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The healthcare industry and the nursing profession have long recognized the many advantages of nursing certifications. Researchers have identified the link between nursing certification and better patient outcomes, including fewer medical errors. Certifications help maintain professional standards for the industry and lead to higher wages and job satisfaction.


Certifications should not be confused with nursing certificates, which are offered by colleges and universities and are similar to a degree. Nor are they the same as a registered nurse (RN) or advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) license. Rather, nursing certifications uphold the standards of the profession and ensure that nurses of all levels meet these standards through experience and continuing education. Online nursing degree and certificate programs prepare students for certification in their chosen specialties with curricula in essential science and nursing concepts.

Why Is Certification Important in Healthcare?

According to the American Board of Nursing Specialties, more than 1 million RNs in the U.S. and Canada hold a nursing certification of some kind. Certification ensures that professionals meet the highest standards of their industry. Certification may be even more important in healthcare than in other fields because of the impact it has on patients, hospitals and clinics, and nurses themselves. It can improve patient outcomes and boost confidence in an entire hospital department.


Additionally, certification is important in healthcare because it:


  • Impacts the image of the profession. Nursing certification has a ripple effect throughout the profession. Nursing is already one of the most trusted professions, but certification helps to boost its image as a whole.
  • Demonstrates knowledge. Certification is a way for nurses to demonstrate their knowledge and experience. Most certifications require nurses to have work experience before they are eligible to sit for the credentialing exams.
  • Incentivizes lifelong learning. The certification process validates professional experience and incentivizes nurses to continue their professional education and stay engaged in their careers.

Certification Matters to Patients

Patients prefer to be treated by nurses who are certified, according to long-term surveys cited by the National Board of Certified School Nurses. It may help alleviate anxiety and worry during what can be stressful health events.

Patients get the following benefits when they are treated by certified nurses:


The healthcare industry is complex and daunting to most patients, even those with excellent health insurance. Nursing certifications don’t just boost patient confidence in the nursing staff. Specialty certifications confirm that hospitals and other healthcare providers are committed to offering the highest levels of care.

Patient Satisfaction

More than 650,000 nurses in the U.S. are medical-surgical, the largest nursing specialty. These specialized nurses are responsible for caring for patients in hospitals and other care settings. They provide medical care, keep patients and families informed, communicate with other healthcare providers, and coordinate a patient’s care. Because they are so involved in the day-to-day management of patient health, certified medical-surgical nurses can have an outsized impact on patient satisfaction.


Certification Matters to Employers

Nursing certification benefits hospitals and other healthcare facilities in a number of ways as well. For example:

Risk Management

The goal of hospital risk management is to improve operations, patient and staff safety, and patient outcomes to boost financial outcomes. Nursing certification has been shown to reduce hospital errors and improve patient mortality rates and other metrics, according to a study published in the American Journal of Critical Care, giving it direct impact on reducing overall risk and supporting a hospital’s financial health.

Employee Retention Rates

Certification also improves employee retention rates by improving job satisfaction and morale. High retention can help prevent burnout, which has been especially prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic. The symptoms of burnout include fatigue, depression, and irritability, and it can lead to medical errors. Nurses often quit due to burnout, leaving hospitals understaffed. Hospitals that encourage nursing certification may be better able to retain valued nursing staff, according to healthcare human resources provider Relias.

Hospital Accreditation and Patient Choice

Since nursing certifications have a positive impact on quality-of-care metrics, they can also affect hospital accreditations. Accreditation organizations such as The Joint Commission and the Accreditation Commission for Health Care consider nursing staff certifications when making accreditation decisions. Patients may also choose accredited hospitals over nonaccredited facilities if they have the choice.


Certification Matters to Nurses

The impact of certification on nurses and the nursing profession is significant. Advantages include increased job satisfaction, higher wages, and potential for career advancement. For example:

Increased Compensation

Nurses who specialize can earn more than those who do not. According to PayScale, as of December 2021, the median annual salary for RNs was approximately $67,000, while the median annual salary for RNs with critical care certification was around $77,000. Certification can also lead to promotion opportunities, which can boost career earnings.

