Nursing Certifications for Popular Specialties

smiling nurse taking info from senior patient
smiling nurse taking info from senior patient

Many nursing specialties offer certifications. Earning one can be a good way to move up in your field.

As a nurse, you’ll have the opportunity to specialize in a variety of roles during your career. Often, your first few years in the field will give you the experience you need to find a specialty that suits your nursing skill set and interests. Once you find one you really enjoy, you may want to obtain certification in that field.

Certification is a formal process that validates your qualifications and knowledge on a subject or specialty. It’s a great way to prove your expertise, increase your salary, and advance your career. For example, you could earn a Certified Emergency Nurse certification if you find that ER nursing is a great fit for you. If you prefer pediatrics, you might want to earn a Pediatric Nursing Certification instead.

Nursing specialty certifications recognize the clinical knowledge, experience, skills, reasoning, and judgement a nurse has beyond the competence level demonstrated through the professional license they hold (such as RN or APRN), says Yhovana D. Gordon, EdD, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC, who serves as the associate dean of academic affairs at Florida International University’s Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing & Health Sciences.

“In addition to the professional recognition and career advancement benefits, specialty certifications in nursing positively impact the profession at the personal and institutional level by empowering nurses with evidence-based knowledge,” Gordon says.

Intrigued? Keep reading to learn more about some popular specialty certifications, how you earn one, and what having this additional training can do for you.

Do I Need to Be Certified?

Being certified can be a big boost to your nursing career in certain specialties. For example, you’ll probably need to earn certification on top of your license if you want to work as a nurse case manager, legal nurse consultant, or nurse informaticist, among other advanced nursing roles. Not all nursing specialties have certifications, but for those that do, earning one has definite advantages. Depending on your specialty, earning a certification could:

  • Make your resume stand out to potential employers
  • Increase your earning potential
  • Prepare you to apply for jobs that prefer or require certification
  • Allow you to advance at your current place of work

“I am a firm believer that all nursing specialty certifications—from med-surg to trauma and everything in between—provide a much higher caliber of skills and knowledge to the clinical setting, as well as to critical and acute care settings such as the ICU, trauma, ER, and OR,” says Gordon. “National certifications have also evolved to become a requirement for initial and renewal licensing within the different advanced nursing practice roles in most states.”

Certifications Available Across the Board

You can earn certification at multiple nursing levels, too. While you might think of certifications as being primarily for registered nurses (RNs) or advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), those aren’t the only types of nurses who pursue them. Certifications for licensed practical nurses (LPNs) are available from the National Association of Practical Nurse Education and Service (NAPNES), which grants LPNs certifications demonstrating their skills, knowledge, and experience in a variety of areas, including:

  • Wound care
  • Dialysis
  • IV care
  • Pediatrics
  • Geriatrics

The types of certifications available to certified nursing assistants (CNAs) will depend on your state. In some states, CNAs can earn a certification as an advanced CNA. Other states offer certifications that enable CNAs to perform specific additional tasks, such as drawing blood or dispensing medication. If you’re a CNA, your employer might even pay for the training you need to earn a certification.

Required Certifications

Some nursing specialties don’t recommend or require any professional certifications. However, there still might be at least one basic certification you’ll need. Almost all nurses need to earn their Basic Life Support (BLS) certification to work. In fact, in some states, you might need a current BLS certification to apply for or renew your RN license. A BLS certification shows you’ve been trained at the healthcare provider level in CPR and other emergency lifesaving techniques.

Not all nursing specialties require professional certification, but almost all require Basic Life Support (BLS) certification to work.

Depending on where you work, you might need to earn an Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) certification in place of, or on top, of your BLS certification. An ACLS certification covers everything a BLS does, but also includes management of early signs of strokes and bradycardia, or low heart rate, that could signal heart problems. If you work in pediatrics, you might also need to earn your Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) or Pediatric Emergency Assessment, Recognition and Stabilization (PEARS) certification. Like the BLS and ACLS, PALS and PEARS certifications show that you’re prepared for a medical emergency, but PALS and PEARS teach techniques specific to the pediatric population.

Generally, your employer will let you know the level of emergency life support certification you need. They may even offer certification or renewal classes on site. If not, you can take classes in your community. You might be able to earn certification online, although this is generally an option for renewal only.  

Certifications, Licenses, and Credentials: What’s the Difference?

As you advance in your nursing career, you’ll probably hear the terms certifications, license, and credentials thrown around a lot. Knowing the difference can be confusing, especially when it seems like they’re being used interchangeably. However, there are distinct differences among the three.

