Board certification is perhaps one of the most underutilized methods that nurses have available for advancing their nursing careers. Board certifications are issued by professional organizations to nurses who have met the criteria that each particular organization sets to obtain that certification. These certifications focus on individual specialties and sub-specialties of nursing and cover almost every area in which a nurse can work. Obtaining a certification always involves an exam that is tested as securely as the NCLEX and may also require having a certain number of clinical hours within a particular care environment. Nurses who have board certification can indicate this by including the initials of the professional certification in their signature or name after their academic and licensure related initials.
Benefits of Certification
There are several reasons that a nurse should consider pursing a professional certification. Some of the more prominent reasons include improvement in career opportunities, the ability to stand out in your specialty, and increased opportunities for professional development.
Few nurses actually take the time to study for and achieve a professional certification. The American Association of Critical Care Nurses, for example, reports that there are about 500,000 critical care nurses, but also reports that there are only about 15,000 critical care nurses who have their CCRN, the professional certification for critical care nurses. Obtaining a board certification will make you stand out from your peers.
Demonstrate your knowledge and experience
Nurses who have board certification in a specialty are regarded as more experienced and more knowledgeable in that area of nursing. Having a board certification will show your peers and your employer that you have achieved the next level of expertise in your specialty.
More career opportunities
Nurses who have board certification in a specialty will have a much better chance of getting hired for a position in that specialty. Nurse managers recognize that nurses who are board certified in a specialty are more experienced and more knowledgeable in that area than most other applicants. Board certification also establishes you as a leader in your knowledge about your specialty and provides more opportunities for promotion and advancement.
Almost all board certifications require ongoing clinical education that will help to maintain and further your professional development and knowledge in your specialty. Even the act of studying for the certification exam will enhance your professional knowledge, due to the content you will have to be familiar with in order to pass.
Obtaining your professional certification will involve several steps but is not complicated. The process does vary based on the type of board certification being pursued and the professional organization that issues the certification.
The eligibility requirements for board certifications vary, depending on the type of certification. All board certifications for nurses require an active nursing license, but the verification process is typically quick and painless. Many board certifications require, or strongly suggest, a minimum number of hours within the specialty that you are applying for certification in. If there is no required minimum number of hours in the specialty, but there is a strong recommendation for how many hours you have completed, then it is normally best not to apply for certification until you have met the recommended level of experience. The tests are normally tailored to be easier for someone with experience, and the likelihood that you will succeed at the test is low if you do not have the recommended experience.
The cost of taking the exam for a certification varies, but is typically $200-$400. Many employers will offer to reimburse the cost of the exam if you pass, and some may even pay for the initial test. Some employers will also pay for, or reimburse for, study materials or classes. One way of lowering the cost for a certification exam can be to become a member of the professional organization associated with the certification. While there will typically be an annual membership fee, members will often have access to better pricing for certification examination and study materials that non-members may not have.
Before you take the certification exam, you should find study materials for that certification and take the time to review the information that could be in the exam. Many exams have a wait period for retesting if you fail the first time, so studying so that you can pass initially is always advised.
Certification exams are almost always administered under the same testing conditions as the NCLEX. Expect a high level of security and familiarize yourself with computer test taking, if necessary. While the exam will be tested on a computer like the NCLEX, it will often consist of questions from a question bank with a minimum percentage needed to pass, instead of using a complex testing algorithm like the NCLEX.
Board certification in your specialty can have a significant impact on you as a nurse, both professionally and personally. If you are considering board certification, you should visit your specialty’s professional organization for more information about what certifications are available to you.