Top 5 Nursing Certifications to Advance Your RN Career

  • Benjamin Caleb Williams
  • |

As a registered nurse (RN), becoming more knowledgeable in different areas of healthcare is an excellent way to make yourself stand out as a valuable provider not only in the workplace but also in the eyes of your patients. Whether you work as a staff member in a hospital, inside a school, or you work as a travel nurse, earning nursing certifications is one of the best ways of advancing your career without going back to school for a degree program.

What are Nursing Certifications?

Nursing certifications are an underutilized tool that RNs have to stand out from their peers and promote their professional development. A nursing certification is issued by a certifying board and indicates that the nurse has an advanced level of competency in a specific area of healthcare. Certifications shouldn’t be confused with certificates, which are not issued by a professional nursing board and are typically obtained by successfully completing a course offered by a company or organization. Certifications almost always require an exam and often have additional requirements. Nurses who successfully obtain a certification indicate this by affixing the initials of the certification after their signature, along with their other professional post-nominal titles.

Why Do Nurses Get Certified?

Nurses pursue and achieve certifications to further their professional opportunities and enhance their professional reputation. Nursing certifications prove that a nurse has a high level of knowledge and experience in their clinical specialty. This allows them to stand out for new positions in that specialty and indicates that they are an authoritative source in that field. In addition to the career development benefits, many nurses pursue specialty certifications for the personal satisfaction and validation of their nursing skills that it provides.

What Nursing Certifications Are the Best?

Determining which nursing certification is best is different for each individual nurse. Certifications indicate a high level of clinical knowledge and experience in a specific field, and the certification that is best for a specific nurse depends greatly upon that nurse’s desired area of practice and their career goals. While each nurse may have differing career goals and practice preferences, there are some nursing certifications that stand out because of the fields they include and because of the experience and knowledge that they represent. The 5 certifications below have been proven to aid in the advancement of nursing careers, both in the potential for higher earnings and the likelihood of advancement into new roles. Let’s see what they are all about!

Certified Nurse Manager & Leader (CNML)

The Certified Nurse Manager and Leader (CNML) certification indicates a high level of clinical knowledge and experience in nursing leadership. This credential is provided by the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) and the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN). To be eligible for the CNML certification a nurse must pass the examination for this certification and be an RN with two-to-five years of experience as a nurse manager, depending upon the level of nursing and other professional education they have. Because leadership is an important role in nursing, many nurses consider this to be one of the top nursing certifications available.

Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN)

The CCRN certification is a professional credential provided by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN). Obtaining the CCRN certification requires successfully passing an examination on the subject of critical care nursing, in addition to having a certain amount of experience caring for acutely or critically ill patients. The experience requirements are either 1750 hours within the last two years or 2000 hours within the last five years, with certain minimum amounts within the year preceding application. Critical care nursing is typically recognized as the field requiring the most clinical knowledge in nursing, and nurses with this certification are considered to be among the most knowledgeable nurses in the profession.

Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN)

The Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) credential is provided by the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN) and provides evidence of a high level of clinical knowledge and experience in emergency nursing. Obtaining the CEN certification requires successful completion of an exam. There is no minimum number of clinical hours that are necessary to take this exam, but the BCEN highly recommends at least two years of emergency nursing experience and warns that those who have less experience are unlikely to pass the exam. While critical care nursing requires a deep knowledge of complex diseases, emergency nurse requires a broad understanding of many diseases. Emergency nursing is considered one of the most difficult fields of nursing, and certification in this specialty is highly desirable.

Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN)

The Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN) certification is administered by the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) and indicates a high level of experience in pediatric nursing. Obtaining the CPN credential requires successful completion of an examination and either 1800 hours of experience in pediatric nursing within the last two years or 3000 hours of experience, with at least 10000 hours being within the last two years. Pediatric nursing involves a high level of specialized knowledge that is applicable to a large population. Because the CPN can be applied to pediatric populations within many different fields of nursing, it is considered one of the more important nursing certifications.

Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN)

The Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN) credential is provided by the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC). This certification indicates that the nurse has a high level of clinical knowledge in oncology. Achieving this certification requires successful completion of an exam, as well as a minimum of two years of experience as an RN, a minimum of 2000 hours of adult oncology practice within the last four years, and a minimum of 10 contact hours of continuing nursing education in oncology or an academic elective in oncology nursing within the last three years. Because oncology is such a specialized and difficult field within nursing, and because this certification has so many requirements, it is one of the more desirable certifications that a nurse can obtain.

Regardless of the area in which you choose to become certified in, nursing certifications affirm and validate a nurse’s competence and expertise, and are one way to demonstrate the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for career advancement as an RN.

Benjamin Caleb Williams

Meet The Author

Caleb is an Ivy League-educated nurse consultant with a strong clinical background, including supervisory positions within ICU and ER settings. In addition to his clinical work, Caleb practices as an expert nurse consultant and nurse writer, having written hundreds of healthcare-related articles and blog posts. He is a member of the Emergency Nurses Association and the American Association of Critical Care Nurses and holds multiple advanced certifications in emergency and trauma nursing.

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