Nursing Certification


Before obtaining a specialty nursing certification, you must first graduate from a nursing program, take a licensing exam, and apply for your license. For all the details, check out our Nursing License FAQ.

Although a registered nurse initially graduates from a diploma, associate, or baccalaureate program, all graduate nurses must take the NCLEX national licensing examination. The examination is an online test, available from a number of testing centers throughout the US. Once you have passed the NCLEX, the next step for many nurses is a specialty certification.

Who Needs Nursing Certification?

Specialty certification is a measure of basic knowledge in a particular field. Available from either the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or professional specialty organizations like the Association of Critical Care Nurses, certification is an option for many nurses. For advanced practice nurses (APNs) like nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists, certification is also required to practice.

In What Fields Can I Obtain Certification?

Certifications are available in many fields. The certification may be related to the patient population, the practice area, or both. For example, nurse practitioners can certify in adult nursing or in adult nursing with a specialty in gerontology. Gerontology certifications are further divided into acute and primary care settings.

For NPs, a specialty certification is also available in diabetes management. RNs who are not at the advanced practice level have the option to certify in areas like ambulatory care, forensic nursing, pain management, pediatric nursing, and school nursing.

All of these certifications are available from the ANCC. Specialty certifications from professional organizations include addiction nursing, managed care nursing, legal nursing and infection control, and many others. If a nurse has the necessary qualifications, s/he may be certified in more than one area.

Certification Requirements and Renewal

Each organization that offers a specialty certification also defines the requirements to take the certification exam. For general certifications offered by the ANCC, a current RN license is required.

The candidate must have at least two years of experience as a registered nurse, at least 2,000 hours of practice in the specialty, and 30 hours of continuing education in the certification subject. APN certifications require a minimum of a master’s degree in nursing. Periodic recertification is also required; most nursing certifications are good for five years.

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