Explore the benefits of obtaining specialty certifications in nursing, the process involved, and how they impact licensure and career advancement.

Earning a specialty certification is a conscious effort to standardize and validate the breadth of your knowledge, abilities, and competences in a certain sector. Opting to obtain specialty certification is more than just establishing your knowledge; it is a clear indication of your continued dedication to your professional development. For nurses, certificates are more than just paper credentials; they demonstrate to employers that you are highly experienced in certain areas of healthcare, such as critical care, trauma reaction, or disease management.

Most nursing certificates require a few years of practical expertise in the area of specialization, as well as further training. Let’s look at how these qualifications can help your nursing career.

Understanding Certifications, Licenses, and Credentials

Understanding the distinctions between license, certification, and qualifications can be difficult at times, since each serves a different function and has its own set of restrictions and implications.

LicenseLicensure grants legal authority to practice nursing and is governed by state authorities that require regular renewal.
CertificationProfessional societies assess and validate advanced skills and knowledge in specializations such as emergency or pediatric nursing, and certification acknowledges them. 
CredentialCredentials are third-party-verified certifications that range from educational degrees such as an MSN (Master of Science in Nursing) to specialized designations such as CNS (Clinical Nurse Specialist), and demonstrate academic and practical skill.


Every registered nurse (RN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN), referred to as a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) in some areas, must complete stringent testing to demonstrate that they have the core knowledge required for safe nursing practice. This licensing is a minimum prerequisite for nursing professionals and serves as a springboard for their professions in healthcare. The licensure tests for RNs and LPNs are separate, with each geared to the unique scope of practice and competencies necessary at each level. In the United States, licensure is essentially a state duty, with each state overseeing nursing standards and practice within its borders.


While licensing confirms a nurse’s competence to fulfill minimum safety criteria, specialty certification goes a step further, evaluating a nurse’s experience in certain areas. Obtaining specialty certification in nursing certification is a voluntary procedure, but it is often recognized as a symbol of professional excellence and specialization—whether in emergency nursing, pediatric care, or another field. These specialty certifications provide more than simply greater recognition; they certify a nurse’s comprehensive understanding, clinical expertise, and advanced abilities that go beyond the basics of licensing.

For example, being a Certified Emergency Nurse may be great for someone who thrives in the fast-paced setting of an emergency department, whereas a Pediatric Nursing Certification may be appropriate for those who work with children. Certification methods vary, but often require extensive first hand expertise in the specialization, passing a test, and continued professional development to maintain the accreditation.


Credentials, which are provided by respected third-party organizations, are important markers of a professional’s qualifications in the nursing field. These include academic degrees such as associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees, as well as continuing education units that keep nurses up to date on changing medical practices and technology. While a license is required for all working nurses, further qualifications demonstrate a nurse’s ability to manage increasingly complicated and specialized jobs efficiently.

specialty certification in nursing

The Value of Specialty Certifications

Nursing certificates not only demonstrate a nurse’s specific knowledge to employers, colleagues, and patients, but they also open the road for professional advancement, higher pay, and more work options. As of 2020, more than one million nurses in the United States and Canada have specialist certificates from one of 44 certifying bodies, including the AACN Certification Corporation, and around 134,000 possessing credentials for acute and critical care nursing for different ages.

Certified nurses are widely sought after in healthcare facilities because they have the capacity to greatly improve patient care quality. A 2020 research that appeared in the Journal of Nursing Care Quality found that nurse credentials were associated with better outcomes for patients and overall well-being. The National Academy of Medicine emphasizes this topic in their consensus research, “The Future of Nursing 2020-2030,” which advocates for a culture of continuous education to greatly improve healthcare and patient outcomes.

A study by Dierkes et al. found that hospitals acknowledged as Magnet facilities, which must keep a substantial number of certified nurses, are frequently associated with enhanced hospital services as well as lower rates of medical issues such as bloodstream infections in invasive intensive care units.

Financially, specialty certifications can be quite rewarding as many healthcare institutions offer to cover costs associated with gaining these credentials, including exam fees, and may also provide salary increases post-certification. This investment in specialty certification by employers emphasizes the value placed on specialized knowledge and skills in nursing. 

Exploring Popular Specialty Certifications in Nursing

Registered nurses can pursue a variety of qualifications, including various options for individuals with master’s degrees and advanced practice credentials.

