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Boost a Bedside Career with Nursing Certification

Monday November 3, 2008
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Evidence is mounting that specialty certification for staff nurses is far more than just another notch in the stethoscope. Certification can put you in high demand in the job market, increase your salary, verify your expertise to the public, and increase respect for your knowledge and skills amongst other professionals.

Findings from a study of more than 11,000 nurses found the top perceived values of certification include enhanced professional credibility and evidence of professional commitment. Also, it gives nurses a feeling of personal accomplishment and satisfaction. The American Board of Nursing Specialties Value of Specialty Nursing Certification Study was published in 2006.

"Certification is a great way of gaining more education and representing the knowledge you have gained through experience and study," says Suzanne Bonner, RN, BSN, CMSRN, a med/surg-certified staff RN on an orthopedic and med/surg unit at Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore.

Experts say certification also can give you the professional edge you need to get the job you really want. Nurse managers who participated in the ABNS study place a high value on nursing certification, according to Bonnie Niebuhr, RN, MS, CAE, chief executive officer for ABNS.

"It can be difficult to know when a nurse applicant has the right knowledge and skill set for a particular position," says Mary C. Smolenski, RN, EdD, FNP, FAANP, CAE, director of certification services for the American Nurses Credentialing Center. "Certification provides a marker that helps employers identify that nurse."

For Bonner, certification has helped her climb the clinical ladder and open up additional career paths that complement her work at the bedside. These include writing for nursing journals on orthopedic topics and working as an adjunct facility member at Towson (Md.) University. Bonner has decided to pursue a second certification in orthopedics.

High Demand

According to ANCC, board-certified nurses are in high demand and command an average of $9,000 more annually than their counterparts who are not board-certified.

"Certification brings something extra to the table," says Jeanne M. Floyd, RN, PhD, CAE, executive director of ANCC.

Smolenski also has noted a trend in which more healthcare organizations, such as Magnet facilities, are providing recognition, financial incentives, and professional development programs to develop and retain certified nurses.

"Facilities are starting to realize that helping nurses achieve recognition is beneficial to them in the long run because those nurses have a better sense of commitment to the organization," says Smolenski. "It also plays into recruitment when they tell their nurse friends how great the organization is to work for."

Physicians and Staff Take Note

Surveys done through ANCC and other professional groups, such as ABNS and the Competency and Credentialing Institute, show nurses also feel they are better accepted and recognized by physicians and peers when they are certified, according to Smolenski.

"It has an impact on physicians when you can say you are credentialed in a particular area," she says.

Bonner agrees and says she and other staff nurses who are certified have become the "go-to" nurses on their units. "Physicians and other staff often sense a higher level of knowledge and professionalism," she says.

Certification also provides a mechanism for the public to see that a nurse has mastered a recognized body of knowledge that is pertinent to a specialty.

"It validates my skills and knowledge in the gerontological field," says Margaret Gunzelman, RN, BSN, BC, a direct-care RN certified in gerontological nursing and manager of assisted living at Hopkins Elderplus in Baltimore. "It displays my commitment to the nursing profession and to my specialty and helps me provide a higher standard of care."

Data Lacking

But what about the value of certification in affecting better patient outcomes? Unfortunately, studies about patient safety and outcomes as related to certification are lacking. This is because it is difficult to study the direct relationship between certification and outcomes due to difficulties in controlling for many other variables that impact outcomes, according to Niebuhr.

"If you've been able to establish through a reliable means, such as certification, that a nurse has the knowledge within a given specialty, that has to make a difference in patient safety," she says.

In addition, certified nurses tend to be professionally connected and active within professional organizations and at educational conferences, which keep them up-to-date on patient safety issues and evidence-based practice, says Dottie Roberts, RN, MSN, MACI, CMSRN, OCNS-C, president of ABNS.

"That gives nurses a broader perspective on trends in healthcare and more exposure to and sharing of best practices," she says.

Plus, because maintaining a certification often requires more CEUs than most hospitals require, certified RNs typically go above and beyond the usual competency and educational requirements of their facilities.

"I can't think of any downside to certification," says Emilie Calleja, RN, BSN, CMSRN, a med/surg certified staff RN on the rehabilitation unit at Baltimore's Good Samaritan Hospital. "I've learned more detailed pathophysiology and care, I've been recognized by management for passing the certification test, and I am more confident in collaborating with physicians, leaders, and coworkers."

Catherine Spader is a contributing writer for Nursing Spectrum/NurseWeek. To comment, e-mail editorNTL@gannetthg.com. Editor's note: Nursing Spectrum CE provides online certification courses through the Web site pearlsreview.com. There are prep courses for more than 70 nurse certifications, ranging from ACRN/AARN (AIDS nursing) to trauma nursing.