Why You Should Become a Certified Nurse

Are you looking for your next challenge as a nurse?

Are you feeling like you've plateaued a bit and need a new professional goal to work towards? 

Are you passionate about a certain specialty of nursing and want to show your pride? 

Consider becoming a certified nurse! 

Nurse Certifications

Why should I get certified? 

Maybe you're thinking, "Hey, I already took the NCLEX, I'm a legit nurse and I'm done taking tests!"

Well, you're not wrong.

As a nurse who had to take the NCLEX twice, you can imagine my test anxiety when I went to take my first certification exam! Why would I do that to myself willingly, especially when it's optional? There are certainly plenty of nurses who go through their career without becoming certified and that's fine! 

However. There are a few compelling reasons to become certified and I am now a certification advocate. Here are the things that convinced me:

  1. Elevate yourself. By studying to take a certification test and then maintaining that certification through continuing education, you are pushing yourself to stay on top of your game and aware of current evidence-based information that pertains to your job. It is a mark of excellence and shows those around you (and most importantly, YOURSELF) that you have the knowledge, skills, and ability to meet a national standard- talk about EMPOWERING. This is an investment in yourself! 

  2. Do it for your patients. There is research to support the link between certification and outcomes for patients, systems, or nurses. Having nurses with a certification in the specialty they are working in means they are acutely aware of the many nuances that pertain that that patient population. They can care for their patient in a very knowledgeable way. They will feel more comfortable providing education to their patient when they're familiar with the topic already. Overall, it is a reflection of a commitment to patient safety.

  3. Compensation. Money can absolutely be a motivation! Find out what your employer's policy is, but I've worked for hospitals that have not only reimbursed me for the cost of taking and passing the exam, but they provided "certification bonuses" for receiving an initial certification and for renewal every few years. Another facility added an extra $1/hr to my pay rate for having a certification that was specific to the patient population I was hired to work with. Many facilities want to attract certified nurses and will have some kind of compensation in place to promote that. 

  4. Resume gold. Having a nursing certification is usually one of those "preferred" qualifications on a job description. Not essential, but highly desirable. Imagine how having those extra letters after your name will set you apart from other candidates! It helps having the certification that matches the job you're applying for, but having a certification can show your potential future employer that you're the kind of person who is willing to go above and beyond in your career.

nursing certification

If these reasons are compelling and you're curious what the next steps would be to get a certification, keep reading! If you're pretty sure this isn't for you, that's okay! Each career path looks different and this doesn't mean you're a bad nurse for not wanting this. We all have lives and priorities and different stages our nursing career and professional development may or may not be top of the list. This WHOLE website is about nurse burnout and if adding this extra stressor is going to lead you down that path, by all means, don't do it! It's not worth it! But if you get a good place and after a self assessment you realize that you're ready, it'll be there.  

Through this post, I'll be referring to my own experiences taking certification tests. I received my CCRN (Acute/Critical Care Nursing Certification) and PCCN (Progressive Care Nursing Certification) through the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). I became certified 4 years ago in both these areas, so I'm about due for another, wouldn't you say? First things first. Let's go over the basics of what you'll need to know when becoming certified. 

Choose a Certification 

Maybe you already know what certification applies to the area you work in, but just in case, here is a comprehensive list on Lippincott of the MANY different certifications that are out there! Everything from critical care, post-anesthesia, informatics, emergency, trauma, palliative, holistic nursing, oncology, research, nephrology, wound care, you name it! It's kind of incredible. Just reading this list gives you a little peek into the variety of nursing opportunity there is out there and the many different areas you can work in. The versatility within nursing is so unique, it's one of the reasons I love being in this line of work. 

Set a Date

Once you've decided to take the test, go ahead and fill out the application! Each organization has their own system for processing applications to take a certification test. For the AACN exams, I reviewed the handbook and made sure I met the eligibility requirements, then filled out the application to take the test, THEN waited 2-3 weeks to get a postcard in the mail with instructions on how to schedule the test! You'll be able to set the date far enough in the future to allow for plenty of study time, but having a solid date means you can then be serious about your studying and create a plan. Picking a date also creates accountability. How many nurses do you know who have been studying on and off to take a certification test for over a year? It's all a mental thing- if there's a test date, then that means it's REAL and the time and effort spent studying will be purposeful. When you apply to take the test, you also pay a fee. That money is good motivation to study and study well, you don't want to take it more than once if you can help it.

