The Résumé Rx

Top Nursing Certifications to Empower Your Nursing Career

Amanda Guarniere

Nursing certifications are critical to your long-term success in the profession. They may not always be required, but they can be crucial if you’re looking for better job opportunities and higher pay. 

In this article, we’ll cover the top certifications and help you decide on the right one for your specific career, skills, and goals.

Table of Contents:

Entry-Level Nursing Certifications:

Let’s dive right into entry-level nursing certifications for those starting their nursing careers…

Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN)

Provided by the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB)

This certification demonstrates your ability to care for young children. It focuses on skills that help children from birth to adulthood. 

Is the CPN for you?
Does your heart light up around children? Do you feel like you’re making a real difference when you’re nursing them back to health? Then this is the perfect certification to help you stand out in your field.

Requirements: To be eligible for the CPN, you need a valid RN license and 1,800 hours of pediatric clinical experience within the last two years. So, it’s an awesome opportunity for nurses who’ve already been dipping their toes in the pediatric pool!

Fees: The initial certification fee is $300, but if you’re a member of the Society of Pediatric Nurses, you can get a discount and only pay $270.

Test: The CPN examination is a comprehensive test, covering various areas of pediatric nursing. It consists of 175 questions, and you’ll have three hours to complete the test. It sounds daunting, but with your experience and a bit of strategic studying, I’m confident most will pass this exam. 

And remember, staying a Certified Pediatric Nurse isn’t a one-and-done deal. Your certification lasts for a solid 5 years, but after that, you’ll have to go through a recertification process. Recertification requires either passing an exam again or earning 15 contact hours in pediatric nursing. It might sound like a big commitment, but it shows your dedication to those tiny patients who look up to you!

Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse (CMSRN)

Provided by the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (AMSN)

The Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse (CMSRN) certification is a recognized path for medical-surgical nurses to demonstrate their commitment, confidence, and credibility in the field. 

Is the CMSRN credential right for you?
If you are a medical-surgical nurse looking to showcase your skills, gain recognition from peers and employers, and enhance your professional confidence, then the CMSRN certification is perfect.

Requirements: To be eligible for the CMSRN certification, you must hold an unencumbered and current license as a Registered Nurse (RN). You also need at least two full years of practice in a medical-surgical setting with your RN license, and should also have worked 2,000 practice hours within the past three years in a medical-surgical setting. 

Fees: The CMSRN initial certification fee is $300, but you’ll get a $30 discount if you are an AMSN member.

Test: The exam is based on the 2023 CMSRN Exam Blueprint, which aligns with current practice standards. See their official site for specific details regarding the exam format, duration, and topics.

Once you become a Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse, your certification is valid for a specified period. To maintain your certification, you will need to go through a recertification process. This can be achieved either by earning a certain number of continuing education contact hours in medical-surgical nursing or by retaking the exam.

Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN)

Provided by the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC)

Made for nurses who specialize in the treatment of cancer, this certification includes epidemiology, survivorship, treatment considerations, symptom management, and end-of-life care. 

Is the OCN credential for you?
Nurses who find fulfillment in working with cancer patients can advance their careers through the oncology certification. If you want to advance clinical treatments that are helping to find a cure for cancer, this is the right certification for you

Requirements: Requirements for this certification include an RN license, 2,000 hours of experience in an adult oncology practice, and two years of total experience as an RN within the last four years. 

Fees: Testing costs $420 for non-members and $300 for OSN/APHON members. 

Test: The OCN test is a three-hour exam consisting of 165 multiple-choice questions. The test is divided into six major subject areas that include care continuum, oncology nurse practice, and oncology emergencies. 

Certified Dialysis Nurse (CDN)

Offered by the Nephrology Nursing Certification Commission (NNCC)

This is a patient-focused certification that builds your skills in dialysis, a life-saving treatment that removes extra fluid and waste from the blood. 

Is the CDN credential right for you?
Dialysis is performed on patients with a variety of issues, including kidney failure and kidney injury. If you enjoy developing skills and understanding a procedure that helps people live healthy lives, this is an ideal certification. 

Requirements: You must have an RN license and complete 2,000 hours as a Registered Nurse in nephrology (kidney) nursing care. You will also need 20 hours of approved continued education in nephrology. 

Fees: The exam fee is $350, although there are other fees like the application fee ($50) and the retake fee ($200). 

Test: There are 150 questions in the CDN exam. Students have three hours to complete the test and must pass with a 70% score. 

Mid-Career Nursing Certifications:

These are excellent certifications for nurses who are in the middle of their careers and looking to advance their skills while increasing earning potential and career opportunities…

Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN) 

Provided by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN)

This is a specialty certification for nurses who provide direct care to patients who are critically ill. These patients can be of any age and from any demographic. 

