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Celebrating Nursing Certification

By Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

  • Nursing Certification
  • Nurses Get Certified
  • If you’re thinking about a career that includes leadership roles, obtaining certification in one or more specialty areas will help you reach those goals. Becoming certified requires a commitment to life-long learning and to meeting the highest standards in the nursing profession—both qualities expected of nursing leaders.

    If you’ve been working in a nursing specialty for a few years, you already have an excellent grasp of the certification exam material and the preparation will enhance what you know. Taking this career-advancing step gives you advanced clinical knowledge and brings you closer to moving into a leadership role.

    “Certification represents that the nurse took their career to the next level,” says Charles “Wes” Foster, MSN, BA, RN, CMSRN OCN, president-elect of the Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board (MSNCB). “Employers want certified nurses, and being certified in many institutions advances you on the clinical ladder. Certified nurses are the experts on the latest information on patient care.”

    Nurses find they can take the additional skills that come with certification and apply them almost immediately with patients and peers. And, if your supervisors aren’t noticing your professional efforts and you’re thinking of a job change, certification is essential when you’re looking for a job with more responsibility or where you can make a real impact through advocating for policy changes in local organizations and at a national level.

    According to Crystal Lawson, DNP, RN, CENP, education director of the American Organization for Nursing Leadership, many organizations prefer or even require certification for leadership positions. The credential demonstrates a competency that reinforces professional credibility, and it frequently begins valuable professional growth. “Certified nurses are often members of a specialty nursing association, which connects them to a network of peers, mentorship, professional development, and leadership opportunities,” Lawson says. “Through achievement of certification, many nurses find themselves leading in shared governance, laying the foundation for future leadership roles.”

    Certification’s immediate benefits are obvious—you learn new standards and practices to provide the best care—and those skills can be used right away. Other benefits are less evident, but are equally important to augmenting your leadership abilities. Nurse leaders set an example by continually striving to improve themselves and their teams and also by demonstrating the motivation to do better. Their work as a role model is expected and frequently is inspiration for others working in the same unit. “Employers also love that the nurses are participating in unit-based practice councils and are making positive changes for health care delivery,” says Foster. “Certification demonstrates that the nurse has set the bar high for their performance, and they maintain that standard.” Some certifications even focus specifically on leadership qualities and skills, such as the Clinical Nurse Leader certification.

    Your certification status shows you have the ambition to do better and to become a better nurse and your peers take notice. “Being a certified nurse also helps in formal leader roles,” says Foster. “Leaders are looked upon as experts in the field and being certified supports that the nurse has expertise in their area.” Once you achieve that credential, you can help others nurses who have questions about how to prepare for the exam or how to use their new skills.

    Many nurses report anxiety as a barrier to pursuing certification, and Foster has words of wisdom. “You’re the expert in your field,” he says. “You know this stuff. It’s stuff you would see on a daily basis—it’s not something you saw in school and then forgot about.” And for nurses concerned about how not passing could impact their career trajectory, Foster has a simple solution. “I didn’t tell anyone when I took my test,” he says. “If I failed it, the only one who knew was me.” And, he says, if you don’t pass, the result is like a guide for how to prepare for the next time you take it.

    Career advancement and leadership are excellent motivators for taking on the additional work toward certification. It’s often contagious when nurses see peers succeed because they see how the credential improves outcomes for their patients. “I know of organizations that do see that their patient satisfaction scores are higher on units where most of the clinical nurses are certified,” says Foster.

    Lawson found her certification revealed unexpected opportunities in her own career. “Earning certification in my clinical specialty led me to participate in a professional development program, which was the catalyst to my involvement in professional governance and council leadership,” she says. “These experiences sharpened my leadership competencies. Soon after, I found my passion in nursing leadership and career advancement into formal leadership positions. Achieving my first certification was the spark to my leadership journey.”

    By Julia Quinn-Szcesuil 

    Julia Quinn-Szcesuil is a freelance writer based in Bolton, Massachusetts.