Nursing certificates are for RNs and advanced practice nurses (APNs) who already have licenses and some experience. Nursing certificates are advanced credentials awarded in specific sub-fields that give nurses the knowledge to hold more specialized positions.
It is important to recognize that there are no fixed requirements for accredited certificate programs. Each certificate is specific to a unique specialty field, and there are numerous professional organizations that offer them. Therefore, educational and clinical requirements can vary widely from 1 certificate to the next.
There are usually numerous different types of certificates in each field of medicine, and they can be offered by different organizations as well. For example, if you are an experienced RN who works in the cardiology wing of a hospital, organizations such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American College of Cardiovascular Nurses (ACCN) offer cardiac-vascular certificates.
Who should pursue a certificate in nursing?
Certificates are for motivated and experienced RNs who want to demonstrate their clinical competence and earn professional prestige. They are a way to enhance your degree, increase your value on the job market, deepen your knowledge in your sub-field and demonstrate commitment and motivation to your employer.
Additionally, some specialized jobs require you to have a particular certificate in order to be eligible for the position. For example, many healthcare centers will only hire you as a nursing manager or director if you hold a certificate in administrative leadership or something similar.
Certificates in nursing are not available to just anyone. Specific requirements are different for every type of certificate, but almost every certificate will require you to have at least your RN license and significant experience working in a healthcare setting. Therefore, certificates are not usually available to licensed practical nurses (LPNs), licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) or undergraduate students.
Nursing Certificate Courses
Although a certificate program may simply require you to collect a certain number of clinical hours and continuing education credits before you can take their certificate exam, others require you to complete a full course or even several courses in preparation for the exam. And although some certificates will not require you to enroll classes before taking their exam, you may want the structure and routine of a traditional class to help you prepare for your certificate test.
Certificate courses can have very different formats and requirements. For instance, the courses for a certificate in administrative leadership can require up to 18 hours of college semester credits, which is about 4 semesters of part-time study. Although these certificate courses are expensive and cost about the same amount as regular college tuition, all 18 hours of semester credit can also be applied toward an MSN in administrative nursing.
However, not all certificate courses are this long and this expensive. For example, 1 of the most common certificates is the Critical Care Registered Nurse certification (CCRN) that is offered by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). Although the AACN does not require nurses to take a course before they take the certificate exam, they do suggest that students take a preparatory class to help them learn the large amount of information that the exam covers.
A variety of both nonprofit and for-profit institutions offer preparatory courses for the CCRN certificate. Some of these are offered online by traditional universities. These courses usually cost $200 to $400 and they can be completed at your own pace over a 6 to 8week period.
The AACN also offers its own certificate courses in the form of online webinars. These webinar certificate courses cost under $200 and allow you to move through 7 different education modules at your own pace. Additionally, because certificate courses like this are offered by the same association that creates the certificate exam, you can be sure that the information you receive will be relevant and accurate.
These are just a few examples of the types of certificate courses that are available. For every certificate, you will probably find a variety of options for courses. So once you choose the type of certificate you want, be sure to do plenty of research on preparatory courses.
And remember, the most reliable certificate courses will usually be available through universities, established for-profit educational companies or as an accredited online certificate prep course through the organization that creates the exam.
Studying online for a certificate in nursing
Nursing online training has become the most common way for RNs to prepare for their certificate exams. The best certificate online courses are usually offered by universities, test-prep businesses or even by the organization that accredits the certificate and writes the exams. And if a certificate organization offers top online certificates, it will almost always provide courses online as well. However, if it does not provide its own certificate classes, its website will usually direct you to institutions that do provide online courses.
Additionally, there are now several for-profit Internet companies that provide online preparation materials for almost every type of certificate. Some of these websites will charge you for each individual online certificate course. Others offer a reasonable flat-rate subscription fee that gives you unlimited access to all of their nursing certificates online resources.
Although these websites are still fairly new and are not yet very well known, their online study materials typically cost a fraction of the price that universities and accrediting organizations charge for their online courses.
Holding a job during your nursing certificate program
No matter which kind of certificate you decide to earn, your preparation courses will be in either a part-time or online format. Certificates are for working RNs, and the organizations that offer them do not expect you to quit your job in order to prepare for their certificate. In fact, most certificates emphasize the importance of real clinical practice and require you to submit documentation of your work experience in addition to any coursework or exam requirements.
Most nurses do not stop working to prepare for their certificates because the medical experience that they gain while they work in their specialty field is critical to passing the practice-based certificate exams. However, it might be a good idea to take 1 or 2 days off from work just before taking your certificate exam. This can give you time to rest, focus and review your exam preparation materials.