Is the CCRN credential right for you?
Do you thrive in intense situations? If you are interested in working in an ICU, cardiac-care facility, or trauma unit, this could be the perfect credential for your future. 

Requirements: This certification requires an RN or APRN license. There is a two-year, 1,750-hour option, as well as a five-year, 2,000-hour option for the certification. 

Fees: The AACN charges $250 for members and $365 for non-members. 

Test: The test largely consists of questions related to clinical judgment, as well as respiratory, cardiovascular, and neurological issues. 

Certified Perioperative Nurse (CNOR) 

Provided by the Competency & Credentialing Institute (CCI)

Held by more than 40,000 nurses, the CNOR credential builds and verifies your understanding of pre-and post-operative procedures. It includes factors like patient assessment, management of activities, and communication with patients and doctors. 

Is the CNOR credential right for you?
This credential is part nursing skills, part organization ability. If you naturally take to organizational tasks like managing activities, documenting information, and guiding personnel and patients, this is a good certification for your career. 

Requirements: You must have a current RN license, be working full- or part-time in perioperative nursing, education, administration, or research, and have at least two years and 2,400 hours of experience in perioperative nursing. This must include 1,200 hours in an intraoperative setting. 

Fees: The fees are $445 for the exam, but you can also pay $520 for the exam and the prep book. 

Test: The CNOR exam consists of 200 multiple-choice questions that can be completed over 3 hours and 45 minutes. 

Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Certification (PMH-BC)

Provided by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)

This certification provides an assessment of your skills and knowledge in the psychiatric and mental health specialties. It includes assessment and diagnosis, planning of mental-health treatments, implementation, and evaluation of results. 

Is the PMH-BC credential right for you?
Mental health is a fascinating field. If you enjoy helping people deal with mental health and psychiatric issues to live stronger, healthier, happier lives, this is a great option to build your career. 

Requirements: In addition to an RN license, you also need two years of experience as a full-time nurse, which should include a minimum of 2,000 hours in a psychiatric or mental health setting. You also need 30 hours of specific continuing education in the last three years. 

Fees: ANA members pay $295, while non-members pay $395.

Test: The test consists of 150 questions, but only 125 are scored. The largest portion is the “Implementation” section, which consists of 49 questions. 

Certified Pediatric Emergency Nurse (CPEN) 

Provided by the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) in conjunction with the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN)

This certification assesses your ability to provide emergency care to children and young adults, who are often the most vulnerable patients in healthcare. 

Is the CPEN credential right for you?
Working with child patients in an emergency and trauma setting is stressful and challenging, and things won’t always go according to plan. Consider this credential if you have the mental fortitude for this difficult position and love working with kids. 

Requirements: The only requirement is a current unrestricted RN license. However, the BCEN recommends but does not require, at least two years of experience. 

Fees: The BCEN uses a voucher system that can be applied to various certifications and retesting. The cost is $195 per voucher if you purchase three to ten vouchers. There is also a self-pay plan that costs $370 for the initial exam. 

Test: This is a five-part exam that includes trauma emergencies, special considerations, and the triage process and assessment. 

Certified Wound Care Nurse (CWCN) 

Provided by the Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nursing Certification Board (WOCNCB)

Since 1978, this has been the go-to certification for nursing professionals interested in wounds, ostomy, and continence issues. 

Is the CWCN credential right for you?
This is a certification that can apply to many different careers. It may be especially useful if you work with elderly patients or with surgical patients of any kind. 

Requirements: You need a bachelor’s degree and an RN license for this certification. You also need to meet one of their pathway requirements, which includes specific education and experience requirements. 

Fees: The WOCNCB charges $395 for one specialty. 

Test: The test includes numerous aspects of nursing care, including assessment of wounds, intervention methods, and educating patients. 

Advanced Nursing Certifications:

Family Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified (FNP-BC) 

Provided by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)

This certification demonstrates your skills in family health promotion and the maintenance of a healthy lifestyle for people of all ages. It includes diagnosis and disease management, as well as the use of prescription medications and other interventions. 

Is the FNP-BC credential right for you?
Do you love working with families of all types? Do you enjoy promoting healthy living for children and adults alike? This broad certification is perfect if you want to help families reach a higher level of health!

Requirements: You must have an RN license, as well as a master’s post-graduate certificate, or doctor of nursing practice. You’ll also need graduate-level APRN courses in physiology, health assessment, and pharmacology. 

Fees: The ANA charges $395 for non-members. Members only pay $295. 

Test: The test includes 175 questions that include the assessment, diagnosis, planning, and implementation of care plans. 

