with an MSN or DNP. In addition, you may have become certified in a nursing specialty.


It's perfectly fine to list additional degrees, but be careful about how much you try to cram on a nametag. The most important factor while working in the professional nursing role is that the patient and healthcare staff know you're an RN. That's why RN needs to be clearly identified on your nametag.


You've already checked your nurse practice act, so now check with your human resources department and/or your facility's policy manual. There may be a specific policy about what can be on your nametag. In general, all you need is your name followed by RN. Patient safety is the ultimate goal, so your facility may only want you to list RN and, perhaps, one certification or degree on your nametag.


Now comes the hard part. If you can list only two sets of initials on your nametag, how do you choose if you've accumulated several credentials? Suzy Smith, PhD, MBA, BS, RN-BC, CCRN may sound distinguished but if you're working in a bedside role, what's the most important component? The patient needs to know that you're an RN first, and then you can pick the credentials that are most important to your practice setting. For example, a nursing instructor who's certified as a critical care nurse may list MSN, RN, CCRN on his or her nametag.


Away from the bedside (and your nametag), use all of the credentials you've earned. If you write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper in your role as a nurse, list all of your credentials. If you're doing a poster presentation during Nurses Week, list all of your credentials on the presentation and in the abstract you submit about it.


Order of importance

That brings us back the order in which to list your credentials. Although the multiple credentials of experienced nurses may look like alphabet soup at first, there's a way to decipher the code. The American Nurses Association (ANA) has published guidelines asking nurses to consistently list degrees first (from highest to lowest), then licenses required by law, and then certifications in order of professional importance. For example, certification as an advanced practice nurse has priority over a certification in medical-surgical nursing.


First, list the academic degrees you've earned that can never be taken away. As difficult as it is to think about, your hard-earned certification might expire or you may change specialties, and there are some cases where you may choose to allow your RN licensure to expire.


If you've earned a BSN degree or higher, list the highest degree first. However, if you have both a doctorate and MSN degree, it isn't necessary to list a BSN, so don't clutter up your signature more than necessary. We can all assume that if you have an MSN degree, you earned a BSN first, or you completed BSN coursework on your way to an RN-to-MSN degree.


The letters of PhD, EdD, DNP, and DNSc may be foreign to many outside of the profession so when you list a doctorate, it's a good idea to list the MSN after the doctorate to make it more clear that you have an advanced degree in nursing. For purposes of teaching, an MSN degree is the minimum credential expected of faculty. Many faculty members have a doctorate, but that degree may or may not be in nursing, so show off that MSN.


If you have a bachelor of arts in literature degree (for example), it doesn't need to be listed on your professional nametag, but it should be listed on your resume and can be included for other scholarly work you might pursue. Associate degrees and diplomas generally aren't listed because our profession considers the baccalaureate degree to be the gateway to professional practice.


After you've listed your academic degrees, list licenses (required by law), and then certifications (usually voluntary). An RN license is more important overall than a certification, so it gets listed first, followed by the certification. For your hospital nametag, you may want to list RN and a certification or you might only list BSN, RN. Many nurses, including those with multiple credentials, prefer to simply list RN on their nametag when working in a patient care role.


If you have certification(s) outside of the profession of nursing (for example, you're also a respiratory therapy technician or an emergency medical technician), you can use those credentials for academic or scholarly activities if you believe they're important or give credence to the presentation you'll be doing, but nonnursing credentials will follow nursing credentials. However, if they aren't relevant to your job as a nurse, they don't need to be listed on your nametag.


For example, if you're certified as a lactation consultant and work on a medical-surgical unit, your lactation consultant credentials don't have much meaning for the majority of your patients and don't need to be on your nametag. However, if you're presenting a continuing-education workshop on drugs in breast milk, then adding your lactation certification following your nursing credentials lets the audience know that you have experience and background in the field you'll be talking about.


When working with patients and families, multiple initials on your nametag can generate questions, so be prepared to explain what the initials mean if you use them in the professional setting. Even in an academic setting, where it's common to list a string of initials after one's name, you may get questions. RN-BC is becoming more commonplace, indicating an RN who's board certified in a specialty; however, most people won't know what IBCLC means (international board certified lactation consultant), so be prepared to explain the initials and make sure everything is spelled out on your resume.


Visible credibility

According to the ANA position statement on Credentials for the Professional Nurse, listing credentials when you identify yourself as a nurse provides credibility and assures your patients that you have a measure of professional competence. Because our nursing roles can vary in different settings, it's acceptable to present different credentials in various settings. You can even list different credentials in a letter or e-mail signature depending on the recipient. Just remember to list degrees first, from highest to lowest; licenses required by law; and then certifications in order of importance. Now, you're all set!


did you know?

Your state's nurse practice act may specify how you should sign your name in a legal document. When providing patient care, you're held to the RN scope of practice and standards of care, so you should usually sign your name using your RN credential. Some healthcare facilities also have policies on how nurses should sign their names in a legal document, so be sure to check your facility's policy.

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American Nurses Association. Credentials for the professional nurse: determining a standard order of credentials for the professional nurse.


American Nurses Credentialing Center. How to display your credentials.