With over 3.8 million licensed nurses in the United States, almost 60% of whom work in high-demand hospitals, specialty certifications not only validate a nurse’s skills but also prepare them for a field that is expected to increase by 15% between 2016 and 2026, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

Numerous organizations provide nursing certificates, each targeted to a unique area of competence within the nursing profession. Notable bodies include:

Specific nursing specialties require accreditation through designated societies. For example, emergency nurses can obtain specialty certification from the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing. The National Commission for Certifying Agencies is critical in ensuring that these organizations maintain high standards, providing a strong foundation for nurses seeking help on the specialty certification process. This network not only helps nurses achieve their professional goals, but it also improves the standard of care they deliver.

A-GNPAdult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse PractitionerAANP
AACRNAdvanced HIV/AIDS Certified Registered NurseHANCB
ACCNS-AGClinical Nurse Specialist; Wellness through Acute Care (Adult-Gerontology)AACN
ACCNS-NClinical Nurse Specialist; Wellness through Acute Care (Neonatal)AACN
ACCNS-PClinical Nurse Specialist, Wellness through Acute Care (Pediatric)AACN
ACHPNAdvanced Certified Hospice and Palliative NurseACHPN
ACNP-BCAcute Care Nurse PractitionerAACN
ACNPC-AGAcute Care Nurse Practitioner (Adult-Gerontology)AACN
ACNS-BCAdult Health Clinical Nurse SpecialistNACNS
ACRNHIV/AIDS Certified Registered NurseHANCB
ADM-BCAdvanced Diabetes Management (specialty certification, retired exam)DCES
ADM-BCAdvanced Diabetes ManagementDCES
AE-CCertified Asthma EducatorNAECB
AFN-BCForensic Nursing, AdvancedIAFN
AFN-BCAdvanced Forensic NursingIAFN
AGACNP-BCAdult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse PractitionerANCC
AGCNS-BCAdult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse SpecialistANCC
AGN-BCGenetics Nursing, AdvancedANCC
AGPCNP-BCAdult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse PractitionerANCC
AHN-BCAdvanced Holistic Nurse, Board CertifiedAHNCC
ANP-BCAdult Nurse PractitionerANCC
ACNPCAcute Care Nurse Practitioner (Adult)AACN
AOCNAdvanced Oncology Certified NurseONCC
AOCNPAdvanced Oncology Certified Nurse PractitionerONCC
AOCNSAdvanced Oncology Certified Clinical Nurse SpecialistONCC
APHN-BCAdvanced Practice Holistic NurseAHNCC
BC-ADMBoard Certified-Advanced Diabetes ManagementADCES
BMTCNBlood & Marrow Transplant Certified NurseONCC
C-EFMElectronic Fetal MonitoringNCC
C-NPTNeonatal Pediatric TransportNCC
CANSCertified Aesthetic Nurse SpecialistPSNCB
CAPACertified Ambulatory Perianesthesia NurseABPANC
CARNCertified Addictions Registered NurseCNET
CARN-APCertified Addictions Registered Nurse – Advanced PracticeCNET
CBCNCertified Breast Care NurseONCC
CBHCCorrectional Behavioral Health CertificationACA
CCCNCertified Continence Care NurseWOCNCB
CCCN-APCertified Continence Care Nurse-Advanced PracticeWOCNCB
CCHP-ACertified Correctional Health Professional-AdvancedNCCHC
CCHP-RNCertified Correctional Health Professional-RNNCCHC
CCHTCertified Clinical Hemodialysis TechnicianNNCC
CCHTACertified Clinical Hemodialysis Technician-AdvancedNNCC
CCNSAcute/Critical Care Clinical Nurse Specialist (Adult, Pediatric & Neonatal)AACN
CCRACertified Clinical Research AssociateACRP
CCRCCertified Clinical Research CoordinatorACRP
CCRNAcute/Critical Care Nursing (Adult, Pediatric & Neonatal)AACN
CCRN-ETele-ICU Acute/Critical Care Nursing (Adult)AACN
CCRN-KAcute/Critical Care Knowledge Professional (Adult, Pediatric & Neonatal)AACN
CCRPCertified Clinical Research ProfessionalSOCRA
CCTMCertified in Care Coordination and Transition ManagementAAACN
CD-LPNCertified Dialysis Licensed Practical NurseNNCC
CD-LVNCertified Dialysis Licensed Vocational NurseNNCC
CDECertified Diabetes EducatorCBDCE
CDNCertified Dialysis NurseNNCC
CENCertified Emergency NurseBCEN
CENPCertified in Executive Nursing PracticeAONL
CFCNCertified Foot Care NurseWOCNCB
CFRNCertified Flight Registered NurseBCEN
CGRNCertified Gastroenterology Registered NurseABCGN
CHFNCertified Heart Failure NurseAAHFN
CHFN-KNon-Clinical HeartFailure NurseAAHFN
CHPCACertified Hospice and Palliative Care AdministratorHPCC
CHPLNCertified Hospice and Palliative Licensed NurseHPCC
CHPNCertified Hospice and Palliative NurseHPCC
CHPNACertified Hospice and Palliative Nursing AssistantHPCC
CHPPNCertified Hospice and Palliative Pediatric NurseHPCC
CHSACertified Health Service AdministratorACA
CICCertified in Infection ControlCBIC
CMOccupational Health Nursing Case ManagementABOHN
CMCCardiac Medicine (Adult)AACN
CMCNCertification in Managed Care NursingABMCN
CMSRNCertified Medical-Surgical Registered NurseAMSN
