Career Development

Why and Where to Pursue Nursing Certification

Where to Pursue Nursing Certifications

8 key benefits plus the full list of nursing specialty certification programs

By Debra Wood, RN, contributor

Each year, nurses across the country earn or renew nursing specialty certifications, a national recognition of a nurse’s skill, knowledge and experience. 

“Nurses can validate their competency, a mastery of knowledge, skills and ability, through certification,” said Michele Dickens, PhD, RN, online RN-to-BSN program director at Campbellsville University in Kentucky. “Through recertification, they can meet ongoing learning and practice requirements.”

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8 benefits of nurse certification

Increased earnings and opportunities. The National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA) identifies many benefits to nursing certification, including higher nursing salaries, greater prestige and enhanced job opportunities. 

Career advancement. “Employers value certification, and certification can lead to career advancements through clinical ladders or promotions,” said Lynn Orser, MSN, RN, PCCN, CCRN, critical care educator at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport, Conn., and a member of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). 

Proficiency in your nursing specialty. Deborah Lorick. RN, MSN-MPH, OCN, CMSRN, a nurse manager at Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster, Calif., added, “We feel [certification] promotes excellence in nursing and demonstrates a knowledge and proficiency in your specialty.”

Expertise to handle complex cases. Antelope Valley CNO Aya Smith, RN, MSN, CCRN, indicated that she would like to hire more certified nurses and elevate current nurses’ knowledge with certification. Nursing is becoming more complex, she explained, and certified nurses have the expertise to care for patients with multifaceted needs and disease processes. It also elevates the hospital’s service lines to employ certified nurses.

Career mobility (including more job offers). Linda Roney, EdD, RN-BC, CPEN, CNE, an assistant professor at the EGAN School of Nursing and Health Studies at Fairfield University in Connecticut, obtained her first pediatric certification to validate her knowledge and expertise. Her later emergency pediatric nurse certification led to greater career mobility and opportunities. She said certification can move your application ahead, whether at a hospital or with a travel nurse recruiter. 

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Registered nurse certification also creates a more productive workforce for employers and protects patients, according to NOCA. 

Better patient outcomes. Linda Aiken, PhD, RN, FAAN, at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing in Philadelphia, published a study in Journal of Nursing Scholarship in 2011 that found nursing specialties certification was linked with better patient outcomes and improved quality of care. Specifically, a 10 percent increase in nurses with certification was associated with a 2 percent decrease in 30-day mortality. 

Essential step in professional development and leadership. William Rosa, MS, RN, LMT, AGPCNP-BC, AHN-BC, CCRNCMC, a palliative medicine fellow at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, and an ANCC member, added that he considers nursing certification “an essential part of professional development” and the “first step in being an advocate, change agent, leader and expert.”

Continual learning through recertification. Through the renewal process, registered nurse certifications promote continued learning and help to advance the nursing profession, added Marianne Horahan, MBA, MPH, RN, NEA-BC, CPHQ, director of certification services at the American Nurses Credentialing Center.  

“Certification creates a framework where you achieve professional fitness through lifelong learning,” Horahan said.

Join the growing trend of nursing certifications

AACN reports that more than 750,000 nurses in the United States and Canada held certifications in 2016, which was an increase of more than 51,000, or 7 percent, over 2015, according to data collected by the American Board of Nursing Specialties. 

Different organizations offer a variety of certifications, and each certification may have differing requirements for experience in the specialty and educational level before a candidate can sit for an exam. In addition to registered nurse certification, some boards also offer certification for LPNs/LVNs and advance practice nurses.

Dickens advised nurses to carefully consider their goals and the requirements of the certification they are seeking. Roney said many healthcare employers support certification and will reimburse for the preparation course or test, but the exams and certifying bodies may be limited. She recommended nurses check with their employers first and take advantage of certification benefits.

“Go for it,” Roney said. “Put the time into studying. Your patients are worth it, and you are certainly worth it.”

Nursing Certifications Available

Addictions Nursing Certification Board

CARN – Certified Addictions Registered Nurse


American Association of Critical Care Nurses Certification Corporation

CRN – Acute/Critical Care Nursing (Adult, Pediatric & Neonatal)

CCRN-E – Tele-ICU Acute/Critical Care Nursing (Adult)

PCCN – Progressive Care Nursing (Adult)

CNML – Nurse Manager and Leader

CCRN-K – Acute/Critical Care Knowledge Professional (Adult, Pediatric & Neonatal)

PCCN-K – Progressive Care Knowledge Professional (Adult)


Subspecialty Certifications

CMC – Cardiac Medicine (Adult)

CSC – Cardiac Surgery (Adult)


