As with professionals in any other field, the best nurses continuously strive to learn and grow professionally. Furthermore, the American Board of Nursing Specialties (ABNS) found in 2020 that at least 1,013,362 RNs hold one or more nursing specialty credentials; this number constitutes approximately one third of all RNs employed that year. Add to that the fact that the number of Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN) is projected to grow by 45% between 2020 and 2030, and what we see is a significant nursing certification trend from which you won’t want to be left behind.
Why Get a Nursing Certification
By obtaining a nursing certification, nurses benefit themselves, their patients, and the facilities where they work.
- Certified nurses feel more empowered, believe they offer patients better care, and collaborate more effectively with others.
- Nurses also benefit financially from specialization. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), RNs earn on average $77,600 per year, whereas APRNs earn $123,780 per year.
- When given the choice, an overwhelming majority of Americans choose hospitals that employ a high percentage of nurses with certifications.
- Evidently, both the benefits for nurses and patients imply benefits for healthcare facilities, which strive to retain nurses, attract clients, and offer better services.
Nursing Certifications without Experience
Although many specializations require master’s degrees and over one thousand hours of clinical experience, there are also many certifications that newly graduated nurses can obtain.
Some basic certifications that all nurses should consider pursuing include the following:
Basic Life Support (BLS)
Since this program has no prerequisites, it is ideal for newly graduated nurses. Furthermore, it is a common job requirement. The BLS program teaches cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) skills, which prepare nurses to assist patients who are choking, drowning, or suffering cardiac arrest.
Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS)
Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support is another valuable certification for new nurses; its only prerequisite is the previously mentioned BLS certification. ACLS builds on basic life support skills by teaching nurses to recognize and act in cases of cardiopulmonary arrest or other cardiovascular emergencies.
Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS)
The PALS certification would be excellent for any nurse interested in working in pediatrics. It also builds on the BLS skills but can otherwise be obtained by new nurses. Nurses with this certification are prepared to recognize and intervene in cases of emergencies with infants and children.
Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP)
Nurses interested in working in labor and delivery must obtain an NRP certification. In this program, nurses learn how to perform CPR on infants and how to help newborns breathe after birth.
Telehealth Nursing Certification
By obtaining an Ambulatory Care Nursing certification, nurses can become qualified to work in telehealth nursing. Telehealth nursing is an excellent backup certification to have, especially in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, during which time many nurses have preferred to work from home to not expose themselves and their families to this life-threatening virus.
All-Around Top Five Specialty Areas
The 2020 ABNS survey found the most popular out of 53 nursing specialties. These 53 specializations could be obtained through 148 different certifications offered by 44 boards of nursing certifications. Out of these 148, both RNs and APRNs were eligible for obtaining 51% of these credentials; RNs alone could receive 20%, and 29% were available for APRNs.
From these 53 specialties, the most common specializations were in the following areas:
- Critical Care
- Neonatal Care
RNs or APRNs interested in obtaining a certification in critical care can choose to specialize in direct or indirect critical care for adult, pediatric, or neonatal patients. All these certification options are available through the American Association of Critical Care Nurses.
A direct care certification would be ideal for a bedside nurse, whereas an indirect care certification would be preferable for a supervisor or nursing administrator.
Regardless of the chosen certification, nurses who would like to specialize in critical care will need to have 1,750 to 2,000 clinical hours in critical care under their belts in order to meet the certification requirements.
The American Nurses Credentialing Center offers a Pediatric Nursing Certification for RNs who have worked as full-time nurses for at least two years and who have accrued at least 2,000 hours in pediatrics in the previous three years.
Nurses interested in this certification must also complete 30 hours of continuing education in pediatrics within the previous three years.
In addition to the certifications available through the American Association of Critical Care Nurses, many options are available through the National Certification Corporation, including subspecialty certifications in Neonatal Neuro-Intensive Care and Obstetric and Neonatal Quality and Safety. Neither of these subspecialties requires a specified number of clinical hours in neonatology, but previous work experience in this area is recommended.
The Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board offers a certification program for registered nurses wishing to specialize in this area. To obtain this certification, nurses must have worked for a minimum of two years with at least 2,000 clinical hours in this setting over the previous three years. With this certification, you would join the largest group of healthcare professionals working in the acute care setting.
Wound, Ostomy, and Continence
The last of the top five certifications chosen by nurses in 2020 was in the area of Wound, Ostomy, and Continence (WOC). This certification is offered by the Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nursing Certification Board. Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree or a higher degree as well as a valid RN license. Furthermore, applicants must also complete one of the following:
- An accredited WOC or Enterostomal Therapy (ET) Nursing Education Program within the previous five years
- A total of 4,500 patient clinical hours in the combined areas of wound, ostomy, and continence within the past five years, 1,125 of which must be from the previous year
How to Obtain the Necessary Clinical Hours
The number of clinical hours needed to obtain a nursing certification can seem overwhelming, especially for nurses who might not be working in the area in which they wish to specialize. But, don’t worry! You have options.
An excellent way to build up your clinical experience in a particular area is to pick up per diem shifts. Through online platforms, such as Nursa's healthcare staffing app, you can browse PRN shifts near you and pick up extra shifts during your time off or even work per diem full time to obtain the clinical hours you need more quickly.
You owe this to your patients and the facilities you work for, but most importantly, you owe this to yourself, so don’t let anything stand in your way, and get that nursing certification today!