AACN News—September 2003—Certification

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Vol. 20, No. 9, SEPTEMBER 2003

A Certification Success Story
How the Heart of the Piedmont Chapter of AACN Helped

Jan Teal (left) and Cindy Stewart (right)
of the Heart of the Piedmont Chapter
of AACN present one of the newly
certified CCRNs, Jana Hough, with
a CCRN pin.

By John H. Jeffries, RN, BSN, CCRN
Heart of the Piedmont Chapter

Although a nurse's decision to pursue certification is traditionally viewed as an individual and personal endeavor, it does not need to be. In fact, in North Carolina, the Heart of the Piedmont Chapter of AACN played a central role in helping 13 of its members achieve CCRN certification, doubling the number in the chapter in just one year.

The secret to the chapter's success can be found in just seven easy steps:

Ask Questions
In addition to determining whether your nurses are qualified and interested in achieving certification, find out what they perceive to be barriers to achieving this goal. A survey indicated that the most common barriers to pursuing certification were the preparation costs and testing fees, uncertainty about how to prepare and fear of failure. Realizing that we had a large number of qualified RNs ready and eager to begin this pursuit, we pondered how we could help overcome these barriers.

Identify Resources
The next step was to identify available resources. Of course, already-certified nurses are an excellent resource, because they represent proof that certification is achievable. We were fortunate that our leadership team included several CCRN/AACN ambassadors who had expertise in assisting nurses to achieve certification. (Information about the CCRN/AACN Ambassador program is available from the AACN National Office at (800) 899-2226; e-mail volunteers@aacn.org or certcorp@aacn.org.)

Our facility had a written policy providing nurses reimbursement for the costs if they successfully passed the CCRN examination. If your employer does not, gather the information you need to convincingly argue for a change in that position. For example, point out that such support can be an effective recruitment tool in a competitive nursing job market and how important these types of opportunities are to retaining outstanding bedside nurses.

Ask for Help
However, the fact that more than $200 was at risk if they failed the examination was of concern to our nurses. If we were to truly help our nurses pursue certification, we needed money. Lacking the means to provide this support, we did what we had not thought to do in the past. We asked for help. Martha Barham, vice president of nursing at High Point Regional Health System, immediately and enthusiastically responded by offering to pay up front the certification test fees for any qualified nurse. She also agreed to fund a 2-day, professional CCRN preparation course for any qualified High Point RN.

If your organization cannot or is unwilling to provide financial assistance, be creative. Perhaps you can negotiate partial payment of test fees. Maybe there are physicians who would be willing to sponsor an outstanding nurse in their pursuit of certification if you explain what certification means and the benefits it might provide to the patient. Fund-raising specifically targeted at supporting certification efforts is another way you might be able to provide scholarship support to nurses pursuing certification.

Organize a Review Course
The costs for providing a CCRN preparation course can be substantial. However, with a little creativity, it is possible to provide a review course free to your nurses. For example, ask your facility if it will allow free use of classroom space for your event. Approach healthcare vendors regarding sponsorship, either through a cash donation or by paying for breaks, lunches or refreshments. Ask local physicians to donate in return for allowing some of their nursing staff to attend.

By promoting our course outside our immediate area, we attracted approximately 50 paying customers, which covered the costs of our professional speaker and registration for our nurses. To maximize attendance, we even arranged time off and helped cover scheduling. The importance of involving and enlisting the support of nursing leaders at the unit level cannot be overemphasized.

Follow Up
We felt it was important that our nurses make a formal commitment to achieving certification. Each nurse who had benefited by attending our review course free was encouraged to complete a "CCRN Pledge" that they would vigorously prepare and test for the certification exam by the end of the year. We nonjudgmentally approached those nurses who did not feel ready to make that commitment to encourage them to set certification as a future goal.

To help boost the motivation and confidence of those who wanted to continue, we formed small study groups, led by certified nurses. At weekly meetings, these "CCRN coaches" offered study and test-taking strategies and tips. We also provided each nurse with a packet that included the CCRN Exam Blueprint, exam application, a list of helpful Web links and system-specific CCRN study guides, as well as the practice exam on CD-ROM.

Celebrate Successes
As important as supporting the efforts of our nurses was celebrating their successes. As each nurse passed the certification exam, we sent congratulatory e-mails, notified his or her nursing leaders and placed congratulatory banners in their units. We also sponsored a CCRN Recognition Dinner, at which the newly certified CCRNs shared what achieving the CCRN certification had meant to them personally and as a practicing caregiver. In addition, plaques containing the name of each CCRN are displayed in their unit.

Issue the Challenge
The most important step in encouraging and supporting certification in your area is issuing the challenge. Finding unacceptable the fact that few of our nurses were certified, we challenged our experienced nurses to pursue certification, our employers and healthcare institutions to support our worthy cause, and ourselves. However, our solid core of CCRN-certified nurses is just a beginning. Each of them has now been challenged to serve as a certification mentor to another outstanding, qualified nurse.

Hickey Selected for AACN Certification Corporation Office

Thomas L. Hickey was selected to be secretary-treasurer of the AACN Certification Corporation Board of Directors during the board's meeting in August in Costa Mesa, Calif. Hickey, who is serving his second two-year term as a consumer representative on the board, is president and CEO of MediQuest, Canton, Mich.

Online Renewal Proving Popular

More than 700 CCRNs have renewed their certification online since the system became available in April. The online CCRN renewal by continuing education recognition points is available to active adult, neonatal and pediatric CCRNs due to renew Feb. 1, 2003, or later.

To use this system, simply visit the AACN Certification Corporation Web site.
Candidates selecting this online option are required to electronically "sign" an honor statement that confirms they have completed 432 clinical practice hours (with 144 hours accrued in the most recent year preceding renewal) and a total of 100 CERPs (with a minimum of 25 CERPs in Category A ) within the previous three-year certification period.

Renewal fees are payable online via credit card. A new card and certificate will be received by mail within four to six weeks, approximately half the time required with paper renewal applications.

For more information about this new online renewal system, call (800) 899-2226.

Revised CCNS Exam Reflects Current Practice

Revised CCNS examinations reflecting the current standard and scope of practice for the clinical nurse specialist role in critical care are now in use.

The CCNS revision process began in January 2003 with the convening of the CCNS Examination Development Committee, which undertook a comprehensive review of all test items. Among the changes is a pretesting process that helps to ensure that newly created items perform well.

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