Credentials for Practicing and Aspiring Nurses
Whether you’ve already got your nursing degree or are planning to enroll in a nursing program after high school, there are several certifications that you can pursue to further your education and enhance your skills.
Having additional credentials can boost your chances of getting into your preferred nursing school or make you an attractive candidate to potential employers.
Some certifications allow aspiring nurses to qualify for entry-level jobs that help them gain foundational healthcare experience before applying to nursing school programs.
Others are perfect for nursing school graduates who want to specialize in a particular area of the medical field or work at a prestigious hospital or research facility.
In this article, you’ll find nursing certifications that you can obtain before, during, and after completing your chosen nursing program. Each credential in this post falls under one of the following categories:
- Life Support Certifications
- Basic Nursing Certifications
- Additional Registered Nurse Certifications
- Specialty Nursing Certifications
Life Support Certifications
Many people begin their journey into the healthcare field by pursuing various life support certifications. Courses for these credentials teach you essential skills and tactics for responding to medical emergencies. While this information is crucial for aspiring nurses, it can also benefit almost anyone, including those working in childcare, first-responder, lifeguard, and personal trainer roles.
Basic Life Support (BLS)
Having a Basic Life Support certification is the minimum requirement for medical assistants, patient care techs, non-degree Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN), and most other healthcare jobs. Typically offered through the American Red Cross or the American Heart Association, these courses teach you how to respond to cardiac and breathing emergencies in adult, child, and infant patients.
Most BLS classes last between two and five hours. Instructors use textbooks, video examples, AEDs and ventilation and barrier devices to teach students CPR, Heimlich maneuver, seizure response, and resuscitation techniques. After the class, students must properly perform these skills on a medical doll or manikin to receive their certification.
Advanced Life Support (ALS)
Sometimes referred to as Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS), an ALS certification shows that a healthcare provider has the knowledge and skills to respond to life-threatening medical emergencies like stroke, cardiac arrest, and acute coronary syndrome. Like BLS classes, these certification courses only take a few hours to complete.
ALS courses build on your BLS training by prioritizing using an AED and chest compressions. You’ll also learn how to recognize and manage symptoms of stroke, cardiac arrest, and respiratory events, along with effective communication techniques for members and leaders of resuscitation teams. Related pharmacology and EKG/ECG reading and interpretation may be part of the course as well.
Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS)
If you plan to be a pediatric nurse at some point in your career, a PALS certification is a good place to start. Where BLS and ALS/ACLS techniques mostly apply to adults, this certification focuses specifically on delivering immediate, life-saving care to children and infants who are critically ill or injured.
Depending on whether you take classroom instruction or a blended course with web-based and hands-on components, a PALS course can take anywhere from eight hours to two days. Along with child and infant CPR and AED techniques, you’ll learn how to recognize and intervene in the face of things like arrhythmia, cardiopulmonary arrest, and respiratory distress and failure in child and infant patients.
Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS)
Trauma center employees and urgent care providers like paramedics and EMTs often get an American College of Surgeons ATLS certification. Earning this credential requires students to take a two-day course on medical core content and train in simulated trauma settings. After they’re certified, doctors, nurses, and support staff with this specialized skillset can address critical injuries from:
- Severe car crashes
- Serious falls
- Blunt force trauma
- Severe cuts and burns
- Gunshot and stab wounds
- Traumatic brain injuries
Basic Nursing Certifications
Those who wish to become a nurse often get some or even all of the life support certifications to gain healthcare experience, then enroll in a nursing school program to earn an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Before or during your degree program, you can pursue the following certifications.
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
If you have a high school diploma or GED, you can enroll in a program to become a certified nursing assistant. Working under the supervision of a registered nurse, CNAs answer patient call bells, bathe, feed, groom, and dress patients, take vital signs, and perform other necessary tasks in medical facilities.
Requirements for obtaining a CNA certification differ from state to state. Candidates may need to complete an accredited trade school or Red Cross training program or have a certain amount of work experience before they can qualify.
They must then pay an application fee and pass a criminal background check to take their state’s CNA certification exam and get an official license.
Restorative Nursing Assistant (RNA)
After working as a CNA for at least six months, you might consider returning to school to complete a restorative nursing assistant (RNA) program. RNAs have specialized training in therapeutic and rehabilitative healthcare equipment and techniques. They use their skills to perform assisted feedings, guide mobility exercises, and complete other therapy tasks in addition to their standard CNA duties.
Aspiring RNAs can obtain this advanced CNA certification through their state’s health department. Applicants must meet the necessary work hours requirement and have a letter of recommendation from their employer’s director of nursing. During the exam, candidates must demonstrate their various physical, occupational, and speech therapy assistant skills in order to pass.
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
Many people consider a licensed practical nurse (LPN) certification to be the final step before becoming an RN. LPNs perform many of the same patient care duties as registered nurses, including checking and charting vitals, distributing oral medications, and assisting. However, more specialized tasks like starting IVs, diagnostic testing, and collecting blood samples are strictly for RNs.
