1. McCarron, Kim MS, RN, CRNP

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To achieve your goal of becoming an RN, you endured the challenges of the nursing curricula, mastered information, acquired practical skills, and developed professionalism. Degree in hand, you then took the NCLEX, which measured entry-level competence. You may have entered the workforce as a novice, but you've gained experience and evolved; you now possess a depth of knowledge. Although state licensure provides legal authority to practice, certification validates expertise and mastery of clinical knowledge in a specialty area of practice.


Certification demonstrates to your patients, peers, and employers that you engage in professional growth and possess credibility and expertise in a specific area of nursing practice. The intrinsic rewards of attaining this goal are linked to personal development, confidence in clinical abilities, and enhancement of professional autonomy. Certification clearly gives you an edge in being considered for promotion or when seeking a position in a specialty unit.


Many institutions reward certification with an increase in salary and career advancement opportunities. In fact, a survey conducted by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) revealed that certified nurses earn an average of $9,000 more than their peers who aren't board certified. You may be recognized for your achievement in the institutional newsletter or on a plaque listing certified nurses. If Magnet status is being considered, the number of certified nurses employed at your institution is one of the key criteria that reflect excellence in nursing practice.


Clearly, challenges and barriers to certification exist. Preparing for the exam is a grueling and time-consuming process. The test is costly, as are the preparation courses and materials. Although many employers reimburse you for the exam fee, most don't provide paid time off for testing.

Figure. Demonstrate ... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Demonstrate your expertise with certification.

After you weigh the benefits and barriers and decide that clinical certification is an investment in your career that's right for you, it's wise to develop a plan. You may begin the process by exploring the ANCC website and investigating the options under certification. Select an area of interest and determine your eligibility. A master's degree is needed to attain certification as a nurse practitioner, clinical specialist, or advanced practice nurse; however, the majority of specialties require a current, active RN license and 2 years full-time practice as an RN or equivalent. Many specify a set number of continuing education units and hours worked in the specialty as well. You'll find variability in the exam costs depending on membership in professional organizations, with the American Nurses Association membership offering you the deepest testing discount.


The ANCC offers computer-based testing with many resources to help you prepare for the exam. If you prefer to take an exam using pencil and paper, there are organizations that offer this option. Medical-surgical nurses who are exploring certification should be aware that the ANCC isn't their only option; the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses provides a certification exam in the specialty of medical-surgical nursing.


Regardless of the path you choose to take, certification is a means to enhance your own professional practice specialty.


Learn more about it


AJN. 2009 career guide: your guide to certification.


American Nurses Credentialing Center. ANCC nurse certification.