Certified Nurses: The Importance of Becoming Certified

Certified Nurses: The Importance of Becoming Certified

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

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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.

What’s Your Specialty in Nursing? Up Your Expert Status!

What’s Your Specialty in Nursing? Up Your Expert Status!

Are you to the go-to person when someone on your unit has an obscure question about heart disease? Or is newborn care one of your specialties? If colleagues come to you for your specialty in nursing expertise, why not take some steps to establish yourself as an expert in your field?

How do you do that? Becoming known as an expert in your field isn’t an overnight process, but it will bring your career added clout.

Become Certified

If you can obtain specialty certification in your area of expertise, do it. Obtaining certification will back up the knowledge you already have with official credentials. It takes some time to get certified and you do have to pass the exam, but it’s worth it.

Network with Others

Join a professional organization that matches your interests if you can. Joining a nurses organization will help you network with other nurses, but they likely have a subcommittee or subgroup that is in your area of specialty. If you don’t find a group that meets regularly to talk about your issues, suggest starting one.

Share What You Know

Find a way to share your knowledge among colleagues, other professionals, patients, or the general public. Host a lunch seminar, a nighttime talk, or a weekend discussion group at the library, your local hospital, an elementary or secondary school, a university, or a nearby professional organization or company. Establishing yourself as an expert involves educating others and sharing your knowledge about a particular topic. The more you run your own information sessions, the more comfortable you’ll be in front of people. And the more people will associate your name with your specialty.


If you can fit it into your schedule, teach a class or ask if you can become a guest lecturer. Is your specialty high blood pressure? See if you’re qualified to work in a college. Adding this kind of experience to your resume builds your credibility.

Write an Op-Ed

Are rates of childhood obesity (your specialty) increasing in your region? Write a heart-felt and evidence-backed editorial for a newspaper. Many local papers and even some larger ones accept editorials from professionals who have the expert credentials and point of view.

Start a Blog

Whatever your specialty is, you know there are a lot of people out there who are also interested in the same topic. Whether it’s something far reaching like post-surgical care to something more obscure like a rare disease, there’s an audience who wants information. Start a blog with your observations, your tips, personal stories, and new findings. Let people know about it and the followers will find you.

Be Available to Talk

Ask your organization if they have protocol for naming you as an expert spokesperson to the press. Reporters are always looking for credible, personable experts for stories and frequently approach hospitals or health care organizations, universities, or professional organizations to find them. Try to position yourself once you have the required experience under your belt.

Yes, there’s some effort involved in establishing yourself as an expert, but if you already have loads of knowledge about a specific subject, it probably won’t be that much of a reach for you. In addition to being great for jump-starting your career and opening up opportunities, you’ll probably bring in a higher salary as well.