In honor of Certified Nurses Day (on March 19), Minority Nurse interviewed Katherine Houle, MSN, APRN, FNP-BC, CNN-NP and executive director of the Nephrology Nursing Certification Commission (NNCC) and Sandy Bodin, MA, RN, CNN and president of NNCC, to find out why certification is such an essential component of career growth and excellent patient care.

Certification helps nurses achieve an expertise level of understanding of a specialty topic. Whether it’s a nursing student planning out a long career or an experienced nurse who wants to advance to a new level, understanding the benefits of ¬†certification is part of a nurse’s career journey.

“Nurses are first introduced to the importance of certification in their nursing program at college when they are taught about the concepts of life-long learning and professionalism,” says Houle. “Typically, as nurses begin their careers, they tend to gravitate toward a specialty. As they become more proficient in that specialty, they often choose to become certified.”

Nurses may choose certification in more than one specialty as each shows a commitment and a proficiency to their roles and their patients. The credential is also a way to outwardly acknowledge a nurse’s advanced skill set and knowledge in a particular area. That easy-to-see credential is valuable to anyone the nurse may interact with–patients, peers, leadership, and the wider nursing community. “This certification enables nurses to demonstrate their expertise in that specialty and validate their knowledge to employers and patients,” says Bodin.

Because certification is confirmation of a nurse’s proficiency in a specialty, patients find credentials signal professional expertise. And nurses take pride in knowing they are taking extra steps to provide the most advanced and up-to-date patient care possible. “Researchers have found a positive relationship between nurse certification, patient satisfaction, and patient outcomes,” says Houle. “Certified nurses report increased confidence, competence, credibility, and control.” And fellow nurses also look to their certified peers as leaders and experts in their specialty. That expectation can open the doors to professional opportunities and collaborations that benefit the nursing industry as a whole.

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Nurses are also aware that as a whole, the more certification among a team, the better patient outcomes will be. “The purpose of certification in nursing includes protecting the public from unsafe and incompetent providers, giving consumers more choices in selecting health care providers, distinguishing among levels of caregivers, and giving better-trained providers a competitive advantage,” says Bodin. “Certification has been shown to positively affect patients and nurses.”

The process of becoming certified does take work, and nurses may find taking on extra work daunting, especially when their work is demanding. But many nursing leaders want to remind nurses that the certification exam requires a certain amount of real-world experience before it can be taken. By that point, nurses known the information as they are likely doing the work every day. “Most certification programs require a certain number of hours worked in the specialty prior to applying for certification,” says Bodin.

Nurses dedicated to the credentialing process understand that they need to dedicate some time to the process. ¬†“There is a significant commitment in time and effort to become certified,” says Houle. “It takes time to gain expertise in the nursing specialty and an effort to obtain advanced nursing knowledge to demonstrate the skills needed for certification.” Like many other credentials across different industries, once nurses are certified, they should plan to renew that credential as required (the length of time a certification is valid differs by specialty). “Continuing education hours, along with current, ongoing work experience is needed to maintain certification,” she says. “This ensures that the nurse is keeping up with rapid changes in the field.”

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When nurses look at long-term career growth, certification offers many benefits. Like a degree, certification isn’t tied to a certain role or organization. As a nurse changes jobs, that certification continues to signal a commitment to professionalism and providing the best patient care. A certification may not bring an instant salary boost, but it can be used as leveraging power during a review or when applying for a different position.

Many organizations also celebrate nurses as they earn their certification as a way to show public recognition of and appreciation for the extra work that a certification requires. This week’s Certified Nurses Day is one way to recognize all that extra work.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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