Julianne E. van Kalken worked as a pediatric and neonatal intensive care nurse for years before she discovered her true passion – teaching and mentoring new nurses. She earned a master’s degree in science in nursing. And last December, she became board certified in nursing professional development, a professional and nursing salary boost.
“To me, certification is a signal to your employer and to the profession that you’re passionate about your specialty,” says van Kalken, who works in the Elliot Health System in Manchester, NH. “It’s a badge of honor that shows you are a dedicated, expert in your field.”
What is a certification?
Nursing certification is a professional stamp of approval by a certifying body – and there are many certifying groups – that administers proficiency exams in a specialized nursing field.
The American Nurses Credentialing Center Certification Program, part of the American Nurses Association, is a large credentialing body that offers nurses certifications in such fields as:
- Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist Certification (AGCNS-BC)
- National Healthcare Disaster Certification (NHDP-BC)
- Family Nurse Practitioner Certification (FNP-BC)
- Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP-BC)
Most nurses hone skills in a specialty field for several years before seeking certification. The process typically includes additional classroom study, exam prep courses, and $100 to $400 fee to take the exam.
“It’s not an insignificant amount of time or money,” says van Kalken, who encourages nurses she mentors to become certified. “But it’s a street cred. Those letters behind your name prove you know what you’re talking about.”
Letters translate to dollars
Those letters also can boost nursing salaries, according to our 2018 Nursing Salary Guide of 22,017 nursing professionals.
The survey showed nurses with a professional certification in the top-20 nursing specialties earn on average 23% more than colleagues without those trailing initials.
The largest salary disparity, however, is seen in fields outside the top 20.
- Dermatology, 52%
- Eye, Ear, Nose, and Throat, 49%
- Clinical Nurse Specialist, 48%
- Urgent Care, 47%
- School Nurse, 42%
Despite the nursing salary boost, only 30% to 40% of nurses responding to the survey had sought certification.
Download the 2018 Nursing Salary Guide
“Education is expensive, time-consuming, and challenging,” says Rob Senior, an editor for ADVANCE Healthcare Network who has interpreted the survey statistics. “If you’re working 40 or more hours a week, it’s more challenging to go back to school.”
Everette Bryant has worked as a critical care nurse for five years. But when he hit the road and became a traveling nurse, he sought certifications in critical care and emergency nursing. Bryant says the CCRN and CEN initials after his name give him a competitive edge against noncertified nurses vying for the most desirable nursing destinations, like Florida in winter and Vermont in summer.
“A hiring manager is looking at a big stack of applications and has five minutes to pick the best candidate,” Bryant says. “My certifications say I’m not only experienced in intensive care, I’m specialized in intensive care. That helps get me to the top of the stack.”
Certification leads to better outcomes for patients and nurses
Certification doesn’t just increase nursing salaries, it often increases patient outcomes, depending on the illness or ailment.
A review of scientific literature conducted by the American Board of Nursing Specialties (ABNS) found:
- Nurses certified in wound, continence, and/or ostomy care were better at staging pressure ulcers than noncertified nurses.
- Anesthesia departments staffed by Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA) showed no higher anesthetic complication rates or mortality rates than departments staffed by anesthesiologists.
- Patient length-of-stay was predictably shorter in rehabilitation units staffed by a Certified Rehabilitation Registered Nurse (CRRN).
- A 10% increase in nurses with a bachelor’s degree and a specialty certification was associated with a 2% decrease in patient mortality and “failure to rescue.”
In 2017, the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing conducted a survey that examined the perceived value of a Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) certification.
The study of 9,800 certified and noncertified emergency room nurses and supervisors found “positive relationships” between CEN certification and nursing accuracy, efficiency, and patient safety.
The study also showed that emergency nurses with certifications feel greater career satisfaction. They believe their CEN certification makes opens doors and helps them advance through the ranks.
Bottom line: You’re already a veteran in your nursing field. With a little more study, you can turn that experience into a certification that will help you earn more money and respect.
Article by Lisa Kaplan Gordon. Lisa is an award-winning writer who’s covered stories for Yahoo, AOL, and many others. She lives in McLean, Virginia.