Frequently Asked Questions: CCRN Certification (Direct Care Pathway)

Added to Collection

Q: What is CCRN certification?

A: CCRN certification is a credential granted by AACN Certification Corporation. More than 100,000 acute and critical care nurses worldwide are presently CCRN-certified in adult, pediatric or neonatal nursing. CCRN certification validates and demonstrates your specialty knowledge of nursing care of acutely/critically ill patients to hospital administrators, peers, patients and, most importantly, to yourself. Certification as a CCRN promotes continuing excellence in the critical care nursing field.

Q: Why would I want to obtain CCRN certification?

A: CCRN certification helps you maintain up-to-date knowledge of acute and critical care nursing. In addition to providing you with a sense of professional pride and achievement, CCRN certification reinforces the special knowledge and experience required for acute and critical care nursing. Research studies link higher levels of clinical knowledge, skill and experience with CCRN certification.

Q: What are the eligibility pathway options for CCRN certification?

A: There are three possible eligibility pathways for earning a CCRN credential.

  • Direct Care Pathway – You provide direct care to acutely/critically ill patients (adult, pediatric or neonatal), regardless of their geographic location.
  • Tele-critical Care Pathway – You monitor and care for acutely/critically ill adult patients by camera from a centralized or remote tele-critical care setting networked to the bedside.
  • Knowledge Professional Pathway – You apply knowledge that influences the care delivered to acutely/critically ill patients (adult, pediatric or neonatal) but do not primarily or exclusively provide direct care.

Q: Are the CCRN certification exams accredited?

A: The CCRN exams are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Specialty Nursing Certification (ABSNC).

Q: What does “board certified” mean? Are AACN certifications considered board certifications?

A: “Board certified” is a term primarily used by physician organizations. Only three of the 34 national nursing certifying organizations that are members of the American Board of Nursing Specialties (ABNS) label their credentials/programs in this way. While an organization may use the term “board certified” when referring to their nursing certification programs, it does not reflect a different or higher level of certification.

“Board certified” in the nursing world simply refers to certification from a nationally accredited organization that is governed by a board of directors. As such, AACN certification programs are, indeed, “board certified.”

Q: When is the CCRN exam offered?

A: The CCRN exam is offered via computer-based testing year-round, Monday through Saturday, at more than 300 testing centers across the U.S.

Q: How do I sign up for the CCRN exam?

A: The exam handbook for your eligibility pathway includes detailed testing information and a paper application. You may also apply online.

Q: Once I pass the exam, how long is my CCRN certification effective?

A: CCRN certification is recognized for a three-year period, and may be renewed by retaking the CCRN exam or by meeting the requirements of the Renewal by Synergy CERPs (Continuing Education Recognition Points) program during the three-year certification period.

Q: What if I provide direct care to acutely/critically ill adult AND pediatric or neonatal patients?

A: If you meet the clinical practice hour requirements for more than one acute/critical care patient population, you may take the CCRN exam via the Direct Care Pathway for both populations.

Eligible hours are those spent caring for the patient population — adult, pediatric or neonatal — related to the exam for which you are applying. If you hold Adult CCRN certification only, however, you may not represent yourself as a CCRN while caring for pediatric or neonatal patients.

Q: Who is eligible for CCRN certification via the Direct Care Pathway?

A: CCRN certification via the Direct Care Pathway is for nurses who work in direct care of acutely/critically ill patients in areas such as ICUs, CCUs, respiratory ICUs, surgical ICUs, medical/surgical ICUs, cardiac/surgical ICUs, neuro/neurosurgical ICUs, PICUs, NICUs, critical care transport/flight, trauma units, emergency departments and in nurse anesthesia or 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.

Q: What does CCRN stand for?

A: CCRN is a registered service mark and a brand name. It does not mean “Critical Care Registered Nurse” as AACN cannot guarantee that a certificant is a registered nurse — this is an issue between the nurse and their state. We do require that certificants possess a current unencumbered RN or APRN license when they apply for the exam and renew their certification, and that they notify us of any change in their status.

