The Value of Certification

By Roberta Kaplow, PhD, APRN-CCNS, AOCNS, CCRN, FAAN Mar 08, 2022

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If you work in a unit like mine, your nurse leaders may be encouraging you to become certified in your specialty.

If you work in a unit like mine, your nurse leaders may be encouraging you to become certified in your specialty. Some of your colleagues may have become certified, and you want to be one of them. Or perhaps, few or none are certified and you want to be a trailblazer and role model. You may wonder what your leaders see in you that makes them think you can do it. Nonetheless, you decide to consider it. Four things that often come to mind are “What’s in it for me?” “Why are my leaders encouraging me?” “Will it make a difference for patients and families?” and “Why does my hospital think getting certified is important?” These are great questions, and I have answers for you.

What is Certification?

Certification is different from licensure, which we earned in order to begin working as a nurse. Licensure is not voluntary; it is mandatory to practice in our profession.

AACN Certification Corporation explains: “Certification is a process by which a nongovernmental agency validates, based on predetermined standards, an individual nurse’s qualification and knowledge for practice in a defined functional or clinical area of nursing.” Certification is provided by a professional organization and represents the achievement of a level of professional competency.

We make decisions to have our needs met by certified people throughout our lives. During tax time, would you prefer to go to a certified public accountant or an accountant? If you have a health issue, would you prefer to go to someone who is board certified in the specialty of your concern or someone who is not certified? The brakes are failing on your car and you need them replaced. Do you go to a location with certified technicians or one with technicians?

What’s in it for me?

Once you see your preliminary passing grade on the screen after completing your exam, you have validated your knowledge of a nursing specialty to your patients, peers, healthcare administration and, most importantly, yourself.

  • Preparing for the exam and maintaining your certification helps you achieve and maintain an up-to-date knowledge base.
  • Certification is a recognized measurement of increased professional development, it implies expertise as evaluated by peers, and it is associated with a higher level of job satisfaction.
  • AACN certification recipients have told us: “Obtaining my certification has helped me attain higher responsibility in my job,” “Obtaining my certification has been an asset to my career,” and “Getting certified has given me the recognition I expected from my hospital and my profession.”
  • There can also be a monetary benefit and recognition from employers such as a one-time bonus, an annual bonus and an hourly differential.
  • Many hospitals offer an annual differential for those who are certified. Some reimburse the certificant once the exam is passed.
  • When you’re job seeking, with all things being equal, a healthcare organization is more likely to select a nurse with specialty certification.

What’s in it for my patients?

  • The goal of certification is consumer protection. The data suggest better hospital-acquired pressure injury outcomes and development of fewer stages 3 and 4 pressure injuries when certified nurses take care of patients.
  • Nurses feel more confident in their ability to detect early signs and symptoms of patient complications.
  • Families have reported feeling more confident that they received quality care when it was provided by a certified nurse.
  • Nurses are more likely to initiate early and prompt interventions for patients who are experiencing complications.
  • Patients experience fewer adverse incidents during their care.
  • Patients cared for by certified nurses develop fewer central line-associated bloodstream infections and ventilator-associated events. Care provided by certified nurses is also associated with lower mortality rates and decreased length of hospital stay.
  • Certified nurses are also less likely to make a medication error.
  • Care provided by certified nurses provides a degree of assurance for the healthcare consumer and provides additional evidence that the profession is being accountable for meeting its responsibility to the public.

What’s in it for employers?

When nurses are certified in their specialty, they have demonstrated their commitment to continual learning and excellence in practice. There is less chance of a nurse leaving to work in another specialty once they are certified. Employers also maintain a competitive edge and can help ensure patient safety. The data suggest that patients who are cared for by certified nurses have better outcomes than patients who are cared for by nurses who are not certified. Hospitals with certified nurses are better able to provide a higher quality of care and demonstrate their commitment to do just that.


Patients are more acutely ill than ever before. Nurses must draw from an increased body of knowledge to meet their patients’ needs. Certification implies and requires knowledge and expertise, and certified nurses use their validated clinical judgment to make patient decisions.

If you are certified, maintain it; if you are not, go for it!

What barriers are preventing you from starting your certification journey?