  • A license is what allows you to practice. Licenses are granted by your state or other government agency. Your license will be overseen by that agency, and you’ll need to renew it through them. The designations “RN” or “LPN” show that you are licensed, for example.
  • A credential is proof that your qualifications are issued by a third party. Credentials can fall into several categories. For example, your Master of Science in Nursing degree, or MSN, is an educational credential, while your Clinical Nurse Specialist designation, or CNS, is a professional credential.
  • A certification is earned through a formal process that validates your experience, education, and expertise. You’ll need to meet set requirements and pass an exam. Certificates are often granted by professional societies. The initials “CEN,” for example, show that you are a certified emergency nurse.

How Do I Get Certified?

nurse taking patient pulse

Your first step to professional certification is earning your nursing license. Your license will need to be active and in good standing before you apply for any certifications. So, if you’re not yet licensed, or your license has any restrictions on it, you’ll need to take care of that before you can earn any certifications.

If you’re on the road to earning your RN or LPN license, a required part of that journey is taking and passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), a standardized test that state regulatory boards use to determine if a candidate is ready to become licensed as an entry-level nurse. CNAs will take a different exam, determined by your state. APRNs will need to take an exam in their specialty or practice area. If you’ve worked as a nurse in another country and want to become a registered nurse in the U.S., there are a few more steps you’ll need to take before applying for your license, including passing an English language proficiency test, taking a special exam to prove your readiness to work as a nurse, and completing a screening for a work visa.

Keep in mind that most certifications are available to nurses at set levels. Certain certifications might be designed only for RNs, for example, while others might be designed for only APRNs. Some might be open to both. You’ll need to make sure that your license makes you eligible for the certification you want before you start the process.

Make sure the certification you’re pursuing is appropriate for your level of licensure.

Many certifications have qualifications you’ll need to meet. You might need to have worked a certain number of hours in your specialty, taken additional classes on the topic, passed an exam, or all three. If there’s an exam, you’ll generally need to send in an application before you can take it. You’ll probably need to send along supporting materials that prove your license is in good standing and that you’ve completed any other requirements.

How Do I List My Certification?

Once you have your certification, you’ll want to make sure you include it as part of your professional title. After all, you earned it. So, how should you list it? Does order matter? Yes, actually. The American Nurses Association (ANA) has a set order for listing any designations you have. The ANA preferred order is:

  1. Highest degree earned
  2. Licensure
  3. State designations or requirements
  4. National certification
  5. Awards and honors
  6. Other recognition

So, as an example, let’s say a pediatric nurse named Calvin Jones has a bachelor’s and a master’s, holds an active RN license, is a clinical nurse specialist and has earned an Acute Care Clinic Nurse Specialist Pediatric certification. Calvin would write out his degrees, license, and certifications as:

Calvin Jones, MSN, RN, CNS, ACCNS-P

Who’s in Charge of Bestowing Certifications?

Certifications are awarded by multiple organizations. Some certifications are awarded by more than one organization, so you (or your employer) have a choice.

Most certifications are offered by these four major organizations:

American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AANC)—AANC certifications are for nurses who work in critical care at both the RN and APRN level.

Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN)—BCEN offers certifications for nurses who work in emergency care, such as ER nurses and trauma nurses.

The National Certification Corp. (NCC)—NCC offers certifications for a range of nursing specialties for both RNs and APRNs.

American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)—ANCC is the official credentialing body for the American Nurses Association. It offers certifications across multiple specialties for RNs and APRNs. ANCC certifications give you the designation of Board Certified (BC) in your specialty.

What Nursing Certifications Are Available?

There’s a wide range of nursing certifications available across multiple specialties. Check out our list to learn about some of the most common certifications and what you’ll need to do to earn them.

Community and Family Nursing


Certifications:

You have two choices: the American Association of Nurse Practitioners National Certification Board (AANPCB) Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) Certification, or the ANCC Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) Certification (FNP-BC).

Requirements:

  • For the AANPCB FNP, you’ll need:
    • An active Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) license
    • At least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree from a family nurse practitioner program
    • Passage of the certification exam
  • For the ANCC FNP-BC, you’ll need:
    • An active APRN license
    • At least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree from a family nurse practitioner program
    • At least 500 clinical hours supervised by the faculty of your program
    • Passage of the certification exam

For more information:

American Association of Nurse Practitioners’ Family Nurse Practitioner certification, ANCC’s Family Nurse Practitioner certification


Certifications:

You can choose from the Commission for Case Manager (CCM) Certification or the ANCC Nursing Case Management Certification (RN-BC).

