I'm Certified: The Path to Nursing Excellence

Mar 11, 2024

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I love talking about certification and sharing my experience with other nurses. Certification reignited my passion for nursing.

Collyn West

For Collyn West, MSN, RN, CNL, PCCN, a director of nursing in acute care, getting certified and encouraging others to obtain certification is one way of achieving her goal to continually improve her knowledge and skill set.

Why did you decide to get certified?

Discussing my certification journey is something I find fulfilling, as it's a testament to the power of encouragement and support. Working in progressive care nursing, I was fortunate to have two colleagues who were involved in their local chapter of AACN. They introduced me to the idea of AACN certification, which initially intrigued me because of the potential discount on exams and a bonus from our facility. However, as I went through the process, I realized its true value. Certification wasn't just about financial incentives; it was about connecting the dots between what I learned in nursing school and applying that knowledge in real-life scenarios. It provided a deeper understanding of why certain procedures and practices are essential in patient care. It came at a perfect point in my career, where I was eager to continue growing and evolving in my role.

What does certification mean to you?

There is continual change in nursing, and certification is a model we can use to improve constantly to make things better for our patients. Certification tied that all together for me. I now spread that to others. I figure out where they are in their careers, what things are valuable to them and if they are looking for a challenge. Certification is a great challenge. Are they looking to expand their knowledge and skills? If yes, that is another great reason to seek certification. Certification has been such a gift to me that I get excited talking about it, which makes me a great advocate.

Now that I've gone through the process, I feel that being certified is an indication of not only your exceptional clinical skills and knowledge but also your commitment to the profession. I have a different view when I see someone get certified. I know that they are committed to the profession in general and to continually learning and making sure their skills are up-to-date. If I could say anything to patients, I would tell them they have a nurse who is certified, meaning the nurse went above and beyond and took an extra step to gain the knowledge and skills they need to provide highly exceptional, up-to-date care. To seek out certification is a commitment to the nursing profession in general.

Personally, I have been able to use what I gained at the bedside and additionally through certification to help drive practice in all areas I work with.

How do you encourage others to become certified?

It just takes one person to ignite that spark in others. I’ve been passionate about sharing my experience and encouraging others to embark on their own certification journeys, tailored to their unique aspirations and career stages. I try to find out their why and what would motivate them for certification. It is important to ensure that it is right for them in the moment. Certification shouldn’t be done simply to check a box. I mentor others and try to see if they are ready to move to the next step. It's incredibly rewarding to witness others embrace the challenge and witness the transformative impact it has on their professional growth.

There are various ways to incentivize nurses to obtain certification. Many facilities will offer their nursing staff who get certified an increase in their salary. Some facilities will pay for certification renewal courses, pay for the exam or give bonuses. I educate nurses about the additional recognition and respect they will receive if they become certified. It helps nurses stand out among their peers.

In addition, these credentials increase the value of their resume. As a nurse manager, if I see certification, I give them extra consideration when making my hiring decision. To me, certification demonstrates a commitment toward the profession and going above and beyond by taking that extra step.

What do you find rewarding when you help others seek certification?

I love making it fun and getting groups together to study. I’ll provide snacks and try to really create a fun learning environment. Using practice questions from AACN, we quiz each other. I think it is so important to tie together what they are learning while studying for certification to experiences at the bedside. It is important to tie together real-life practice to what they are learning through the process of certification. I tell them you have all this knowledge and know all these skills, so if you take this exam you are demonstrating that to the world.

It’s important to encourage fellow nurses to focus on what you acquire along the way; every step is valuable. Throughout my experience, I've encountered many individuals who didn't pass their exams on the first attempt. Rather than feeling discouraged, I want them to see it as an opportunity for further growth and learning. Each step you take enriches your knowledge and skills. Whether you decide to study more before attempting the exam again or choose to delay it, know that you're still progressing. Keep a positive mindset and embrace the journey — it's where you'll truly thrive and gain valuable insights.

How does AACN help with certification?

AACN makes it so easy. They have so many resources and tools online. I love that they have classes that can be taken at any time. They have both live and virtual sessions, which makes it easy to work with varying schedules.

Throughout my career, I have done a lot of talking about professional development with staff. When I mention certification, so many respond that they don’t know how to do it or where to find review courses. I feel so lucky to share all those tools that are available in one place on AACN’s website.

There is also a lot of value in connecting with your local chapters. They have in-person review courses, which is a great opportunity to gain those skills and get certified.

Because I love certification, I take the initiative to make sure our facility celebrates Certified Nurses Day. I started by walking around and handing out cards and buttons that I got from the free resources on AACN’s website. It was really rewarding to hear how much they appreciated the recognition. Now, our facility has given us a budget and has a very robust certification recognition program. I feel like this began because of AACN’s resources.

Why did you become a nurse?

Marrying my high school sweetheart, who later joined the military, introduced me to the unique experiences of being part of a military family. Working with veterans during this time reminded me how I love helping others. Now, with two teenagers, I navigate the joys and challenges of parenthood, from teaching my 15-year-old to drive to celebrating my eldest's upcoming high school graduation. In the midst of a busy family and work life, I enjoy traveling and hosting game nights.

Initially, I pursued degrees in biology and chemistry while my husband served in the military. After my academic pursuits, I was unsure about my career path. When I was younger, I had a fascination with the human body, but a narrow view of the nursing profession. I found myself reconsidering nursing as a career. Returning to school for a bachelor's in nursing provided me with a new perspective on the profession. I discovered an appreciation for the versatility of nursing and the ability to tailor my career. Whether providing bedside care in a progressive care unit or exploring leadership roles and quality-improvement projects, nursing offers me a way to continually explore, learn and make meaningful contributions to patient care and healthcare systems. Nursing really is a professional journey.

What certifications do you have?

I hold certifications in progressive care nursing and as a clinical nurse leader. I obtained my progressive care certification shortly after meeting the minimum practice hours required, using my bedside experience to enhance my understanding and application of nursing principles. In 2016, I pursued a master's degree to further expand my skills and knowledge, resulting in my certification as a clinical nurse leader. I also have many more certifications in mind as I move forward. I never want to stop learning.

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