Study

Be a sponge! For my study plan, I spent 1-2 hours a day for 3 months reviewing test material. Then, in the last 3 weeks prior to the test, I increased my study time to 2-3 hours a day and did as many practice questions as possible! You want to get very comfortable with practice questions and it's ideal if you can find a way to simulate the kind of test environment that you'll have so that you can mentally prepare yourself. This means sitting in one spot for a couple hours (brief bathroom breaks are allowed) while looking at question after question and choosing the most correct answer. No distractions, no surfing the web, no social media. Go to airplane mode if you have to! Do you know anyone on your unit who is also studying for the exam? Make them your study buddy! One of my favorite memories of exam prep is all the "study happy hours" I spent with a co-worker, exchanging flashcard questions over gorgonzola fries and cheesecake. Can't beat it.

I get a lot of questions about what I used to study for the CCRN and PCCN. Here's a few of the resources I used to prepare: 

  • My #1 tip is to find the exam handbook or the content outline of the test and let it be your study guide! It'll also tell you how the test is broken up and how many questions are devoted to each category, so you'll want to study the areas that make up the bulk of the exam. 
  • Practice questions! This should be your primary focus, especially in the last few weeks before you take the test! I purchased a booklet of 150 CCRN practice questions through AACN ($14), as well as flash cards with questions on them. There are apps you can download with practice questions and there are books you can get that will provide a whole exam's worth of practice questions! You can never do too many questions. 
  • Live or virtual review course. Do a little google search for review courses specific to your certification and odds are something will pop up! I purchased an online review course through AACN and not only did it prepare me for the test, I received continuing education credits for doing it! Win-win. 
  • Youtube videos. When I studied for both the CCRN and PCCN, there was some excellent videos online to help me study. Lots of review material and even some practice questions! 
  •  CCRN Certification Examination Review Cram with Laura Gasparis Vonfolio, RN PhD- 6 DVDs of pure goodness. You don't HAVE to use these, but they are a thoroughly enjoyable way to help the concepts sink in! It's always fun to watch these with a friend, if you know anyone else who's studying for the test. FYI- these DVDs are expensive! Check with your employer, they may have a copy staff can borrow (like mine did), or make a request to your manager to use some of the unit budget to purchase them for the staff who want to become certified. I've heard great things about Nicole Kupchik and her review material and courses! 
  • On that topic, take advantage of any resources your employer might have. Many managers and educators have access to review books and practice tests and can hook you up if they know you're interested and pursuing certification! 

Know what kind of learner you are and try to create a study plan that will meet those needs. And remember, don't over think it! Every question that is asked wants the evidence-based correct answer, not what your facility does or what you'd do in the "real world." The are testing on a national level to what best practice would be for a nurse working with a specialty patient population, keep that in mind. 

Ace the Test

This is probably the same advice you got for all the big tests you've taken in your life up to this point, but let's review it anyway, shall we? Don't worry about cramming the day of, especially trying to process any new concepts! At this point, you're as prepared as you're going to be. Get a good nights rest, eat breakfast, get to your test destination early so you can find parking and minimize stress on the big day! Be confident in what you know! At this point, you're done hundreds, maybe thousands of practice questions, you've looked at rationales, you've read books, watched videos, listened to audio recordings, maybe even attending a live review course. You got this. 

If I had to describe the test to you, the closest I can come up with is that it's like taking the NCLEX again (the national exam nurses take when they complete school in order to get their license to practice), but not quite that bad. It's a test that is made to be challenging and one that you absolutely need to study for, but it does not use computerized adaptive testing (CAT) technology like the NCLEX does. You'll need to check in, leave all your belongings outside the test area. For my exam, I was allowed a blank piece of paper, a pencil, and some ear plugs. I remember taking one bathroom break during the 150 question exam and spending a couple hours staring at a computer screen. For both the PCCN and CCRN, I was able to find out before I left the testing center whether I passed or failed (a HUGE plus compared to the NCLEX when I had to wait for 3 days!). 

Overall, it's been incredibly rewarding and definitely worth it on many levels and being certified has provided me with opportunities I would have never had otherwise! So, my message to you is go forth and get certified! And keep me in the loop on your journey, I want to hear all about it!