Frequently Asked Questions About CCRN Certification

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Q: What is CCRN certification?

A: CCRN certification is a credential granted by AACN Certification Corporation. More than 95,000 acute and critical care nurses are presently certified worldwide in adult, pediatric or neonatal nursing. CCRN certification validates your knowledge of nursing care of acutely/critically ill patients to hospital administrators, peers, patients and, most importantly, to yourself. CCRN certification promotes continuing excellence in the critical care nursing field.

Q: Why would I want to obtain CCRN certification?

A: CCRN certification helps you maintain an up-to-date knowledge base 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 experiences 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 CCRN exam eligibility requirements?

  • Current, unencumbered licensure as an RN or APRN in the U.S. is required. 
  • Candidates must meet one of the following clinical practice requirement options:
    • Option 1: Practice as an RN or APRN for 1,750 hours in direct care of acutely/critically ill patients during the previous 2 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 5 years with a minimum of 2,000 hours in direct care of acutely/critically ill patients, with 144 of those hours accrued in the most recent year preceding application.
  • Eligible hours are those spent caring for one patient population (adult, pediatric or neonatal) in alignment with the exam for which you are applying. The majority of the clinical hours for CCRN exam and renewal eligibility must be spent caring for critically ill patients.
  • Clinical hours must be completed in a U.S.-based or Canada-based facility or in a facility determined to be comparable to the U.S. standard of acute/critical care nursing practice, as evidenced by Magnet® designation or Joint Commission International accreditation. 
  • For more information about CCRN exam eligibility, please refer to the CCRN Exam Handbook.

Q: Are the CCRN certification exams accredited?

A: The CCRN exams are accredited by the American Board for Specialty Nursing Certifications (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 3 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 CCRN Exam Handbook 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 3-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 3-year certification period.

Q: What if I care for both adult and pediatric patients?

A: If you meet the clinical hour requirements caring for both patient populations you may sit for both the Adult and Pediatric CCRN exams.

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 you may not represent yourself as a CCRN while caring for pediatric or neonatal patients.

Q: Who is eligible to sit for the CCRN certification exam?

A: The CCRN exam 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 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.  

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 3-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 CCRN Exam Handbook, provides a breakdown of content areas.

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

A: Those 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 6 to 8 weeks after testing.

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

A: Referring to your CCRN exam score report, identify the topic areas in which you have the most room for improvement. For additional information refer to the Prepare to Take Your Exam page. Candidates may sit for 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. 

Q: How do I renew my CCRN?

A: During the 3-year certification period you must continue to maintain current, unencumbered RN or APRN licensure and complete Renewal by Synergy CERP (Continuing Education Recognition Points) program requirements or pass the CCRN exam. You must also meet the clinical practice requirement of 432 hours in direct care of acutely/critically ill patients, with 144 of those hours accrued in the 12-month period prior to your scheduled renewal date. The majority of your hours for renewal eligibility (total and in the year prior to renewal) must be focused on critically ill patients.

Refer to the CCRN Renewal Handbook for more details. Online CCRN renewal is recommended.

Q: If I work in an Emergency Department, am I eligible to renew my CCRN?

A: AACN Certification Corporation acknowledges that critical care nursing occurs outside the four walls of the traditional ICU/CCU setting. Regardless of the clinical arena, acutely and critically ill patients require knowledgeable, clinically competent nurses.

If you have left an ICU-type setting to work in another area with acutely/critically ill patients and can sign your honor statement in good faith that you have completed the clinical hours, with the majority of the hours for eligibility with critically ill patients, you would be eligible to maintain CCRN certification. 

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 preceptor.

One CE, CME 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. For details, refer to the Renewal by Synergy CERPs Brochure.

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

A: Renewing CCRN 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 any of the three categories (A, B or 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 about Synergy CERP categories, refer to the Renewal by Synergy CERPs Brochure.

Q: Can I maintain my CCRN if I leave direct care or retire from nursing?

A: If you are no longer eligible for active CCRN status, you may be eligible for CCRN-K renewal. Other renewal options include Inactive status, Alumnus status and Retired status; more details about these options can be found in the CCRN Renewal Handbook.

Q: Do orientation hours count toward the hours needed for CCRN eligibility?

A: Hours that count toward CCRN eligibility 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 1 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: Can I meet the CCRN clinical hour eligibility requirement for practice hours completed outside the U.S.?

A: Eligible clinical practice hours for AACN Certification Corporation exams or 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® designation or Joint Commission International accreditation.