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) 

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

This credential focuses specifically on the administration of anesthesia. It verifies your skills in this high-demand, high-stakes specialization, which is one of the best-paid nursing roles in the industry. To complete certification, applicants must pass the National Certification Exam (NCE). 

Is the CRNA credential for you?
If you want to earn a massive salary, this is the perfect specialization. But it won’t be easy, as nurse anesthetists have some of the most rigorous and intense training possible. 

Requirements: Among other requirements, you need to hold an RN license and complete a nurse anesthesia program that is accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia.

Fees: The fee for the NCE is $1,045, making it one of the most costly exams in the nursing profession. 

Test: The test consists of a minimum of 100 questions, 70 that are universal and 30 that are selected randomly. The most you will complete is 170 questions. 

Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified (PPCNP-BC) 

Provided by the American Nurses Credentialing Center

This credential has been phased out, as it overlapped with the primary care PNP certification through the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB). (See below.)

Primary Care PNP Certification

Provided by the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB)

This certification is designed to test a nurse’s skills during the entire care journey for young patients. It ensures a solid foundation of health and wellness for patients that usually range from infancy to adulthood. 

Is the Primary Care PNP credential for you?
If you enjoy working with children and youth and want a career that takes a broad approach to health, this is a great certification for you. 

Requirements: This certification requires an RN license as well as a master’s or doctorate from an accredited school. There is also a requirement for 500 hours of direct care in a clinical setting. 

Fees: The exam fee is $395 which includes a $130 non-refundable registration fee

Test: The exam consists of 175 multiple-choice questions; applicants have three hours to complete the test, which is delivered by computer at a testing center. There are over 300 testing centers across the country. 

Additional Nursing Certification Providers:

Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified (A-GNP-BC) 

Provided by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)

This is a certification for advanced nurses who work with adult and elderly patients. It verifies your knowledge in the clinical care of these older people, a growing demographic who need increased support as they age.

Is the A-GNP-BC credential right for you?
Working with adults and the elderly can be incredibly rewarding. They have plenty of stories and vast amounts of wisdom to share. If you enjoy working with these patients and appreciate the importance of caring for our elders, this is the ideal certificate for you. 

Requirements: To enroll in testing, you’ll need an RN license. You’ll also need a master’s, post-graduate certificate, or a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. These degrees must include specific classroom subjects. 

Fees: The cost is $295 for members and $395 for non-members. 

Test: The test consists of 150 questions. The majority center around patient care, but there are also patient assessment and professional practice questions. 

Additional Nursing Certification Providers:

In addition to the providers mentioned above, several other organizations offer valuable nursing certifications across various specialties…

Here are a few notable options:

American Board of Perianesthesia Nursing Certification (ABPANC): Offers certification for nurses working in perianesthesia and pain management.

Certifications include:

  • Certified Post Anesthesia Nurse (CPAN)
  • Certified Ambulatory Perianesthesia Nurse (CAPA)

American Board of Cardiovascular Medical Accreditation (ABCM): Provides certifications for various cardiac nursing specialties.

Certifications include: 

  • ECG Instructor’s Board Certification Examination
  • CVRN-BC – Cardiovascular Nursing Level I

Hospice and Palliative Credentialing Center (HPCC): Offers certification for nurses working in hospice and palliative care.

Certifications include: 

  • Advanced Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse (ACHPN)
  • Advanced Palliative Hospice Social Worker – Certified (APHSW-C)

International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE): Provides certification for professionals who support breastfeeding and lactating parents.

Certifications include: 

  • International Board of Lactation Consultant

American Association of Heart Failure Nurses (AAHFN): Offers certification for nurses working with heart failure patients.

Certifications include: 

  • Certified Heart Failure Nurse
  • Certified Heart Failure Nurse-K for non-clinical Registered Nurses.

National Certification Corporation (NCC): Provides certifications across several neonatal and women’s health nurse practitioner specialties.

Certifications include: 

  • Inpatient Obstetric Nursing
  • Low Risk Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing

American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants (AALNC): Offers certification for legal nurse consultants.

Certifications include: 

  • Legal Nurse Consultant Certified (LNCC)

American Association of Neuroscience Nurses (AANN): Provides certifications for neuroscience nurses.

Certifications include: 

  • Certified Neuroscience Registered Nurse (CNRN)
  • Certificate Program for the Seizure and Epilepsy Healthcare Professional

Board of Pharmacy Specialties (BPS): Offers certification for nurses working in pharmacotherapy.

Certifications include: 

  • BPS Board Certified Nuclear Pharmacist
  • Nutrition Support Pharmacy

National Association of School Nurses (NASN): Provides certification for school nurses.

Certifications include: 

  • Nationally Certified School Nurse (NCSN)



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