How Do I Earn a Nurse Credential?

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  • Written By: Susan Abe
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 03 December 2019
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A nurse credential refers to documentation from a certifying agency attesting to a nurse's experience, education and expertise in a nursing specialty. Regardless of its source, a nurse credential is held in addition to a valid and current license to practice nursing. In the US, the primary organization that coordinates nurse credentialing and certification is the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), which is an affiliate branch of the American Nurses Association (ANA). The ANCC certifies three categories of nursing practice, including nursing specialties, Clinical Nurse Specialists and Nurse Practitioners. In order to earn a nurse credential, a nurse must meet the education, continuing education, experience and examination criteria as established by the specific category and subcategory sought.


The most basic nurse credential is that of a specialization in a particular field and the ANCC offers over 20 specialty certifications in various nursing categories, including Case Management Nursing, Cardiac Vascular Nursing, Home Health Nursing and even General Nursing Practice. Each specialty has its own specific criteria required to even apply to sit for the nurse credential specialty examination. For example, in order to apply for the specialty credential in Medical-Surgical Nursing, known as an RN-BC, a nurse must have a valid registered nurse (RN) license to practice in the US, have practiced the equivalent of two years of full-time nursing, accrued a minimum of 3,000 hours of clinical practice in medical-surgical nursing in the past three years and completed 30 continuing education credits within this same time frame. She must submit an application attesting to all of these accomplishments, enclose an application fee and successfully complete a computerized test at a special testing facility, if her application is accepted and approved.

Clinical Nurse Specialists hold a minimum of a master's degree in nursing, as compared to a nurse specialty certification which can be earned by any registered nurse whether diploma-prepared or with greater educational preparation. The ANCC offers nine specialty areas for clinical nurse specialists and again, each specialty establishes its own criteria for application. In order to seek the the nurse credential of a Clinical Nurse Specialist in Adult Health, or a ACNS-BC, a nurse must hold a valid and active license to practice as a RN; hold at least a master's degree from an accredited educational institution; and have successfully completed advanced classes in assessment, disease and pharmacology. The RN seeking such a nurse credential must submit an application and a transcript to document her qualifications to even sit for the examination.

The most advanced nurse credentialing process is held for Nurse Practitioners (NP). The ANCC offers nine specialty areas within the NP category. In order to request to sit for a NP specialty examination, a nurse practitioner must meet the same criteria as Clinical Nurse Specialists and document training in disease diagnosis, treatment and health education. The application and testing process is similar to that of Clinical Nurse Specialists.


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