Frequently Asked Questions About the APRN Consensus Model – for Clinical Nurse Specialists

What is the APRN Consensus Model?

The Consensus Model for APRN Regulation: Licensure, Accreditation, Certification and Education, which went into effect in 2015, is a broad-based model for regulation of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) throughout the United States. The model was developed by the APRN Consensus Work Group and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) APRN Advisory Committee, with extensive input from APRN stakeholders.

The model addresses: 

  • lack of common definitions of APRN roles.
  • lack of standardization of APRN education programs.
  • proliferation of APRN specialties and subspecialties.
  • lack of common legal recognition of APRNs across states.

Intended outcomes are to:

  • ensure public safety.
  • facilitate mobility of APRNS.
  • advocate appropriate scope of practice.
  • increase access to healthcare.

Has AACN Certification Corporation revised its CNS certification exams to comply with the Consensus Model?

AACN Certification Corporation completed a study of practice and developed and launched the following new CNS exams to align with the population foci defined in the Consensus Model:  

  • ACCNS-AG Adult-Gerontology CNS (wellness through acute care).
  • ACCNS-P Pediatric CNS (wellness through acute care). 
  • ACCNS-N Neonatal CNS (wellness through acute care). 

These credentials are awarded to those who meet the population-specific educational eligibility requirements and pass the corresponding certification exam.  

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How does the Consensus Model affect the CCNS certification program?

Current CCNSs may continue to renew their certification into the future, as long as it does not lapse and renewal requirements are met. If you allow your CCNS certification to expire, you will need to meet the eligibility requirements for one of the Consensus Model-based CNS exams (ACCNS-AG, ACCNS-P or ACCNS-N). CCNS certificants interested in the ACCNS certifications will most likely need to obtain a post-graduate certificate to be eligible to sit for the Consensus Model-based ACCNS exams.

Current CCNSs have three renewal options:

  • Practice Hours + CE Points 
  • Practice Hours + Renewal Exam
  • CE Points + Renewal Exam

How does eligibility for the ACCNS-AG exam differ from eligibility for the former adult CCNS exam?

Eligible candidates for the ACCNS-AG exam must be educated in a graduate-level adult-gerontology clinical nurse specialist program that includes in-depth content and competencies to care for the entire adult population (young adults, older adults and frail elderly) across the continuum from wellness through acute care. Education may be in a master’s, post-graduate certificate or DNP program.

How does eligibility for the ACCNS-P and ACCNS-N exams differ from eligibility for the former pediatric and neonatal CCNS exams?

Eligible candidates for the ACCNS-N or ACCNS-P exams must be educated in a pediatric CNS or neonatal CNS graduate program that includes competencies across the continuum from wellness through acute care. Education may be in a master’s, post-graduate certificate or DNP program.

Will my state continue to recognize my current CCNS certification for APRN licensure?

States that currently recognize CCNS certification for advanced practice licensure should continue to do so; however, this is a state-by-state decision. CNSs are encouraged to contact their state boards of nursing for clarification on continuation of their practice under the Consensus Model.

The Consensus Model states that, “Boards of nursing will institute a grandfathering* clause that will exempt those APRNs already practicing in the state from new eligibility requirements.”

*Grandfathering is a provision in a new law exempting those already in or a part of the existing system that is being regulated. When states adopt new APRN licensure eligibility requirements, currently practicing APRNs will be permitted to continue practicing within the state(s) of their current licensure.  

Will AACN Certification Corporation grandfather current CCNS certificants into the new ACCNS certifications?

No. While individual states may grandfather nurses currently working in the role, making them exempt from new requirements, national certification accreditation standards prohibit AACN Certification Corporation from grandfathering current certificants into the new credentials.

CCNS certificants interested in ACCNS certification will most likely need additional post-graduate education to be eligible to sit for the ACCNS exams.

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What if the board of nursing in my state does not recognize the CNS role for advanced practice licensure?

If you practice in a state that does not recognize the CNS role, we encourage you to contact your state board of nursing to inquire about their plan for implementation of the Consensus Model, which recognizes the CNS as an APRN role. To find contact information for your state board, visit

Will a DNP be required for advanced practice licensure?

The Consensus Model does not require or exclude the DNP as an entry-level degree option for APRNs.

What if I am not currently certified but am practicing as a CNS?

We recommend that you get certified as soon as possible. APRN certification eligibility requirements are based exclusively on educational preparation.

If you do not meet current educational eligibility requirements, coursework to meet exam eligibility must be completed in a post-graduate certificate or DNP program.   

How does the Consensus Model affect the scope of practice of CNSs?

The Consensus Model language does more to broaden than to limit CNS scope of practice. Under the Consensus Model, all CNSs, regardless of population focus, are required to attain the knowledge, skills and abilities to care for patients across the continuum from wellness through acute care.

Included within the term “acute care” are the competencies to care for patients who require complex monitoring and therapies, high-intensity advanced practice nursing intervention, and continuous vigilance within the full range of high-acuity and critical care.

If the scope for the ACCNS exams is wellness through acute care, why is only acute care represented in the acronym?

“Acute care” is represented in the ACCNS credentials in order to help ensure protection of the most medically fragile patients by making it explicitly clear to employers, regulators and others that the credential-holder is qualified to care for both acutely ill and less-acute patients.

Why isn’t critical care noted in the Consensus Model?

The Consensus Model encompasses acute care, requiring that CNSs be educated, and their competencies assessed via national certification exams, across the continuum from wellness through acute care.

While it is not specifically called out in the Consensus Model, critical care falls under the larger umbrella of acute care. Acute care refers to the care provided to acutely ill patients. The term acute care, while sometimes misunderstood, does not apply to all hospitalized patients.

Does the Consensus Model affect a CNS's ability to work in critical care?

No. The umbrella of acute care, under which critical care falls, includes any environment in which patients have care requirements that include complex monitoring and therapies, high-intensity advanced practice nursing intervention and continuous vigilance within the full range of high acuity care.

Acutely ill patients may be found in areas such as emergency departments, progressive care units, critical care units, heart failure clinics — those at the higher end of the continuum of wellness to acute care. The term acutely ill refers more to the acuity of the patient, not a specific geographical area.  

As a CNS, what can I do to be prepared for implementation of the Consensus Model? 

AACN Certification Corporation recommends the following:

  • Keep your certification current; don’t let it lapse.
  • Stay connected to AACN for the latest updates on Consensus Model implementation.
  • Monitor what is happening in your state and, as needed, advocate for recognition/protection of your APRN role.

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