By Debra Anscombe Wood, RN
While credentials may seem like an alphabet soup after one’s name, the letters tell the world much about a nurse’s qualifications, including licensure, certifications and fellowships.
“Credentials are not only a source of pride for the nurse, but communicate to patients, colleagues and hospital leaders the nurse’s commitment to standards of excellence,” said Mary Frances Pate, PhD, RN, CNS, associate professor at the University of Portland School of Nursing in Oregon and chairwoman of the board of directors for AACN Certification Corporation, the certification organization for the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses.
Other academic nurses agree. “Credentials matter to the public,” said Rebecca M. Patton, MSN, RN, CNOR, FAAN, Lucy Jo Atkinson Scholar in Perioperative Nursing at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, adding that they also demonstrate growth and lifelong learning valuable to the nurse and to nurse managers and administrators.
Depending on the position, “some nursing positions require certification demonstrating expertise, and some do not,” said Robert Hanks, PhD, FNP-C, RNC, assistant professor and clinical/FNP track director at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Nursing.
Marianne Horahan, MBA, MPH, RN, CPHQ, director of certification services at the American Nurses Credentialing Center, reported an increase in certification applications this year, in part because of employers’ promotion of certification. A new “Success Pays” program allows the hospital to directly pay for successful exam completion.
Employers also seek nurses with degrees, as evidence suggests organizations with a higher percentage of BSN- or MSN-prepared nurses have greater patient outcomes, said Paulette Heitmeyer, MSN/ED, RN, CNO at Marina Del Rey Hospital in California.
Pate said nurses whose clinical skills and judgment have been validated through certification often make patient care decisions with greater confidence, recognize problems and intervene appropriately.
While many believe credentials lead to better care and patient outcomes, research is limited. The Institute of Medicine recently released a research agenda to help fill this gap.
Nurses should list the highest degree first, immediately after their name, then licensure, any state designations, national certifications, awards, honors and other recognitions, according to the ANCC.
“Certification provides a foundation for lifelong learning and professional development,” Horahan said. “The purpose of certification is to assure the public that this individual has mastered the body of knowledge and acquired skills in the specialty.”