CNECertified Nurse EducatorNLN
CNLClinical Nurse LeaderAACN
CNMLNurse Manager and LeaderAONL
CNMLCertified Nurse Manager and LeaderAONL
CNNCertified Corrections NurseACA
CNNCertified Nephrology NurseNNCC
CNN-NPCertified Nephrology Nurse-Nurse PractitionerNNCC
CNN/MCertified Corrections Nurse/ManagerACA
CNORCertified Nurse, Operating RoomCCI
CNRNCertified Neuroscience Registered NurseABNN
CNS-BCClinical Nurse Specialist, CoreANCC
CNS-CPClinical Nurse Specialist Perioperative CertificationCCI
COCNCertified Ostomy Care NurseWOCNCB
COCN-APCertified Ostomy Care Nurse-Advanced PracticeWOCNCB
COHNCertified Occupational Health NurseABOHN
COHN-SCertified Occupational Health Nurse-SpecialistABOHN
CORLNCertified Otorhinolaryngology NurseNCBOHN
CPANCertified Post Anesthesia NurseABPANC
CPENCertified Pediatric Emergency NurseBCEN
CPHONCertified Pediatric Hematology Oncology NurseONCC
CPHQCertified Professional in Healthcare QualityNAHQ
CPHRMCertified Professional in Healthcare Risk ManagementAHA
CPLCCertified in Perinatal Loss CareHPCC
CPNCertified Pediatric NursePNCB
CPNP-PCCertified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner-Primary CarePNCB
CPONCertified Pediatric Oncology NurseONCC
CPP-ACCertified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner-Acute CarePNCB
CPSNCertified Plastic Surgical NursePSNCB
CRNCertified Radiologic NurseARIN
CRNACertified Registered Nurse AnesthetistNBCRNA
CRNFACertified Registered Nurse First AssistantNASC
CRNICertified Registered Nurse InfusionINCC
CRNOCertification for Registered Nurses of OphthalmologyASORN
CRRNCertified Rehabilitation Registered NurseARN
CSCCardiac Surgery (Adult)AACN
CTRNCertified Transport Registered NurseBCEN
CUAUrologic AssociateCBUNA
CUNPCertified Urologic Nurse PractitionerCBUNA
CURNCertified Urologic Registered NurseCBUNA
CWCNCertified Wound Care NurseWOCNCB
CWCN-APCertified Wound Care Nurse-Advanced PracticeWOCNCB
CWOCNCertified Wound Ostomy Continence NurseWOCNCB
CWOCN-APCertified Wound Ostomy Continence Nurse-Advanced PracticeWOCNCB
CWONCertified Wound Ostomy NurseWOCNCB
CWON-APCertified Wound Ostomy Nurse-Advanced PracticeWOCNCB
DCNPDermatology Certified Nurse PractitionerDNA
DNCDermatology Nurse CertifiedDNA
ENP-BCEmergency Nurse Practitioner (specialty certification)ANCC
FNP-BCFamily Nurse PractitionerANCC
FNP-CFamily Nurse PractitionerAANPCB
GCNS-BCGerontological Clinical Nurse SpecialistANCC
GNP-BCGerontological Nurse PractitionerANCC
HHCNS-BCHome Health Clinical Nurse SpecialistANCC
HN-BCHolistic Nurse, Board CertifiedAHNCC
HNB-BCHolistic Baccalaureate Nurse, Board CertifiedAHNCC
HWNC-BCHealth and Wellness Nurse Coach, Board CertifiedAHNCC
LNCCLegal Nurse Consultant CertifiedALNCCB
NC-BCNurse Coach, Board CertifiedAHNCC
NCSNNational Certified School NurseNBCSN
NE-BCNurse ExecutiveANCC
NEA-BCNurse Executive, AdvancedANCC
NNP-BCNeonatal Nurse PractitionerNCC
NP-CAdult Nurse Practitioner-CertifiedAANPCB
OCNOncology Certified NurseONCC
OCNS-COrthopedic Clinical Nurse SpecialistONC
ONCOrthopedic Nurse CertifiedONC
ONP-COrthopedic Nurse Practitioner-CertifiedONC
PCCNProgressive Care Nursing (Adult)AACN
PCCN-KProgressive Care Knowledge Professional (Adult)AACN
PCNS-BCPediatric Clinical Nurse SpecialistANCC
PHCNS-BCPublic/Community Health Clinical Nurse SpecialistANCC
PHMSPediatric Primary Care Mental Health SpecialistPNCB
PHNA-BCPublic Health Nursing, AdvancedANCC
PMHCNS-BCAdult Psychiatric-Mental Health Clinical Nurse SpecialistANCC
PMHCNS-BCChild/Adolescent Psychiatric-Mental Health Clinical Nurse SpecialistANCC
PMHNP-BCAdult Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse PractitionerANCC
PMHNP-BCPsychiatric-Mental Health Nurse PractitionerANCC
PPCNP-BCPediatric Primary Care Nurse PractitionerANCC
RN-BCAmbulatory Care NursingANCC
RN-BCCardiac-Vascular NursingANCC
RN-BCCertified Vascular NurseANCC
RN-BCCollege Health NursingANCC
RN-BCCommunity Health NursingANCC
RN-BCFaith Community NursingANCC
RN-BCGeneral Nursing, PracticeANCC
RN-BCGerontological NursingANCC
RN-BCHemostasis NursingANCC
RN-BCHigh-Risk Perinatal NursingANCC
RN-BCHome Health NursingANCC
RN-BCInformatics NursingANCC
RN-BCMedical-Surgical NursingANCC
RN-BCNursing Case ManagementANCC
RN-BCNursing Professional DevelopmentANCC
RN-BCPain Management NursingANCC
RN-BCPerinatal NursingANCC
RN-BCPsychiatric-Mental Health NursingANCC
RN-BCRheumatology NursingANCC
RN-BCSchool NursingANCC
RNC-LRNLow Risk Neonatal NursingNCC
RNC-MNNMaternal Newborn NursingNCC
RNC-NICNeonatal Intensive Care NursingNCC
RNC-OBInpatient Obstetric NursingNCC
SANE-ASexual Assault Nurse Examiner – Adult/AdolescentIAFN
SANE-PSexual Assault Nurse Examiner – PediatricIAFN
SCRNStroke Certified Registered NurseABNN
SNP-BCSchool Nurse PractitionerANCC
TCRNTrauma Certified Registered NurseBCEN
WHNP-BCWomen’s Health Care Nurse PractitionerNCC

