Initial CCNS Certification

Obtaining CCNS certification demonstrates you have mastered certain skills, knowledge and abilities, which distinguish you as a leader in the care of acutely and/or critically ill patients and families as a clinical nurse specialist.

The Certification Exam Policy Handbook will provide you with detailed testing and policy information. The CCNS Exam Handbook includes exam-specific information, including the CCNS application/honor statement and the CCNS test plan.

CCNS Exam Content

  • The CCNS exam is a 3.5-hour test consisting of 175 multiple-choice items. Of the 175 items, 155 are scored and 20 are used to gather statistical data on item performance for future exams.
  • The CCNS exam focuses on the adult, pediatric or neonatal patient population.
  • For each exam, 78% covers Professional Caring and Ethical Practice; these questions may be asked about any age across the life span.
  • The remaining 22% of each exam focuses on Clinical Judgment and is age-specific for the adult, pediatric or neonatal patient population.

Initial Eligibility Requirements

  • Current unencumbered licensure as an RN or APRN in the U.S. is required.
    • An unencumbered license is not currently being subjected to formal discipline by any board of nursing and has no provisions or conditions that limit the nurse's practice in any way.
    • Candidates and CCNS-certified nurses must notify AACN Certification Corporation within 30 days if any restriction is placed on their RN or APRN license.
  • Completion of a graduate advanced practice education program meeting the following requirements is required:
    • The education program is offered by an accredited college or university that offers a master's degree or higher in nursing with a concentration as an acute and/or critical care clinical nurse specialist (CNS).
    • The program has demonstrated compliance with the Criteria for Evaluation of Clinical Nurse Specialist Educational Programs.
    • Both direct and indirect clinical supervision must be congruent with current AACN and nursing accreditation guidelines.
    • The curriculum includes, but is not limited to:
      • Biological, behavioral, medical and nursing sciences relevant to practice as CNS, including pathophysiology, pharmacology and physical assessment.
      • Legal, ethical and professional responsibilities of the CNS.
      • Supervised clinical practice relevant to the specialty of acute/critical care.
    • The curriculum meets the following criteria:
      • Curriculum is consistent with competencies of acute/critical care CNS practice.
      • Instructional track/major has a minimum of 500 supervised clinical hours overall.
      • The supervised clinical experience is directly related to the knowledge and all role components of the acute/critical care CNS.
  • 500 hours in direct clinical practice with one patient population (adult, pediatric or neonatal) within the master's program is required.
    • You must obtain originals of all graduate-level educational transcripts to submit with your CCNS exam application.
  • A minimum of two didactic courses with content specific to care of acutely and/oror critically ill patients is required.
    • Content must align with items in the Clinical Judgment section of the CCNS Test Plan (found in the CCNS Exam Handbook). 
  • The Program Director of your educational program must complete and sign the Educational Eligibility Verification Form (found in the CCNS Exam Handbook) to be submitted with your CCNS exam application.
    • If course titles do not clearly indicate acute or critical care content, course descriptions or detailed content outlines must be submitted along with the form.
  • Those making up clinical or didactic coursework to meet CCNS exam eligibility must complete all make-up courses within a post-master’s certificate or DNP program. (Exception: graduate make-up courses completed prior to December 31, 2006).
  • Applicants determined to be ineligible for the CCNS exam will have their application fee refunded.

CCNS Initial Exam Fees

CCNS Exam  
AACN Members $245
Nonmembers $350
CCNS Exam Retest or Renewal by Exam  
AACN Members $200
Nonmembers $305

Payable in U.S. Funds. Fees are subject to change without notice.

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