Advanced practice certifications also available

American Association of Diabetes Educators

BC-ADM – Board Certified-Advanced Diabetes Management


American Association of Heart Failure Nurses

CHFN – Certified Heart Failure Nurse

CHFN-K – Non-Clinical Certified Heart Failure Nurse


American Board of Managed Care Nursing

CMCN – Certification in Managed Care Nursing


American Board of Neuroscience Nursing

CNRN – Certified Neuroscience Registered Nurse

SCRN – Stroke Certified Registered Nurse


American Board of Certification for Gastroenterology Nurses

CGRN – Certified Gastroenterology Registered Nurse


American Board for Occupational Health Nurses

COHN – Certified Occupational Health Nurse

COHN-S – Certified Occupational Health Nurse-Specialist

CM – Occupational Health Nursing Case Management


American Board of Perianesthesia Nursing

CAPA – Certified Ambulatory Perianesthesia Nurse

CPAN – Certified Post Anesthesia Nurse


American Correctional Association

CNN – Certified Corrections Nurse

CNN/M – Certified Corrections Nurse/Manager

CHSA – Certified Health Service Administrator 

CBHC – Correctional Behavioral Health Certification 


American Holistic Nurses Credentialing Corporation

HN-BC – Holistic Nurse, Board Certified

HNB-BC – Holistic Baccalaureate Nurse, Board Certified

AHN-BC – Advanced Holistic Nurse, Board Certified

APHN-BC – Advanced Practice Holistic Nurse, Board Certified

NC-BC – Nurse Coach, Board Certified

HWNC-BC – Health and Wellness Nurse Coach, Board Certified


American Legal Nurse Consultant Certification Board

LNCC – Legal Nurse Consultant Certified


American Nurses Credentialing Center

Specialty Certifications RN-BC:

Ambulatory Care Nursing

Cardiac-Vascular Nursing

Faith Community Nursing

Gerontological Nursing

Genetics Nursing - Advanced

Hemostasis Nursing

Informatics Nursing

Medical-Surgical Nursing

Nursing Case Management

Nursing Professional Development

Pain Management Nursing

Pediatric Nursing

Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing

Public Health Nursing - Advanced

Rheumatology Nursing

School Nursing


Advance practice specialty certifications also available for:

Nurse Practitioners (NPs) and 

Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs)


American Organization of Nurse Executives

CENP – Certified in Executive Nursing Practice

CNML – Certified Nurse Manager and Leader 


Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing

CEN – Certified Emergency Nurse

CFRN – Certified Flight Registered Nurse

CPEN – Certified Pediatric Emergency Nurse

CTRN – Certified Transport Registered Nurse

TCRN – Trauma Certified Registered Nurse 


Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology

CIC – Certified in Infection Control


Certification Board for Urologic Nurses and Associates

CUNP – Certified Urologic Nurse Practitioner

CURN – Certified Urologic Registered Nurse

CUA – Urologic Associate 


Commission on Nurse Certification 

CNL – Clinical Nurse Leader


Competency & Credentialing Institute

CNOR – Certified Nurse, Operating Room

CRNFA – Certified Registered Nurse First Assistant

CNS-CP – Clinical Nurse Specialist Perioperative Certification


Dermatology Nursing Certification Board

DNC – Dermatology Nurse Certified


HIV/AIDS Nursing Certification Board

ACRN – HIV/AIDS Certified Registered Nurse

AACRN – Advanced HIV/AIDS Certified Registered Nurse


Hospice & Palliative Credentialing Center

CHPN – Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse

ACHPN – Advanced Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse

CHPPN – Certified Hospice and Palliative Pediatric Nurse


Infusion Nurses Certification Corporation

CRNI – Certified Registered Nurse Infusion


International Association of Forensic Nurses

SANE-A – Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner-Adult/Adolescent

SANE-P – Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner-Pediatric

AFN-BC – Advanced Forensic Nursing


Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board

CCCTM – Certified in Care Coordination and Transition Management

CMSRN – Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse


National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists

CRNA – Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist


National Asthma Education Certification Board

AE-C – Certified Asthma Educator


National Association for Healthcare Quality

CPHQ – Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality


National Board for Certification of School Nurses

NCSN – National Certified School Nurse


National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators

CDE – Certified Diabetes Educator


The National Certification Corporation

RNC-OB – Inpatient Obstetric Nursing

RNC-MNN – Maternal Newborn Nursing

RNC-LRN – Low Risk Neonatal Nursing

RNC-NIC – Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing



C-EFM – Electronic Fetal Monitoring

C-NPT – Neonatal Pediatric Transport


National Certifying Board for Ophthalmic Registered Nurses

CRNO – Certification for Registered Nurses of Ophthalmology


National Certifying Board of Otorhinolaryngology and Head-Neck Nurse

CORLN – Certified Otorhinolaryngology Nurse


National Commission on Correctional Health Care

CCHP-RN – Certified Correctional Health Professional-RN

CCHP-A – Certified Correctional Health Professional-Advanced


National League for Nursing 

CNE – Certified Nurse Educator


Nephrology Nursing Certification Commission

CNN – Certified Nephrology Nurse

CDN – Certified Dialysis Nurse


Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation

AOCN – Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse

CPON – Certified Pediatric Oncology Nurse

OCN – Oncology Certified Nurse

CPHON – Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse

CBCN – Certified Breast Care Nurse

BMTCN – Blood & Marrow Transplant Certified Nurse


Orthopaedic Nurses Certification Board

ONC – Orthopaedic Nurse Certified


Pediatric Nursing Certification Board

CPN – Certified Pediatric Nurse

CPEN – Certified Pediatric Emergency Nurse

PMHS – Pediatric Primary Care Mental Health Specialist


Plastic Surgical Nursing Certification Board

CPSN – Certified Plastic Surgical Nurse

CANS – Certified Aesthetic Nurse Specialist


Radiologic Nursing Certification Board

CRN – Certified Radiologic Nurse


Rehabilitation Nursing Certification Board

CRRN – Certified Rehabilitation Registered Nurse


Society for Clinical Research Excellence

CCRP – Certified Clinical Research Professional


Wound Ostomy and Continence Nursing Certification Board

CCCN – Certified Continence Care Nurse

COCN – Certified Ostomy Care Nurse

CWCN – Certified Wound Care Nurse

CWOCN – Certified Wound Ostomy Continence Nurse

CWON – Certified Wound Ostomy Nurse

CFCN – Certified Foot Care Nurse


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