Frequently Asked Questions About PCCN Certification
PCCN certification is a credential granted by AACN Certification Corporation that validates your knowledge of nursing care of acutely ill adult patients to hospital administrators, peers, patients and, most importantly, to yourself. PCCN certification promotes continuing excellence in progressive care nursing.
PCCN is a registered service mark of AACN Certification Corporation and denotes certification in progressive care nursing.
Progressive care is the term used by AACN to collectively describe areas in which acutely ill patients are cared for, such as intermediate care units, direct observation units, step-down units, telemetry units, transitional care units and emergency departments, as well as to define a specific level of patient care. AACN recognizes progressive care as part of the continuum of critical care.
A national practice analysis of progressive care nursing conducted in 2008 validated the progressive care environment, the patient populations served and the core competencies, basic knowledge and skills needed by progressive care nurses.
The acuity of patients admitted to hospitals has steadily increased and with it the demand for critical care beds. With this demand and decreased availability of critical care beds, patients are often transferred from critical care units while still requiring an increased level of nursing care and vigilance. Patients who were formerly admitted to critical care units are now routinely admitted to progressive care units.
PCCN certification helps you maintain an up-to-date knowledge base of care of acutely ill adult patients. In addition to providing you with a sense of professional pride and achievement, PCCN certification reinforces the special knowledge and experiences required for progressive care nursing. Research studies link higher levels of clinical knowledge, skill and experience with certification.
Candidates for the PCCN exam must meet the following requirements:
- Current unencumbered licensure as an RN or APRN in the U.S.
- Meet one of the following clinical practice requirement options:
- Option 1: Practice as an RN or APRN for 1,750 hours in direct bedside care of acutely ill adult patients during the previous two years, with 875 of those hours accrued in the most recent year preceding application.
- Option 2: Practice as an RN or APRN for at least five years with a minimum of 2,000 hours in direct bedside care of acutely ill adult patients, with 144 of those hours accrued in the most recent year preceding application.
- For more information about PCCN exam eligibility, please refer to the PCCN Exam Handbook.
The PCCN exam is for nurses who work at the bedside of acutely ill adult patients, in areas such as step-down or telemetry units (see list in second item above) — or in other units as appropriate. Final determination of eligibility is not based on unit type but on patient acuity, as patient placement varies by facility and bed availability.
This will depend on the acuity of the patients you care for in your practice. Progressive care encompasses care delivered to patients whose needs fall along the less acute end of the critical care continuum. Nursing care required is determined by patient needs rather than a geographic location. Refer to the test plan for each exam to identify content areas tested and see how your practice aligns.
The 2 ½-hour PCCN exam contains 125 items; 100 items are scored and 25 are used to gather statistical data on item performance for future exams.
The items are based on the AACN Synergy Model for Patient Care, with 80% focusing on Clinical Judgment and 20% focusing on Professional Caring and Ethical Practice. The PCCN Test Plan, found in the PCCN Exam Handbook, provides a breakdown of content areas.
You may Apply Online. For information about the exam and a paper application, refer to the PCCN Exam Handbook, available online or by requesting a copy via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The PCCN exam is offered via computer-based testing year-round, Monday through Saturday, at more than 175 testing sites across the U.S.
A paper and pencil version of the PCCN exam is offered each year at AACN’s National Teaching Institute & Critical Care Exposition (NTI®) and TRENDS educational conferences.
Those who complete the exam via computer-based testing will receive their results and a score report upon completion of the test. Those who complete the exam via paper and pencil testing will receive their results and score report by mail 3 to 4 weeks after testing.
Referring to your PCCN exam score report, you will want to identify the topic areas in which you have the most room for improvement. For additional information please visit the Prepare to Take Your Exam page. Candidates may sit for the PCCN exam up to 4 times in a 12-month period. A discounted retest fee is available to candidates who do not pass the exam and is available until the exam is passed.
PCCN certification is recognized for a 3-year period.
During your 3-year certification period, you must continue to maintain current, unencumbered RN or APRN licensure and complete the Renewal by Synergy CERPs program requirements or pass the PCCN exam. You must also have met the clinical practice requirement of 432 hours of direct bedside care of acutely ill adult patients, with 144 of those hours accrued in the 12-month period prior to your scheduled renewal date.
For details, refer to the CCRN/PCCN Renewal Handbook. You are encouraged to Renew Online.
CERPs (Continuing Education Recognition Points) are similar to contact hours, or CEs. The Recognition Point system is used because credit is also awarded for activities that don’t strictly fall into the contact hour category, such as writing articles, serving on committees or being a mentor/preceptor.
One CE or contact hour of class time is equal to one CERP. For example, a 6-hour ACLS course (minus lunch and breaks) would be worth 6 CERPs.
Renewing PCCN candidates must complete a minimum of 100 CERPs during the 3-year certification period, with at least 60 CERPs in Category A and 10 each in categories B and C; the other 20 CERPs may be in Category A, B or C.
The following list of examples is not all-inclusive. The corresponding Synergy Model components for each category appear in italics.
Category A (Clinical Judgment, Clinical Inquiry) examples include lab values, BLS, ACLS, PALS, NRP, ECG, IV therapy, heart failure, pharmacology, assessment, pathophysiology, technical skills/new equipment, statistics, clinical research, evidence-based practice, auditing, publishing, practice protocols, QI/QA, clinical aspects of bioterrorism, exam review courses, PCCN Self-Assessment Exam.
Category B (Advocacy & Moral Agency, Caring Practices, Response to Diversity, Facilitation of Learning) examples include safety, legal or ethical issues, charting/documentation, reducing medication errors, public policy, HIPAA, the Joint Commission, patient support groups, cultural aspects of care, diversity, medical Spanish, therapeutic communication, psychosocial aspects of care, mental illness, geriatric care, spiritual considerations, addiction/recovery, violence/abuse, end-of-life care.
Category C (Collaboration, Systems Thinking) examples include communication skills, teamwork, healthy work environmentss, AACN Synergy Model for Patient Care, redesigning hospital care, disaster/emergency planning, developing policies or procedures, community resources, committees, leadership, management, risk management, AACN membership, case management.
For more information, refer to the Renewal by Synergy CERPs Brochure.
If you are no longer eligible for active PCCN status, you may apply for Inactive status, Alumnus status or Retired status. More information about these options can be found in the CCRN/PCCN Renewal Handbook. Access the Alumnus and Retired status applications.
Eligible clinical practice hours for AACN Certification Corporation exams and certification renewal are those completed in U.S.-based or Canada-based facilities or in facilities determined to be comparable to the U.S. standard of acute/critical care nursing practice, as evidenced by Magnet Status or Joint Commission International accreditation.