Respect from Peers and Supervisors

According to a study by the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN), board-certified nurses experienced a variety of advantages. Their supervisors rated them higher than their noncertified coworkers in many areas. Supervisors confirmed that CEN-certified nurses were more technical and accurate than their counterparts. They not only kept up with technological developments but also were more likely to be aware of patient safety and proactive in anticipating hazards.

Improved Confidence and Morale

Board-certified nurses report improved confidence in their work, according to the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). They also experience better morale and job satisfaction. Certification validates their knowledge and dedication to their profession. It also shows their peers and employers what they’re capable of. Some advanced practice nurses may be considered experts in their field, such as orthopedics, on par with doctors and other researchers.

Career Advancement

Many hospital administrators understand firsthand the advantages of having a nursing staff with certifications. They often prefer to hire nurses who are certified or working toward certification. Board-certified nurses may also be favored for promotions and leadership positions because certification confirms their experience and shows their commitment to their profession.

Nursing Certification and Patient Outcomes

The quality of nursing care is critical to patient outcomes. Because nurses provide direct patient care, they can identify medical issues; advocate for patients; and communicate with patients, their families, and other clinicians. Nurses are also crucial to patient satisfaction, which is a key hospital performance metric. This attention to patient needs is called patient-centered care. Hospital nursing staff are increasingly seeing the benefits of these techniques.


Another link between nursing certification and patient outcomes is the positive impact on patient health and safety. Hospital patient metrics, including lower mortality rates and reduced medical errors, can be attributed to a high percentage of certified nurses on staff. In a high-risk department, such as the intensive care unit, there were fewer patient falls, fewer medicine dosing errors, and fewer bedsores when more nurses were certified, according to the American Journal of Critical Care study.

Benefits of Nursing Specialty Certifications

Some of the numerous benefits of specialty certifications include:

Career Development and Compensation

Nurses can choose a practice area that suits them, which can improve job satisfaction and career growth. Certification can also lead to higher salaries. Employers may look more favorably on nurses who have certifications when filling management positions. Some certifications, such as the nurse executive board certification (NE-BC), are aimed at nurses who want to move into leadership positions.

Clinical Expert — or Management Track

Some specialties go deep into clinical practice areas, such as Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse (CMSRN). Other options lean toward management, such as Certified Nurse Manager and Leader (CNML). Depending on their goals, certification enables nurses to shape their career paths while continuing to meet the highest standards of their specialization.

Career Growth at all Levels

Nurses who plan to stay on the front lines of patient care can also benefit from a specialty certification. For example, licensed practical nurses (LPNs) can be certified in IV therapy, urology, or pharmacology, among other certifications. These credentials provide the same benefits as the advanced practice certifications. LPNs can experience greater job satisfaction, respect from their supervisors and peers, and see an increase in salary and demand.

Most Valuable Nursing Certifications

The following are some of the most highly sought-after certifications for nurses. These certifications are offered by various professional organizations, including the AACN, BCEN, American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), and Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC). These certifications establish standards of excellence for their respective specialty.

MEDSURG-BC: Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification (ANCC)

One of the most common types of nursing certifications, the MEDSURG-BC validates that a nurse has the experience and knowledge to be a medical-surgical nurse. This credential is for nurses who take care of patients in the hospital, monitoring their treatment, providing information, coordinating care with other clinicians, and dispensing medication. More than 20% of RNs are medical-surgical nurses. They provide front-line care to patients and their families.

OCN: Oncology Certified Nurse (ONCC)

The OCN and related certifications such as Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse (CPHON) and Blood & Marrow Transplant Certified Nurse (BMTCN) validate the expertise of nurses who work with cancer patients. These certifications, including advanced practice certifications, are an indication that professionals have the highest level of scientific and medical knowledge and expertise. Nurses must have at least 2,000 hours of experience in oncology practice and two years of experience as an RN before being eligible to sit for the exams.

CCRN: Certified Critical Care Nurse (AACN)

A CCRN provides care to patients who are acutely or critically ill. Critical care nurses work with patients in intensive care units, medical/surgical units, cardiac care units, trauma, or other hospital departments. They may also care for patients who are being transported via air or ambulance. There are also pediatric and neonatal specialties. Nurses who enjoy a fast-paced, high-stress environment may choose the CCRN specialty.

