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Certifications to Pursue after getting your RN License

*Original post released 7/30/20

Those of you who know me personally, and really even those who don’t, know that I am an incredibly driven person. Always have been and probably always will be. I had goals for after nursing school before I was even accepted. This might seem foolish to some, but in my opinion, having that checklist of goals to achieve fuels my fire even more. I know many nurses and nursing students are like minded in the sense that we are driven, intelligent, and hard working individuals. I mean, if we weren’t, how on earth would we have even gotten into or made it through school in the first place? For those of you with specific sights in mind (Ex: critical care, emergency, OB, pediatrics, medical surgical nursing, etc.), this article is especially made for you. We’re going to look at different certifications available for nurses in each specialty area. If you’re still figuring out which specialty you want to go into, that’s completely fine. You have all the time to decide and even to change your mind. That’s the beauty of the nursing profession! Maybe this list of certifications will help you decide. My ultimate intention for this list is to light a fire inside you to continue pursuing education, improvement, and evidence-based practice throughout your career. Plus, who doesn’t love a good bowl of alphabet soup! (That’s what we call the slew of letters after your name that indicate your earned profession/specialties)

Since I’m most familiar with critical care, that’s where we’ll kick things off. Potential certifications you can pursue after 1-2 years of experience (sometimes less) in the critical care setting include: Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN), Certified Neuroscience Registered Nurse (CNRN), and Stroke Certified Registered Nurse (SCRN). Also included in this list is the Trauma Nursing Core Certification which can be obtained by those nurses who treat trauma patients (this also includes the emergency department nurses). Let’s break it down!

The Critical Care Registered Nurse certification is open to those nurses with 1,750 hours of critical care experience within two years (875 within the most recent year) or those with 2,000 hours experience within five years (144 within the most recent year). Cost is $245-360, depending on if you are a member of the AACN.

The Certified Neuroscience Registered Nurse certification is open to those nurses who treat patients with neurological trauma, chronic illnesses, tumors, infections, seizures, and other conditions in their daily practice. You’ll need 2,080 hours within 1-3 years of nursing experience for this certification. Cost is $300-425, depending on if you are a member of the AANN.

The Stroke Certified Registered Nurse certification is open to those nurses who treat patients with stroke and want to demonstrate that they possess the necessary skills, knowledge, and experience in stroke care to perform competently. You’ll need 2,080 hours within 1-3 years of nursing experience for this certification. Cost is $300-425, depending on if you are a member of the AANN.

The Trauma Nursing Core Course is available to all nurses involved in critical/emergency care of trauma patients. To clarify, this is a certificate of completion rather than an exam to obtain certification. However, this course prepares you with  the knowledge, critical thinking skills and hands-on training needed to provide high-quality, trauma nursing care. Cost varies depending on the site hosting the course and course materials are approximately $25.

Now that we’re on this topic, let’s look into some of the possible certifications you can obtain while working in emergency nursing. Some of the certifications include: Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN), Certified Pediatric Emergency Nurse (CPEN), Certified Flight Registered Nurse (CFRN), Critical Care Ground Transport (CTRN), and Trauma Certified Registered Nurse (TCRN).

These certifications are all available through the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing. Most suggest a minimum of two years experience in the setting you’re testing for certification within before actually taking that board examination. However, only a RN license is required*. The cost of each of these exams is anywhere from $230-370, depending on if you are a member of sister organizations (Ex: ENA, STN) or not.

*The Trauma Certified Registered Nurse certification requires 1,000 hours per year for a minimum of two years as well as completion of 20-30 hours of trauma education prior to qualifying to be able to sit for the TCRN exam.

If you’re interested or currently practicing within the fields of obstetrics, labor and delivery, neonatal, or pediatrics, there are certifications for you too! Some of the certifications you can obtain include: Inpatient Obstetric Nursing Certification (RNC-OB), Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN), Maternal Newborn Nursing Certification (RNC-MNN), Low Risk Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing (RNC-LRN), and Neonatal Intensive Care Certification (RNC-NIC).

The majority of these certifications require 2,000 hours of experience in that area over two years’ time and cost $325, with the exceptional the CPN examination. The Certified Pediatric Nurse certification exam requires either 1,800 hours experience in the pediatric setting within 2 years or 3,000 hours within five years’ time (1,000 hrs of which need to be within the most recent year prior to application). This exam costs $250-295 depending on membership to sister organizations.

If you are seeking or currently work within the medical -surgical nursing setting, there is a certification for you too! It’s called the Certified Medical Surgical Registered Nurse (CMSRN) certification. It requires your RN license, two years and 2,000 hours of medical surgical experience within three years’ time. The cost of this exam is $255-375 depending on if you’re a member of their organization.

And for the final certification I’ll feature in this article (there are SO many more available for just about any area of nursing!), we’ll take a look at the Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN) certification. To be eligible to sit for this certification exam, you’ll need two years of oncological nursing experience with a minimum of 2,000 hours plus an additional 10 continuing education (CE) credits in the subject of nursing oncology. This exam costs $225-375 depending on if you’re a member of the ONS organization.

My point in providing all this information? No matter which area of nursing you pursue, there IS a way to further your education and prove your nursing competency and excellence to both your patients and colleagues. It’s always good to be working towards a goal, and if you’re working anyway, you may as well have the title to show for all your hard work! Above all, do it for yourself, for validation of your knowledge, for the pursuit of better career opportunities, for the improvement in nursing career you provide to your clients. The opportunities within this profession are endless, so seize the day!


Andra Alyse

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