How Do Nurses Become Certified?

Nurses become certified for many reasons, including personal development and self-improvement, furthering knowledge and education and improving advancement opportunities. Through certification, nurses validate their skills, knowledge and abilities as they progress along the continuum of lifelong learning. Achieving and maintaining certification helps assure employers, patients and the public that nurses have met rigorous requirements in a specialized area of practice.

AACN and AACN Certification Corporation consider the American Nurses Association (ANA) Code of Ethics for Nurses foundational for nursing practice, providing a framework for making ethical decisions and fulfilling responsibilities to the public, colleagues and the profession. AACN Certification Corporation’s mission of public protection supports a standard of excellence that certified nurses have a responsibility to read, understand and act in a manner congruent with the ANA Code of Ethics for Nurses.

Certification candidates receive their credential only after meeting strict eligibility criteria and successfully completing a standardized exam. A rigorous and comprehensive job analysis of current nursing practice ensures that AACN’s certification exams measure what is pertinent to the care of acutely and critically ill patients today.

Exam eligibility requirements include a combination of the following:

  • Licensure (e.g., RN or APRN license)
  • Education
  • Practice hours totaling a specified number within a clinical specialty

AACN certifications must be renewed periodically. Certification renewal seeks to assure the public that credential holders have maintained a level of expertise and that they participate in activities that support continued competency in their specialty.

Renewal requirements include a combination of the following;

  • Licensure (e.g., RN or APRN license)
  • Practice hours totaling a specified number within the clinical specialty
  • Evidence of continued learning — often termed continuing education or earning continuing education units (CEU)


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