CPN: Certified Pediatric Nurse (PNCB)

The Pediatric Nursing Certification Board issues the CPN. The CPN validates a pediatric nurse’s professional experience to hospitals, colleagues, and patients’ parents and guardians. It confirms that nurses have the knowledge to assess and plan nursing interventions, evaluate patient outcomes, teach other nurses, conduct research, and effectively manage nursing departments. The CPN credential also validates a nurse’s experience as a provider of evidence-based care.

CEN: Certified Emergency Nurse (BCEN)

A CEN credential affirms that emergency room nurses have the knowledge and expertise to excel in the high-stress and fast-paced emergency room environment. Employers and colleagues know that nurses with a CEN designation have the highest level of expertise and are up to date on the most recent advances in technology and medical procedures.

CNRN: Certified Neuroscience Registered Nurse (ABNN)

More than 4,400 nurses have achieved the CNRN credential, according to the American Board of Neuroscience Nursing. The CNRN affirms that nurses have the medical and scientific background to effectively work with patients who have a variety of neurological conditions, including tumors, seizures, chronic illnesses, and more.

NE-BC: Nurse Executive Certification (ANCC)

Nurses interested in moving into management can benefit from a NE-BC. This certification confirms that a nurse has the management experience to supervise or manage nursing staff. They can handle the day-to-day operations of a department or team; make tactical decisions; participate in planning; and perform duties such as staffing, scheduling, and performance reviews. An NE-BC or similar credential may be a necessary first step for a nurse whose career goals include management or executive responsibilities.

ONC: Certified Orthopaedic Nurse (ONCB)

According to the Orthopaedic Nurses Certification Board, some 7,000 nurses are ONCs. Nurses who achieve the title of ONC affirm their experience as experts in the field of musculoskeletal disorders. ONCs work in a variety of settings — home health, sports medicine facilities, rehab centers, surgical centers, and other facilities. Certification can reassure patients and their families that nurses have experience and medical background in treating these disorders.

GERO-BC: Gerontological Nursing Certification (ANCC)

Gerontological nurses work with elderly and frail patients, and they have experience with their mental and physical health needs. They work closely with patients’ families and help develop care plans that may include hospice and end-of-life needs. Eligibility to sit for the exam requires 2,000 hours working with gerontological patients and at least two years as an RN.

Best Certifications for New Nursing Graduates

Most of these certifications require two years of experience and 2,000 or more hours in practice before nurses are eligible to apply for exams. However, new nurses don’t have to wait to gain certifications that showcase their education. Adding these credentials to a resume can help new nurses stand out when interviewing for a position. Getting into the habit of continuing professional education can support a lifetime of learning and help a nurse stay on top of medical advances.

Some of the most valuable nursing certifications for new nursing graduates include:

Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS)

Most hospitals require this certification. Nurses will have to either be ACLS certified before starting their first job or become certified within the first few months of employment. This certification covers what to do in a cardiac emergency, how to care for patients after a heart attack, and how to prevent a cardiac event. Experts advise nurses to start the certification process shortly after graduating from nursing school.

Basic Life Support (BLS)

As with the ACLS, most hospitals require RNs to undergo CPR and resuscitation training. While these techniques are taught in school, it’s always good to have an updated certification before starting work. The American Heart Association offers BLS and CPR courses.

Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP)

The NRP is required for nurses who want to specialize in labor and delivery, but even nurses who plan to work in a different department can benefit from NRP training. Certification courses cover how to help newborns take their first breaths and how to perform CPR on infants.

Certified Life Safety Specialist for Health Care Facilities (CLSS-HC)

A CLSS-HC program trains nurses and other healthcare providers in hospital fire safety. Students learn what to do in a fire, including how to stabilize and transport patients. Fire safety training can help a nurse stand out from other new hires, as it shows initiative and leadership qualities.

Make Your Education Count at Maryville University

Nursing certification matters. Credentials validate a nurse’s professional experience and correlate to job satisfaction and confidence. Certification improves patient outcomes and reassures patients and their families that they are in capable, expert hands. They affirm to hospitals and other employers that their staff members operate at the highest level.


Explore how Maryville University’s online nursing degree programs not only provide students with a foundation for a career in nursing but also prepare them to pursue certification in their chosen specialties.


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