1. Fitzpatrick, Joyce J.
  2. Carpenter, Roger

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We have had multiple occasions to notice the array of credentials that nurse faculty and clinicians use to display their accomplishments. Despite clear, comprehensive details presented by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC, 2013) and other professional organizations, confusion abounds in both the academic and practice communities.

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Nurses may use six types of credentials after their names: degree, licensure, state designation/requirement, national certification, awards/honors, and other miscellaneous certifications by credentialing agencies. In addition, a range of academic credentials can be used. These include the relatively new Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and the now retired (at least by most individuals and all schools) DrNP. We also now have a number of EdD programs that are focused on nursing education, in contrast to the EdD programs many nurses attended in the past (other than the Teachers College, Columbia University program). As an aside, it is worth pointing out that the DNP is the wrong title for the professional doctorate in nursing. No other discipline has practice in the degree title, even those that are comparable professional disciplines, such as pharmacy, with the PharmD degree, physical therapy, with the DPT, and, of course, medicine (MD) and dentistry (DDS).


Some individuals list all their academic degrees, from the baccalaureate through the doctorate. With today's emphasis on lifelong learning and the likelihood that nurses will have more and more degrees, it is worth asking if we need to list BSN, MSN, and PhD, when all are in nursing. What does one do if the academic degree is in another discipline? For example, it has become customary to list degrees such as MBA (Masters of Business Administration) or MPA (Masters of Public Administration), especially among those who are in management and leadership positions.


Some nurses list their credentials in the order in which they were obtained. For example, a nurse who received a diploma in nursing and then obtained a higher degree may want to list the RN credential first.


Questions have also been raised about whether to list honorary doctorates. For the individual who has one or two honorary degrees, it may be reasonable to list them. After all, they represent recognition of one's stature in the scholarly community. But if an individual has five or more honorary degrees, as some distinguished nurse leaders do, perhaps listing a few is sufficient.


Clinical credentials are even more confusing because they are influenced by both state licensing requirements (which, of course, differ by state) and national certifying bodies. The only credentials that nurses must use for practice are those required by the states in which they practice. For example, what difference is there between an ACNPC, credentialed by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses, and the ACNP-BC, credentialed by the ANCC? Furthermore, the definition of practice has expanded from the clinical area to settings in education, administration, and beyond, with each of these areas offering certifications. Multiple certifications exist, but, as with degrees, is it necessary to list them all? How many specialty certifications should one list?


Our world is further complicated as we move to do more global work. In many European countries, for example, nurses can be credentialed as public health nurses or as nurse midwives in addition to their general nursing registration. So their credentials would be RPHN (for public health), RM (for midwifery), and RGN (for general nurse).


Credentials are extremely important. They indicate to the public that we possess the competence to do what we are asked to do, and patients have the right to know the credentials of those who take care of them. So how should we list our credentials?


First list your academic degrees, as these are with you forever. Other professional credentials may not remain, for example, you may decide not to renew your national certification, or you may choose to specialize in another area, or your state may pass new legislation that modifies the credentials. If you are certified in an advanced area of nursing, does that imply that you also hold the RN credential? Most individuals list both the RN and the advanced credential, as the RN credential, at least, is standardized in the United States. According to ANCC (2013), the preferred order of listing credentials is highest academic degree, licensure, state designations or requirements, national certifications, awards and honors, and other recognitions.


The American Nurses Association (2009) position statement Credentials for the Professional Nurse emphasizes the importance of this standardized listing of credentials for strengthening understanding within nursing, within health care delivery, and for the public. Following these basic guidelines would help all of us understand our respective qualifications and the jumble of nursing credentials.




American Nurses Association. (2009). Credentials for the professional nurse: Determining a standard order of credentials for the professional nurse. Silver Springs, MD: Author. [Context Link]


American Nurses Credentialing Center. (2013). How to display your credentials. Silver Springs, MD: American Nurses Association. [Context Link]