Requirements:

  • For CCM Certification, you’ll need:
    • An active Registered Nurse (RN) or Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) license
    • At least a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree
    • Either 12 months of case management experience under the supervision of a CCM-certified case manager or 24 months of experience under the supervision of a case manager without CCM certification
    • Passage of the certification exam
  • For ANCC Nursing Case Management Certification, you’ll need:
    • An active Registered Nurse (RN) license
    • At least two years of full-time RN work experience
    • At least 2,000 hours of clinical case management experience over the past three years
    • At least 30 hours of continuing education dedicated to case management over the past three years

For more information:

Commission for Case Manager (CCM) certification, ANCC Nursing Case Management certification


Certification:

Nationally Certified School Nurse (NCSN)

Requirements:

  • An active Registered Nurse (RN) license
  • At least a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree
  • At least 1,000 clinical hours working as a school nurse in the past three years
  • Passage of the certification exam

For more information:

National Board for Certification of School Nurses

Corporate, Leadership, and Administrative Nursing


Certifications:

You can earn the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) certification on the Adult or Pediatric level.

Requirements:

  • An active Registered Nurse (RN) license
  • At least two years of nursing experience
  • Successful completion of a sexual assault nurse examiner education program
  • Successful completion of a sexual assault nurse examiner clinical preceptorship
  • At least 300 work hours as a sexual assault nurse over the past three years
  • Passage of the certification exam

For more information:

International Association of Forensic Nurses certification


Certification:

Legal Nurse Consultant Certified (LNCC)

Requirements:

  • An active Registered Nurse (RN) license
  • At least five years of nursing experience
  • At least 2,000 clinical hours of experience as legal nurse consultant over the past five years
  • Passage of the certification exam

For more information:

American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants certification


Certifications:

You can choose the American Board of Occupational Health Nurses (ABOHN) Certification Certified Occupational Health Nurse (COHN) or the Certified Occupational Health Nurse-Specialist (COHN-S).

Requirements:

  • For COHN, you’ll need:
    • An active Registered Nurse (RN) license
    • At least 3,000 clinical hours in occupational health nursing over the past five years
    • Passage of the certification exam 
  • FOR COHN-S you’ll need:
    • An active Registered Nurse (RN) license
    • At least a bachelor’s degree (doesn’t need to be in nursing)
    • At least 3,000 clinical hours in occupational health nursing over the past five years
    • Passage of the certification exam

For more information:

American Board of Occupational Health Nurses certification

Specialized Focus Nursing


Certification:

AACN Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN)

Requirements:

  • An active Registered Nurse (RN) or Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) license
  • At least two years of RN or APRN experience with at least 1,750 hours dedicated to critical care and at least 85 of those hours accrued over the past two years, OR at least five years of RN or APRN experience with at least 2,000 hours dedicated to critical care with 144 of those hours accrued over the past year
  • Passage of the certification exam

For more information:

American Association of Critical-Care Nurses CCRN certification


Certification:

ANCC Cardiac Vascular Nursing Certification (RN-BC)

Requirements:

  • An active Registered Nurse (RN) license
  • At least two years of RN experience
  • At least 2,000 clinical hours in cardiovascular nursing over the last three years
  • At least 30 continuing education hours focused on cardiovascular nursing over the last three years
  • Passage of the certification exam

For more information:

Cardiac Vascular Nursing certification


Certification:

BCEN Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN)

Requirements:

  • An active Registered Nurse (RN) license
  • At least two years of RN experience are recommended but not required
  • Passage of the certification exam

For more information:

Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing


Certification:

Gerontological Nursing Certification (RN-BC)

Requirements:

  • An active Registered Nurse (RN) license
  • At least two years of RN experience
  • Minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical practice in specialty area of gerontological nursing within past three years
  • Completion of 30 hours of continuing education in gerontological nursing within past three years
  • Passage of the certification exam

For more information:

American Nurses Credentialing Center, Gerontological Nursing certification


Certification:

NCC Inpatient Obstetric Nursing Core Certification (RNC-OB)

Requirements:

  • An active Registered Nurse (RN) license
  • At least 2,000 clinical hours in labor and delivery
  • To have worked in labor and delivery within the past two years
  • Passage of the certification exam

For more information:

NCC Inpatient Obstetric Nursing certification


Certifications:

The National Certification Corporation (NCC) RNC Certification for Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing (RNC-NIC) or the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses Critical Care RN (Neonatal) certification

Requirements:

  • For the (RNC-NIC):
    • Current/active/unencumbered licensure as an RN in the U.S. or Canada
    • 24 months of specialty experience as a U.S. or Canadian RN
    • Specialty experience can consist of direct patient care, education, administration or research.
    • Employment in the specialty sometime in the last 24 months
  • For the CCRN (Neonatal):
    • A current, unencumbered U.S. RN or APRN license is required. You must have practice as an RN or APRN for 1,750 hours in direct care of acutely/critically ill neonatal patients during the previous two years, with 875 of those hours accrued in the most recent year preceding application, or practice as an RN or APRN for at least five years with a minimum of 2,000 hours in direct care of acutely/critically ill neonatal patients, with 144 of those hours in the most recent year preceding application. You must take and pass the exam.

