Nursing Certifications: What You Can Earn In-Person & Online

Additional nursing certifications can enhance your career and increase your potential for job offers in your specialty. Read about the top nursing certification organizations, see a full list of certifications available to nurses today, and discover which certifications can be obtained fully or partially online.

Written By

Michael Hoffman

- Bio

A former practicing attorney, Michael Hoffman has years of experience as a freelance journalist specializing in the research and writing of higher education content – from online learning to financial aid, and everything in between. Michael is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara College of Law. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael practiced for several years as a civil litigator in Los Angeles and worked in Santa Monica, California as a development executive for a major film producer.

last updated

06/03/2022

Over the last decade, certifications have taken on a more significant role in the nursing profession. As care becomes more complex, additional specialized skills and training are required. This advanced nursing knowledge results in higher quality care and better treatment outcomes for patients. The result: more and more nursing certifications.

In this guide, we take a deep dive into the ever-expanding world of nursing certifications in 2022. You’ll find useful information and links to dozens of quality certifications, many of which provide testing and other components fully or partially online. We’ve included links to other great resources as well. So, keep reading to discover how nursing certifications can deepen your specialized skills while helping you get ahead in your nursing career.

Nursing Certification vs Licensing vs Credentialing

Nursing certification, nurse licensing, and nurse credentialing: All three are important to your nursing career and all three are connected. These terms have to do with nurses as individuals and as professionals, as opposed to accreditation for nursing schools, degree and certificate programs, and other related institutions. This guide focuses on nursing certifications and the dozens of different certification types available.

But before we get into that, let’s clear up any confusion about exactly what nursing certification is and the differences between certification, licensing, and credentialing. Here’s a detailed look:

Certification

Nursing certification has to do with the formal recognition of a nurse’s demonstrated knowledge, skills, and experience in a specialized area of nursing practice as confirmed through the certification process. That process is similar for practically all certifications. It starts with the licensed nurse gaining experience in the specialty field, typically by completing a specific number of practice hours. Once all prerequisites are met, the applicant takes the certification exam. Upon passing the exam, the applicant is awarded the formal certification.

An important difference between certification and licensure is that obtaining certification is voluntary, whereas licensing is required.

Licensing

Nursing licensure is the process through which nursing regulatory agencies oversee the practice of nursing within their jurisdictions. The most common nursing license type is the Registered Nurse (RN), but there are others as well, including Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN), and Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN).

The nurse licensing process begins with successful completion of your nursing education, which could be an RN or LPN/LVN nursing diploma or college degree program. This is followed by sitting for and passing the required licensure examination (most commonly the NCLEX-RN or NCLEX-PN exam). Unlike certifications, nurse licensure is mandatory for anyone intending to practice in the U.S.

Credentialing

Nursing credentialing is a broad (some might even say generic) term that can be used to describe almost any form of nurse training or professional experience or the formal recognition of that training or experience. Nursing credentials can include, for example, licenses, certifications, nursing diplomas, college degrees, nursing certificates, or even memberships in professional organizations. Credentialing may also refer to the process used by employers to verify that a prospective employee is qualified, both legally and otherwise, to provide competent nursing services to patients.

Nursing Certifications for 2022

Certification NameOrganization & EligibilityCredential EarnedCostRenewalAvailable Online?
Certification NameOrganization & EligibilityCredential EarnedCostRenewalAvailable Online?

Additional Resources

Nursing certifications have become crucial to both quality nursing care and career advancement. Below are links to a number of excellent organizations and online guides to help you determine which certifications and other professional development might be right for you.

American Academy of Nursing (AAN)

This professional organization serves the public and nursing profession in the advancement of health policy through nursing leadership and organizational excellence. The AAN’s website provides access to a range of useful resources, including employment opportunities and Nursing Outlook, the academy’s journal.

American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN)

Not to be confused with the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, which uses the same acronym, the AACN is a national organization of nurses and the leading body for the accreditation of nursing programs in the United States. Through its website, you can access a range of quality resources, including webinars and conference webcasts.

American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN)

The other AACN, the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses is a professional nursing nonprofit dedicated to the advancement of acute and critical care nursing and provider of over a dozen nursing certifications. Access certification prep materials, including practice questions and review courses, at the website.

American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)

The ANCC is among the biggest providers of nursing certifications in the United States. Visit the website to access detailed information and preparation resources for 18 certifications.

ANA Enterprise

Founded by an alliance of the American Nurses Association and American Nurses Credentialing Center, the ANA Enterprise is dedicated to the empowerment of nurses and advancement of the nursing profession. ANA Enterprise provides certification test prep, webinars, workshops, online courses, and much more.

Certification Benefits Patients, Employers, and Nurses

From the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, this article offers a bulleted list and descriptions of the benefits of nursing certifications for nurses, healthcare providers, and patients.

How to Display Your Credentials

This helpful brochure from the ANCC explains the standard way to order and display your academic and professional credentials, including college degrees, licensure, national certifications, honors and awards, and other professional designations.

Johnson & Johnson Nursing

The Johnson & Johnson Nursing website is a clearinghouse of information on nursing topics, including nursing specialties, career guidance, nursing school resources, and much more.

Joint Commission Resources (JCR)

The JCR website offers lots of quality information and advice to nurses, including books, articles, and reports on current nursing issues; standards and guides to nursing practice; research on the role of nurses in patient safety; and more. You’ll also find an excellent nursing blog.

Licensure, Certification, and Accreditation

This article from The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing offers a detailed explanation of the similarities, differences, and interconnectivity between nursing licensure, certification, and accreditation.

Lippincott NursingCenter

The Lippincott NursingCenter website provides access to more than 70 nursing journals, continuing education, and career and clinical resources. There’s also a link to an excellent blog with entries on nursing education, careers, leadership, patient care, and more.

National Certification Corporation (NCC)

The NCC is another major provider of nursing certifications. Visitors to this site can access information on all NCC certifications, including candidate guides, exam and certification maintenance materials, and more.

National League for Nursing (NLN)

The NLN is a professional organization representing nursing education programs in the U.S. and focused on the development of nursing education faculty and leaders. The NLN website offers preparation resources for its two certifications for nurse educators.

Nursing Career Advancement: 8 Ways to Stand Out in Your Scrubs

Informative article from Rasmussen University offering information and advice on ways to advance your nursing career, including pursuing a nursing certification.

Raising the Bar: Why Board Certification for RNs Matters

This white paper from the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing details nursing certifications and their importance both to nurses and to healthcare organizations.

Reap the Benefits of Certification

This brief but excellent article from the American Journal of Nursing discusses the advantages of nursing certifications and provides useful advice for preparing for and passing certification exams.

Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing (Sigma)

Sigma is dedicated to nursing education and the nursing profession worldwide. Members have access to a variety of valuable resources, including professional development courses, career mentors and advisors, a job board, and discounts to Sigma events.

What You Need to Know About Nursing Licensure and Boards of Nursing

This brochure from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing provides a good overall picture of the roles and responsibilities of state boards of nursing, including the evaluation of nurse licensure applications, the issuance and renewal of nurse licenses, and more.