The Value of Specialty Certifications


By Bette Case Di Leonardi, PhD, RN-BC, contributor

 Approximately one-half million, or 20 percent, of the 2.5 million registered nurses in the United States have achieved specialty certifications.  A 2006 study that included 11,000 certified and non-certified nurses and nurse managers found that the top perceived values of certification include:

• Enhanced professional credibility,
• Evidence of professional commitment, and
• Feelings of personal accomplishment and satisfaction.

Other research studies have documented:

• Certified nurses’ perception of increased formal and informal power
• Nurse managers’ preference for hiring certified nurses
• Nurse managers’ perception of a positive performance difference in certified nurses
• A significant positive impact on patient care and patient safety when certified nurses are giving care

The American Board of Nursing Specialties (ABNS) web site has posted a comprehensive bibliography on the value of certification along with a list of approved certification programs.  Although many certified nurses indicate that their employers offer no incentives for certification, the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) which certifies nurses in many different specialties and specialty roles states that certified nurses earn an average of $9,000 more annually than their non-certified colleagues.

“Certification, as defined by ABNS is the formal recognition of the specialized knowledge, skills, and experience demonstrated by the achievement of standards identified by a nursing specialty to promote optimal health outcomes.” (ABNS, 2005)  ABNS accredits nursing specialty certification programs.
Certification differs from certificate programs that grant a certificate upon completion of a specific education or training program. 

Initial certification requirements include qualifications such as a valid RN license, specified minimum of practice hours, professional development contact hours, successful completion of an examination, and perhaps other requirements.  To keep the certification valid, the nurse must renew it at specified intervals by meeting requirements which usually include practice hours and professional development, in addition to other requirements.

Healthcare facilities can support their nurses’ certification in a variety of ways such as reimbursement for examination fees or the cost of continuing education, or listing certification credentials on a nametag and/or business cards.  The ANCC Magnet® recognition criteria include specialty certification for nursing staff.

Bette Case Di Leonardi, PhD, RN-BC, is an independent consultant to a broad spectrum of healthcare organizations including American Mobile Healthcare, Inc. Bette presents continuing education offerings at a variety of national and regional conferences, and has published on the topics of critical thinking, test construction, competency testing, precepting, and career development. She has also written numerous continuing education self-study courses and prepared competence tests for a variety of nursing specialties. She developed and teaches an interactive online course for Indiana University. Bette currently serves as a board member of the National Board for Certification of Hospice and Palliative Nurses (NBCHPN) and is a Content Expert Panel Member for the Nursing Professional Development Examination offered by American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

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