Taking Your Nursing Career to the Next Level: Specialty Certification

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By Ellen Swartwout, RN, MSN, NEA-BC, senior director, certification and measurement services, ANCC, guest contributor 

May 15, 2013 - As the nursing industry continues to transform with new developments in technology, research and policy, it’s more important than ever to establish a standard that signifies excellence.

ANCC's Ellen Swartwout: nurse certification provides more opportunities.
Ellen Swartwout, RN, MSN, NEA-BC, ANCC's senior director of certification and measurement services, says that nurse certification opens up more opportunities and offers nurses more confidence and personal satisfaction.

To many, becoming certified in a nursing specialty is the new standard of excellence in the field. Earning certification in a specialty such as informatics, medical-surgical, or gerontology nursing can provide nurses with a feeling of accomplishment, promote quality care, and help nurses advance their careers.

Certified nurses say that becoming certified builds their personal confidence. In fact, 97 percent of respondents in an American Board of Nursing Specialties (ABNS) survey said certification builds personal satisfaction, and 88 percent said it enhances their confidence in their clinical abilities.1 

More than 90 percent of nurses surveyed by the ABNS agreed that certification validates specialized knowledge, enhances professional credibility, and indicates a level of clinical competence.2 American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) exams, which are written by board-certified professionals who rely on their real-world experiences, evolve over time to reflect evidence-based best practices. 

Research shows that this rigorous certification process can improve care. One study found that the greater the proportion of certified nurses working in intensive care units, the fewer total falls.3 Other researchers have found that compared with nurses who lack certifications, nurses certified in wound care had more knowledge about the classification of pressure ulcers,4 oncology-certified nurses had greater pain knowledge,5 and hospice-certified nurses performed better on appropriate inhaler use.6 It has also been proven that nurses certified in emergency and critical care perform better on a simulated mass-casualty triage test.7 

Although certification can provide more opportunities, it’s no secret that nurses’ schedules can be hectic, and some may be hesitant to make the commitment required to obtain certification. However, resources through the ANCC can ensure that nurses have the support they need to prepare for the certification exam, while accommodating their busy lifestyles. By providing study aids, test content outlines, sample questions and review seminars, ANCC offers a variety of information to help prepare for the exam. Online registration and test centers in accessible locations also make taking the exams convenient.

Certified nurses often encourage others to earn certifications because they have seen their hard work pay off in their personal and professional lives. Providing high-quality patient care by embracing a lifelong journey of learning will benefit patients and the nursing profession as a whole.

About the Author:
Ellen Swartwout, RN, MSN, NEA-BC, is senior director for certification and measurement services for the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), a subsidiary of the American Nurses Association (ANA). ANCC’s mission is to promote excellence in nursing and health care globally through credentialing programs. Swartwout was recently awarded an AONE Foundation seed grant for patient safety research, presented at the AONE annual meeting in Denver, Colo.


1Niebuhr and Biel (2007). The value of specialty nursing certification. Nursing Outlook, 55(4), 176-181. 
3Kendall-Gallagher and Blegen (2009). Competence and certification of registered nurses and safety of patients in intensive care units. American Journal of Critical Care, 18(2), 106-113.
4Hart, S., Bergquist, S., Gajewski, B., & Dunton, N. (2006). Reliability testing of the National Database of Nursing Quality Indicators pressure ulcer indicator. Journal of Nursing Care Quality. 2006 Jul-Sep; 21(3), 256-65.
5Coleman, Coon, Lockhart, et al. (2009). Effect of certification in oncology nursing on nursing-sensitive outcomes. Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing, 13(2), 165-172. 
6Scarpaci, Tsoukleris, & McPherson (2007). Assessment of hospice nurses’ technique in the use of inhalers and nebulizers. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 10(3), 665-676. 
7Robison (2002). Army nurses’ knowledge base for determining triage categories in a mass casualty. Military Medicine, 167(10), 812-816. 

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