In the U.S. health care system, demand for nurse practitioners (NPs) is rising much faster than demand for registered nurses (RNs). NP jobs will jump by 46% over the next decade, compared with 6% for RNs, according to projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
That surging demand creates excellent opportunities for RNs to enhance their impact on health care by transitioning to a career as an NP.
Pursuing nursing certification is a key transitional step on the path to becoming an NP. The following bodies administer certification exams for aspiring NPs:
- American Nurses Credentialing Center
- American Association of Nurse Practitioners
- National Certification Corporation
- Pediatric Nursing Certification Board
Most states require a nationally recognized certification to get licensed as an NP, but certifications offer RNs several other advantages as well. Individuals who are already NPs can earn nursing certifications to deepen their expertise in a specific area, such as women’s health.
Ultimately, understanding the reasons to pursue certification can help nurses who want to advance their careers and deepen their expertise in the field. An advanced education, such as a MSN Certificate, can help prepare nurses looking to take the next step in their careers.
1. Professional Advancement for RNs
An NP, or other advanced practice registered nurse, is an RN who has earned a graduate degree in nursing: at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), along with at least one advanced practice certification.
Those credentials can open up numerous benefits for RNs seeking to take the next step in their careers.
The median annual salary for NPs was $120,680 in 2021, according to the BLS. That’s a substantial step up from the median annual salary for RNs, which was $77,600.
NP certifications authorize a practitioner to provide a broader array of services than an RN, often independent of physician oversight, such as:
- Diagnosis and treatment
- Ordering tests and analyzing lab results
- Prescribing medication
NPs are less likely than RNs to work 12-hour shifts or on weekends. Approximately 60% of RNs work in hospitals, according to the BLS. By contrast, 61% of NPs work in physicians’ or other outpatient offices during weekday hours.
2. Professional Advancement for NPs
An NP is certified to work in a specific area of medicine, such as family practice. To add another specialty area to their practice, an NP typically needs additional certification. Specialized nursing certifications can offer various professional rewards for existing NPs.
Advanced Clinical Career Paths
Certifications can help an NP move up the ladder. Common career paths for NPs with additional certifications include the following:
- Nurse educator: Trains other nurses and health care personnel
- Health policy specialist: Helps set policies for organizations and government agencies
- Chief nursing officer: Oversees all nursing operations at a health care facility
Increased Salary Potential
Several NP specialties offer higher salaries than family practice, according to Payscale. For example, a psychiatric NP typically earns 7% more, while NPs specializing in acute care or women’s health earn 5% more.
Broader Job Opportunities
Earning an NP certification can open up jobs at a wider range of health care facilities. Depending on the specialization, they can include outpatient clinics, emergency rooms, and mental health centers.
Getting an advanced nursing certification can move an NP into a specialized field, allowing them to align their career with their interests and potentially help a particular patient population. Key nursing specializations include the following:
- Pediatrics: Cares for patients from infancy to young adulthood
- Adult gerontology: Provides care to patients from adolescence through the end of life and includes subspecialties in primary care and acute care
- Family practice: Sees people of all ages, sometimes as their primary care provider
- Psychiatric mental health: Treats patients with mental illnesses and emotional disorders
- Women’s health: Provides care in gynecology, obstetrics, and breast and cervical cancers
4. Improved Patient Care
Nursing certifications benefit patients and hospitals as well as nurses. Certifications equip nurses to contribute to better care, including preventive care, and to improved patient outcomes.
Fewer Hospital Stays
A 2018 study in Medical Care showed that primary care NPs had lower rates of hospital admissions, readmissions, and emergency department admissions than primary care physicians.
Reduced Medical Errors
A program at 515 nursing homes, sponsored by the Indiana University Center for Aging Research, had NPs examine residents who had just returned from hospital stays. The NPs identified errors in more than half the cases, reducing repeat hospitalizations by 21%.
Improved Patient Outcomes
A 2021 review in the International Journal of Nursing Studies Advances found that NPs saw superior patient outcomes compared to physicians in areas such as physical function, indigestion, and blood pressure control, as well as patient satisfaction.
A 2019 study in Nursing Economic$ found that the average costs per patient were lower for NPs than for physicians on several fronts:
- Total outpatient facility cost: $5,469 less per patient
- Primary care consultation: $178 less per patient
- Total lab cost: $44 less per patient
5. Higher Confidence and Respect
NP certifications can also lead to psychological and social rewards for nurses.
Prestige Among Colleagues
Co-workers, supervisors, and patients recognize nursing certifications as proof that an NP has mastered a medical specialty. Because NPs have to periodically get recertified, they also demonstrate that they’re keeping up with the latest information, treatments, and best practices in their fields.
Certification in a specialty can boost self-confidence in NPs, knowing that the training has prepared them for complex and challenging medical problems. A 2015 study in the Journal of Trauma Nursing found that more than 90% of NPs connected certification with feelings of personal accomplishment, professional growth, and attainment of a practice standard.
In a survey of 2,006 NPs by the news service Medscape, 96% said they were glad that they had chosen the field. They cited their greatest positives as helping people, having patient relationships, and working to the full extent of their education.
6. Convenience and Time
RNs and NPs have the option to continue working while studying for nursing certification. Online programs offer flexibility that allows nurses to earn certification in a relatively short period of time, often less than two years.
- An RN with an MSN can earn a post-master’s certificate in as little as 20 months.
- An NP with an MSN can earn a certificate in as little as 12 months.
A significant advantage is that a nurse can transfer eligible credit hours from their MSN to their certificate program.
Advance Your Health Care Career with Nursing Certifications
Whether you’re an RN or an NP, nursing certifications can move your career to a higher level. A program like the post master’s certificate nurse practitioner online at Regis College can equip you with the knowledge and experience to work in a specialty field of health care in about 12 to 20 months.
The Regis program prepares students to sit for various leading certification exams. Learn more about how Regis College can help you pursue your professional goals and make a meaningful impact on people’s lives as an advanced practice nurse.