In a June 2021 press release, the Association of American Medical Colleges projected a shortage of up to 124,000 physicians by 2034. This void presents an opportunity to consider the benefits of nursing certification. Registered nurses who already have their Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree can advance their careers and expand upon the services they’re able to deliver as primary care providers by becoming certified nurse practitioners (NPs).
Today, nurses can earn a post-master’s certificate in any of several NP concentrations — such as pediatrics, family health, women’s health, psychiatric mental health, or adult gerontology — entirely online in as few as 20 months.
While becoming licensed is a requirement for nurses to work in a particular state, certification is a type of add-on that’s valued by nurses, their employers, and their patients. If licensure guarantees that a nurse has the qualifications to deliver a level of care, certification is focused on a nurse’s specialized ability and competence, providing a powerful means to distinguish nurses from their peers. Among the benefits of earning a post-master’s nursing certificate are: being better positioned for professional advancement with the ability to climb the clinical ladder; an enhanced sense of confidence in one’s capability to deliver a high level of professional care; and validation of one’s knowledge base to employers and patients.
What Is a Certified Nurse?
Certification and licensure are both nursing qualifications, but certification represents a further step in professional development. So what is a certified nurse? A certified nurse has completed specific educational requirements and passed an exam to demonstrate advanced knowledge and skills within a specialized field of nursing. This can serve as further validation of a nurse’s ability to deliver a level of quality care that can potentially improve patient outcomes.
While a license from a state licensing board is required for a nurse to practice in that state, certification is voluntary and is granted by a certifying organization. While these two credentials differ in several ways, they have similar renewal requirements. These requirements allow nurses to remain current in their knowledge of the latest practices and innovations in health care as the field evolves.
Types of Nursing Certifications
Several different types of nursing certifications are available. These certifications often correspond to an individual’s level of nursing experience and their specific duties. Certifications can help advanced practice nurses, such as nurse practitioners, as well as other nursing professionals like licensed practical nurses and registered nurses, refine skills that are considered in demand.
Some of the nursing certifications available for licensed practical nurses are:
- Wound Care — Focuses on wound treatment and assessment, including determining whether additional clinical intervention is required
- IV Therapy — Focuses on techniques pertaining to blood withdrawal and intravenous (IV) therapy
Some of the nursing certifications available for registered nurses are:
- Holistic Nursing — Focuses on proactive care emphasizing health and wellness
- Nursing Informatics — Centers on the integration of health care, technology, and health care information management
The certifications for nurse practitioners typically focus on providing care delivery to a specific patient demographic. These certifications include:
- Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP) — Care delivery for children of all ages
- Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) — Care delivery for patients throughout their lifespan
- Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP) — Care delivery focused on women’s health and women’s health issues
- Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) — Care delivery focused on patients of all ages dealing with mental health concerns
- Adult Gerontology-Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AG-PCNP) — Primary care delivery for adults of all ages, including the development of health and wellness strategies
- Adult Gerontology-Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AG-ACNP) — Care delivery for adults of all ages dealing with sudden health care issues
How to Become a Certified Nurse
For those wondering how to become a certified nurse, the first step is to complete the educational requirements for the nursing role associated with the desired certification. For example, a common first step to becoming a certified NP is to earn a master’s degree from an accredited program. From there, graduates can complete a post-master’s certificate program and take a certification exam through one of several certification boards. These boards include the American Nurses Credentialing Center, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, and the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board, among others.
Nursing has many levels of patient care. Nurses can enter the field with an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) and can choose to continue their education on the way to earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Nurses who have a nonclinical Master of Science in Nursing or who are nurse practitioners might consider an online post-master’s certificate program in a primary care specialty like gerontology, women’s health, mental health, family practice, or pediatrics.
Some certificate programs are available entirely online. Students can complete the coursework in less than two years and prepare to take the certification exam to add the extra specialty to their practice or prepare to practice autonomously.
Once the degree is earned, nurses need to ensure they carry an active license in their state of practice. The process to obtain a license varies by state, making it important for prospective nurses to be familiar with their state’s licensing requirements and procedures beforehand.
What Are the Benefits of Nursing Certifications?
The projected physician shortage correlates with a nursing shortage that is expected to last until 2030. There are several reasons for this shortage, including an aging population and turnover in the nursing workforce. Further illustrating the need for nurses, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipates 40% job growth in the advanced practice nurse category, which includes nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives. This far outpaces the average 5% growth the BLS predicts for all occupations.
Certification positions NPs to pursue any of a host of specialized career opportunities throughout the health care industry, including at hospitals, outpatient care centers, and educational service programs. These roles could enable NPs to impact health care’s future in a more direct way.
The BLS confirms that most NPs enjoy the stability of working normal business hours, which can be of particular interest to those concerned about potential burnout. NPs can also receive significant financial benefits, with a median annual salary of $120,680 in 2021, the BLS reports.
The benefits of nursing certification also go beyond the nursing profession itself. Certified NPs can use their knowledge and skills to build safer, more efficient care delivery environments, helping to reduce medical errors, lower health care costs, and, most importantly, increase the potential for improved patient outcomes.
Acquire Your Nursing Certification Online and Become a Certified Nurse
Nurses at every level can be valuable assets in providing optimal patient care. Pursuing certification can help nurses gain the expertise they need to guide patients through complex issues at various stages of their lives. In a landscape where skilled nurses are urgently needed due to staffing shortages, choosing to pursue nursing certification online can yield benefits both for individual nurses and the health care industry as a whole.
Regis College’s online post-master’s certificate program offers a cutting-edge curriculum that can be completed entirely online. Coursework prepares nurses to pursue an advanced practice role in one of six specializations: Family Nurse Practitioner, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner, Adult Gerontology-Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, Adult Gerontology-Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, or Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner.
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