For more information:

The National Certification Corp. RNC Certification for Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing certification, American Association of Critical-Care Nurses certification


Certification:

Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN)

Requirements:

  • An active Registered Nurse (RN) license
  • At least two years of RN experience within the last four years
  • At least 2,000 clinical hours in oncology nursing over the past four years
  • At least 10 continuing education hours focused on oncology over the last three years
  • Passage of the certification exam

For more information:

Oncology Nursing Certification Corp.’s oncology nurse certification


Certification:

Certified Perioperative Nurse (CNOR)

Requirements:

  • An active Registered Nurse (RN) license
  • Current OR nursing employment
  • At least two years of OR nursing experience
  • At least 2,400 clinical hours as an OR nurse, with at least 1,200 of those hours spent in an intraoperative setting
  • Passage of the certification exam

For more information:

Competency & Credentialing Institute (CCI)


Certification:

ANCC Pediatric Nursing Certification (RN-BC)

Requirements:

  • An active Registered Nurse (RN) license
  • At least two years of RN experience
  • At least 3,000 clinical hours in pediatric nursing over the past three years
  • At least 30 hours continuing education credits dedicated to pediatrics over the past three years
  • Passage of the certification exam

For more information:

ANCC Pediatric Nursing Certification


Certification:

ANCC Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Certification (RN-BC)

Requirements:

  • An active Registered Nurse (RN) license
  • At least two years of nursing experience
  • At least 2,000 clinical hours in psychiatric nursing over the last three years
  • At least 30 hours of continuing education focused on psychiatric nursing over the past three years
  • Passage of the certification exam

For more information:

ANCC Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing certification


Certification:

Certified Rehabilitation Registered Nurse

Requirements:

  • An active Registered Nurse (RN) license
  • At least two years of RN experience in rehabilitation over the past five years or at least one year of RN experience in rehabilitation and one year of post-BSN study within the past five years
  • Passage of the certification exam

For more information:

Association of Rehabilitation Nurses certification


Certification:

BCEN Trauma Certified Registered Nurse (TCRN)

Requirements:

  • An active Registered Nurse (RN) license
  • At least two years of trauma nursing experience is recommended but not required
  • Passage of the certification exam

For more information:

BCEN Trauma Certified Registered Nurse


Certification:

NCC Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner (WHNP-BC)

Requirements:

  • An active Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) license
  • At least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree with a focus on women’s health
  • Graduation within the last eight years
  • Passage of the certification exam

For more information:

Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner certification

Advanced Practice Registered Nursing (APRN)


Certification:

ANCC Nurse Executive, Advanced Certification (NEA-BC)

Requirements:

  • An active Registered Nurse (RN) license
  • A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree with a master’s in another subject
  • At least two years of full-time experience at the nurse executive level within the last three years.
  • At least 30 continuing education hours in nursing administration within the last three years. This requirement is waived with an MSN in nurse administration.
  • Passage of the certification exam

For more information:

Nurse Executive, advanced certification


Certification:

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

Requirements:

  • An active Registered Nurse (RN) or Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) license
  • At least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree (doctoral degree required by 2025)
  • Completion of an accredited nursing anesthetist program within the past two years
  • Passage of the certification exam

For more information:

National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA)


Certification:

Certified Nurse Educator (CNE)

Requirements:

  • An active Registered Nurse (RN) license
  • At least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree
  • Completion of program with an emphasis on nurse education OR at least two years of experience as a nurse educator within the past two years
  • Passage of the certification exam

For more information:

National League for Nursing (NLN) Nurse Educator certification


Certification:

ANCC Informatics Nursing Certification (RN-BC)

Requirements:

  • An active Registered Nurse (RN) license
  • At least a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree
  • At least two years of RN experience
  • At least 2,000 hours of nurse informaticist work over the past three years; or at least 1,000 hours or nurse informaticist work over the past three years along with 12 graduate-level credit hours in nursing informatics; or completion of an MSN in nursing informatics that included at least 200 supervised practicum hours
  • Passage of the certification exam

For more information:

Informatics Nursing certification


Certification:

Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM)

Requirements:

  • An active Registered Nurse (RN) or Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) license
  • At least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree
  • Completion of an accredited midwifery program
  • Passage of the certification exam

For more information:

American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB)


Written and reported by:

Stephanie Behring

Contributing Writer

yhovana gordon

With professional insight from:

Yhovana D. Gordon, EdD, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC

Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Florida International University Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing & Health Sciences


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