Important accreditations and certifications for nurses: The Credentials You Need

Being a nurse requires proper training, education, and credentials. While the main credentials are a nursing degree and RN license, there are many certifications nurses can obtain to advance their careers, demonstrate expertise, and gain skills in specialty areas of nursing. This guide will provide an overview of the important accreditations and certifications for nurses that can benefit at various stages of their career.

RN Licensure

The most basic requirement for practicing as a registered nurse is an RN license. To obtain a license, nurses must graduate from an accredited nursing program, typically an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). They must then pass the NCLEX-RN exam to receive their license. The NCLEX tests nursing skills and knowledge and ensures nurses meet competency standards. Licensure must be renewed periodically by completing continuing education courses. RN licensure allows nurses to provide basic patient care and shows they have the core nursing abilities required in their state.

Nursing Degrees

While an ADN or BSN are the minimum education required, there are additional nursing degrees nurses can pursue:

  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) – For taking on leadership roles and advanced nursing practice. Allows nurses to potentially become nurse practitioners.
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) – The terminal practice-focused degree in nursing. Prepares experts in direct care roles.
  • PhD in Nursing – The terminal research-focused degree in nursing. Allows nurses to conduct research and teach at nursing schools.

Higher nursing degrees open up opportunities in administration, research, academia, and advanced practice fields. They demonstrate a higher level of knowledge and leadership skills.

National Nursing Certifications

National nursing certifications are credentials that show expertise in a nursing specialty. Some of the most common and beneficial certifications include:

  • Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification (RN-BC) – For RNs in acute care settings
  • Critical Care Nursing Certification (CCRN) – For critical/intensive care nurses
  • Emergency Nursing Certification (CEN) – For emergency department nurses
  • Pediatric Nursing Certification (CPN) – For nurses who work with children
  • Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Certification (PMHN) – For psychiatric nurses
  • Oncology Nursing Certification (OCN) – For nurses who work with cancer patients

Earning a certification requires passing an exam in the specialty area. Maintaining the certification requires renewal every 3-5 years through reexamination or completing continuing education. National certifications stand out on a resume and allow nurses to gain expertise in their desired field.

Advanced Practice Certifications

Nurses who pursue graduate degrees can obtain advanced practice certifications:

  • Nurse Practitioner (NP) – For nurses providing advanced clinical care. Separate exams for population foci like family, adult-gerontology, pediatrics, etc.
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) – For nurses working as experts in a specialty area of care.
  • Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) – For nurses who provide care to women during pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) – For nurses who specialize in anesthesiology.

Advanced practice certifications allow nurses to prescribe medications and provide enhanced care in their field of practice. Graduate education and extensive clinical hours are required to be eligible for these certifications.

Other Valuable Nursing Credentials

  • Basic Life Support (BLS) – CPR and basic life support skills. Required for many healthcare providers.
  • Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) – For managing cardiac arrest and life-threatening incidents. Useful for ER and ICU nurses.
  • Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) – For managing emergencies in infants and children. Beneficial for pediatric nurses.
  • Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) – For nurses teaching in nursing schools and teaching patients/families.

Continuing Education for License Renewal

Nurses must renew licenses and certifications periodically. This requires completing continuing education (CE) courses and activities. CE keeps nurses up-to-date on medical advances, patient care practices, equipment, and treatments. Typical state license renewal requires 24-30 hours of CE every 2 years. Certification renewal usually needs 75 CE hours every 5 years. Staying current through CE is essential for providing the best and safest patient care.

The Value of Credentials for Nurses

Earning accreditations like degrees and certifications requires dedication but better equips nurses to succeed in their careers. The proper credentials demonstrate to employers and patients that a nurse has substantial education and specialty expertise. Licensure protects public safety by enforcing competence standards. Continuing education guarantees nurses remain current in their practices. Investing time in credentials pays dividends through enhanced job opportunities, higher salaries, and skill development. All nurses should determine the essential credentials to earn based on their career goals and commitment to professional development.


Pursuing credentials like licensure, nursing degrees, certifications, and continuing education is essential for building an impactful and meaningful nursing career. The proper accreditations show nursing competence, expertise, leadership skills, and a commitment to providing the highest quality care to patients. All nurses should assess their career ambitions and determine which credentials will help them advance in their specialty area while demonstrating their capabilities. The most successful nurses view education and certifications as a lifelong process and continue strengthening their knowledge, expertise, and skills throughout their career. Investing in the credentials that match your professional goals will equip you to provide excellent care and have a rewarding nursing career where you can make a real difference.

Leave a comment