Certified nurses’ march to excellence
Every year on March 19, organizations worldwide observe Certified Nurses Day to celebrate and publicly acknowledge nurses who maintain the highest credentials in their practices. This day also honors the legacy of Margretta Madden Styles, EdD, RN, FAAN, a visionary leader considered the godmother of credentialing in the nursing profession. Styles’ inspired research and provocative thinking laid the foundation for an approach to credentials and standards that still holds. She also was a central figure in establishing the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), which, for more than 30 years, has promoted exemplary standards of nursing, in all practice and professional settings, with the aim of improving patient care and clinical outcomes.
Styles’ legacy matters greatly today as nurses seek to effect enduring, positive changes to their practice environments; restructure and revitalize healthcare delivery in the pandemic’s wake; make crucial inroads in closing healthcare disparities and in improving patients’ lives; and in advancing the science and scholarship of nursing.
Specialty credentials reflect expertise in an area of nursing, maintained over time through continuing education and recertification, that incorporates the latest standards and practices. This commitment to lifelong learning demonstrates to employers and patients a nurse’s knowledge, skills, and abilities. It also instills nurses with self-confidence and empowers them in their practices.
In addition, specialty credentials position nurses for career advancement. Many employers preferentially hire certified nurses and offer them pay differentials and career ladder options as well as leadership opportunities that expose them to new roles, a wider range of colleagues, and broader healthcare issues. For nurses who feel weary in their existing roles, certification—portable across employers and practice settings—could be an avenue to new, more fulfilling positions.
With all these plusses, specialty certification remains more of an exception than a rule. Why? Carving out professional development time demands extra effort—a challenge under normal circumstances, but more so now as nurses face both active and pent-up stresses and strains from the pandemic. Striving for a beneficial, yet voluntary, credential may be more than some feel they can take on. Others may be hesitant to relive past unpleasant testing experiences.
While acknowledging these challenges, I encourage nurses to reconsider distinguishing themselves through specialty certification. You’re worth the investment! Additionally, even in the COVID-19 era, nursing practices and our evidence base have changed. ANCC and the experts who serve on its certification panels track the evidence closely to ensure that each certification reflects these new standards, with reliability and validity. This ultimately benefits our patients. Research shows that certification is an attribute associated with improved outcomes such as reduced healthcare-acquired and central-line infections, as well as better pain management.
The ANA Enterprise offers certification preparation resources—review courses, complimentary study aids, readiness tests, and more—to help nurses not ready to jump right into certification testing. The Success Pays program, offered in collaboration with employers, enables nurses to take a specialty exam twice. The employer pays for the exam only when a nurse passes.
Convenient testing options, along with flexible and practical ways to demonstrate continued learning and competence for renewal, make the certification process more approachable for all.
Decades ago, Styles saw that healthcare was becoming ever more complex, and that specialty certification would enable nurses not only to meet these demands but also anticipate necessary practice changes and advance the body of evidence supporting them. The intricacies and nuances of care and the urgency of bettering care processes have only multiplied since then. In Styles’ times and ours, nurses with specialty certification remain standard bearers of excellence.
Jennifer Mensik Kennedy,
PhD, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, President,
American Nurses Association
American Nurse Journal. 2023; 18(3). Doi: 10.51256/ANJ032317