Ever wonder why you might think about earning a certification? In honor of Certified Nurses Day, we asked Karen S. Kesten, DNP, RN, APRN, CCRN-K, CCNS, CNE, associate professor at George Washington University School of Nursing in Washington, DC, as well as the chair of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses Certification Corporation board of directors her opinion on the matter.

What follows is an edited version of our Q&A.

How long have you been in the nursing field and what certifications do you hold?

I have been a nurse since 1974. My first certification was in 1980 as a CCRN. Now I hold these certifications:

  1. CCNS (Acute/Critical Care Clinical Nurse Specialist, Adult) – 2004 to present
  2. CCRN-K (Acute/Critical Care Knowledge Professional, Adult) – 2015 to present
  3. CNE (Certified Nurse Educator) – 2012 to 2017


Karen-KestenWhy do you think it’s important for nurses to get certifications? What does it do for them? For the field?

It is so important that nurses become certified because it demonstrates that they have the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to provide high quality care to patients and their families. A certified nurse is a lifelong learner who cares about the quality of care they deliver. Nurses who are certified feel more confident that the care they are delivering is based on the most up-to-date evidence. Certified nurses are proud of their achievement and are role models for nurses and other health care professionals. Certification shows that nursing is a profession that cares about safety, quality, and excellence of health care delivery.

What’s the difference between board certification and being certified in a specialty?

Board certification means that certification is required for licensure, such as in the example of advanced practice registered nurses (APRN). In this case, a board of experts at the state level in the field of nursing examines the credentials and qualifications of a nurse in order to determine eligibility for licensure. Certification in a specialty indicates that a nurse has acquired additional knowledge, skills, and expertise in a specialty area of nursing such as acute and critical care.

How do you know you’re ready to become certified?

Preparation for certification requires that the nurse meet the eligibility requirements such as gaining experience in providing direct care for a required period of time for the relevant patient population. It also involves setting certification as a specific target goal, studying, and acquiring the knowledge needed to pass the certification exam. There are courses, study materials, and practice tests that can help a nurse to prepare for certification. Progress on self-assessment practice exams can help nurses know if they are ready to sit for the exam to become certified.

Do you need additional education to become certified? What are the requirements to apply?

To become certified as a critical care nurse (CCRN) or progressive care nurse (PCCN), a nurse does not need additional formal education. However, it is helpful to prepare—and there are prep courses, study materials, and practice tests that can help prepare for certification. You do need additional education at the master’s or doctoral level in order to become certified as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), such as an adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (ACNPC-AG) or adult-gerontology clinical nurse specialist (ACCNS-AG).

What does it take to maintain your certification?

Nurses who maintain their certifications must meet renewal criteria that involve continuing education and, in some cases, continuing practice experience and an unencumbered nursing license.

What have been the greatest rewards for you that happened because you earned your certification?

Earning my certification makes me feel proud of the care that I deliver; it makes me feel more confident and self-assured. Certification enables me to feel more satisfied with my career—that I’ve provided competent care. It’s also opened doors to opportunities that I might not have had otherwise. Certification has introduced me to knowledgeable compassionate nurse mentors and to a community of nurses who care about delivering excellent care to acutely and critically ill patients and their families.

What would you say to someone considering becoming certified in any field?

I would encourage anyone to seek certification in their field to demonstrate they have the competence, knowledge, and skills to excel in their profession.

Michele Wojciechowski

Michele Wojciechowski is an award-winning writer and author of the humor book Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box.

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