You can complete an LPN vocational school or community college program in roughly two years. Courses include traditional classroom instruction and hands-on clinical work hours. After completing the program, you must pass the National Council Licensure Exam for Practical Nursing (NCLEX-PN) to obtain a license.
Additional Registered Nurse Certifications
Once you complete nursing school and pass the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX) to become a registered nurse, you may want to earn additional certifications to further your education or qualify for more career and salary advancement opportunities. Consider taking courses to obtain the following credentials.
Ambulatory Care Nursing Certification (AMB-BC)
Where most RNs work in hospitals, ambulatory nurses typically work in outpatient settings, administering intravenous medications, providing telehealth services, and treating acute and chronic conditions in patients that require minimal bedside care. Some states require nurses to obtain this credential from the ANCC, while others may allow RNs to practice as ambulatory nurses without it.
To qualify for this certification exam, you must have a current, unencumbered RN license and at least two years of full-time work experience as a registered nurse. You’ll also need a minimum of 2,000 clinical practice hours and 30 continuing education hours (CEUs) in ambulatory care. Study for the exam using resources from the American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing before your test day
Holistic Nursing Certification (HN-BC)
In 2006, the American Nursing Association officially recognized holistic nursing as a specialty with a defined scope and standards of practice. Nurses with this credential offer complementary and alternative medical care to promote their patients’ mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. These nurses often perform holistic therapies and stress management techniques, such as:
- Chinese and Eastern healing practices
- Wellness coaching
The American Holistic Nurses Credentialing Corporation (AHNCC) certifies most holistic nurses. Exam qualifications include a nursing degree from an accredited program, one year of holistic nursing experience, and 48 CNE hours in Holistic Nursing Theory, Research, Practice, or related topics. Once you pass the exam, you can work as a holistic nurse in hospitals, universities, and private practices.
Nurse Executive Certification (NE-BC)
Those with strong leadership skills and extensive practical and administrative experience may consider earning a nurse executive certification from the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL). An executive nurse operates as a patient care advocate, considering the overall needs of the hospital or facility from a nursing perspective.
Executive nurses help develop and implement procedures and policies to improve patient care outcomes, manage department finances, and demonstrate a high level of competence in the nursing field. Applicants need a current RN license, a bachelor’s degree or higher in nursing, 30 continuing education credits in nursing administration, and two years of nurse management experience.
Specialty Nursing Certifications
Generally speaking, specialty nursing certifications require nurses to have education and experience in a particular area of the medical field. If you want to specialize in treating a specific illness or helping a certain demographic during your nursing career, consider pursuing one of the following specialty nursing certifications.
Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN)
Pediatric nurses provide medical care for children, starting from birth and continuing until they reach their late teens. Along with checking patients’ vital signs and symptoms, completing diagnostic tests, administering medications and performing minor procedures, these professionals communicate with parents and guardians to explain and implement treatments for their children.
Aspiring CPNs must have a current, unrestricted RN license and complete a minimum of 1,800 pediatric clinical experience hours within the last two years of working as a registered nurse. You can then apply to take the exam through the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB), schedule your test day, and begin using the credential as soon as you get your passing score.
Certified Critical Care Nurse (CCN)
Becoming a certified critical care nurse shows that you have the speed, skill, and focus to work in fast-paced settings where unexpected medical emergencies often happen. Along with responding to these medical emergencies in the ER or ICU, RNs with this credential administer medications and monitor and assist patients who are intubated, on ventilators, or have several IV drips.
Depending on whether you’re planning to practice adult, pediatric, or neonatal critical care nursing, the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) has specific requirements applicants must meet before taking the certification exam. These requirements include a current, unencumbered RN or APRN license and a set number of direct or indirect patient care experience hours.
Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN)
Certified oncology nurses typically work in acute care hospitals, private oncologist offices, home healthcare agencies, radiation therapy facilities, or outpatient care clinics. Along with assessing patients who either have or are at risk for getting cancer, these nurses communicate with other care providers to develop treatment plans and administer chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Registered nurses must have at least two years of work experience, a minimum of 2,000 hours of adult oncology nursing practice, and an academic elective or 10 contact hours of continuing education in oncology. Once you meet those requirements, you can apply to take the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC) exam and receive your OCN credential once you pass.
Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)
Nurse midwives specialize in women’s reproductive health, offering support before conception, throughout pregnancy, during childbirth, and postpartum. In addition to these duties, CNMs educate new mothers on infant care and breastfeeding techniques, provide gynecological care for teens and women in their menopausal years, and treat sexually-transmitted diseases and infertility issues.
There are several credentials available for RNs who pass a certification exam and have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. However, the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB) only accepts nurses who pass the national qualifying exam after obtaining a master’s degree from a midwifery program certified through the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education (ACME).
Certifications for Your Chosen Career Path
Earning life support certifications is a smart way to break into the medical field, while additional and specialty certifications can help take your nursing career to the next level. Use this article to decide which nursing credentials suit your skills and interests, then find an accredited program that helps you begin or continue your education in that field.