Q: How many questions are on the exam, and what content is covered?

A: The three-hour CCRN exam contains 150 items; 125 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 CCRN Test Plan, found in the exam handbook for your particular eligibility pathway, provides a specific breakdown of content areas.

Q: How soon after testing will I find out if I passed the CCRN exam?

A: Nurses who complete the exam via computer-based testing will receive their results and a score report immediately upon completion of the test. Those who complete the exam via paper and pencil testing will receive their results and score report by mail six to eight weeks after testing.

Q: If I do not pass the CCRN exam on the first attempt, what can I do?

A: You will want to refer to your CCRN exam score report to identify the topic areas where you have the most room for improvement. Candidates may take the CCRN exam up to four times in a 12-month period. Candidates who do not pass the exam are eligible for a discounted retest fee, which is available until the exam is passed. For additional information, refer to the Prepare to Take Your Exam webpage.

Q: How do I renew my CCRN?

A: During the three-year certification period you must maintain current, unencumbered RN or APRN licensure and complete the Renewal by Synergy CERP (Continuing Education Recognition Points) program requirements or pass the CCRN exam. You must also meet the practice requirements for one of the three eligibility pathways: Direct Care, Tele-critical Care or Knowledge Professional. The majority of your hours for renewal eligibility (total and in the year prior to renewal) must be focused on critically ill patients.

For more details, refer to the renewal handbook for your specific eligibility pathway. Online CCRN renewal is recommended.

Q: How are CERPs calculated?

A: Continuing Education Recognition Points (CERPs) 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, CME or contact hour of class time is equal to one CERP. For example, a six-hour ACLS course (minus lunch and breaks) would be worth six CERPs. For details, refer to the Renewal by Synergy CERPs Brochure for your CCRN certification pathway.

Q: What are the different Renewal by Synergy CERP categories?

A: Renewing CCRN candidates must complete a minimum of 100 CERPs during the three-year certification period in categories A, B and C. The following list of examples is not all-inclusive.

  • 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, and exam reviews.
  • Category B (Advocacy & Moral Agency, Caring Practices, Response to Diversity, Facilitation of Learning) examples include safety/restraints, legal or ethical issues, charting/documentation, reducing medication errors, public policy, HIPAA, 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 environments, AACN Synergy Model for Patient Care, redesigning hospital care, disaster/emergency planning, developing policies or procedures, committees, management, leadership, risk management, community resources, case management, membership in AACN and/or in other professional nursing organizations.

For more information, Synergy CERP categories, refer to the Renewal by Synergy CERPs Brochure for your specific certification.

Q: Can I still maintain my CCRN credential if I take a break or retire from nursing?

A: If you are no longer eligible for active CCRN certification, you may be eligible for other status options such as Inactive, Alumnus or Retired.

Q: Do orientation hours count toward the hours needed for CCRN eligibility via the Direct Care Pathway?

A: Hours that count toward CCRN – Direct Care certification are those hours during which one is assigned as the primary nurse for a group of acutely/critically ill patients. If the nurse is following or shadowing another nurse who is the one with the patient assignment, those hours would not count.

If the nurse has demonstrated the necessary knowledge and clinical competency to be assigned a group of patients as their primary nurse of record — even during a period of orientation — those hours may be counted.

For example, staff orientation for a critical care unit may last anywhere from one to 12 months, depending on the needs of the nurse. While a nurse may still be categorized as an orientee, the staffing pattern may designate additional staff to mentor the new nurse while he or she functions as the primary caregiver.

Q: Do practice hours completed outside the U.S. count toward meeting the CCRN practice hour eligibility requirement?

A: Eligible practice hours for AACN Certification Corporation exams or certification renewal are those completed in U.S.- 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 Recognition Program® designation or Joint Commission International accreditation.