Certifications for Recent Nursing Grads

BLS: Basic Life Support

BLS certification is required for all nurses, providing them with the necessary abilities to handle cardiac crises, conduct CPR, and properly use defibrillators in clinical settings.


  • No prior requirements are required, making this certification available to all nursing grads.
  • Typically provided through the American Heart Association (AHA) and can be obtained via employers. 
  • Available in in-person and hybrid modes.
  • It takes around four hours to finish, and is valid for two years.

ACLS: Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support

ACLS certification expands on BLS abilities by teaching additional procedures for dealing with life-threatening cardiovascular crises. This includes managing airways, medication administration, and recognizing various cardiac events.


  • Nurses must have BLS certification prior to training. Especially recommended for those working in emergency or intensive care units.
  • Available through AHA-certified providers, with training offered in-person.
  • The training lasts about 15 hours. 
  • Certification remains valid for a period of two years.

PALS: Pediatric Advanced Life Support

PALS certification trains nurses to address critical pediatric emergencies, focusing on cardiovascular and respiratory distress in children.


  • Completion of BLS training is required beforehand. 
  • Essential to nurses employed by pediatric care facilities.
  • The American Heart Association provides hybrid and personal training choices.
  • The course lasts roughly 12 hours. Like others, it is valid for two years. 
  • Costs depend on the provider and chosen training format.

Specialty Nursing Certifications

CCRN: Certified Critical Care Nurse

This qualification allows nurses to give critical care to extremely sick adult patients in high-risk settings such as ICUs and trauma units. It improves medical judgment and the moral dimensions of nursing care.


  • Valid RN or APRN licensure and about 2,000 hours of hands-on critical care experience.
  • Administered by American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN). 
  • It costs the amount of $250 for participants and a total of $ for non members. 
  • Examinations can be taken either at a PSI testing center or online. 
  • Renewed on a three-year basis.

CMSRN: Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse

This qualification, recognized for increasing professional credibility, is essential for nurses who specialize in medical-surgical care.


  • A valid US RN license, a minimum of 2 years of medical-surgical nurse experience, and at least 2,000 hours in the past 3 years.
  • Administered by the Medical Surgical Nursing Certification Board.

CEN: Certified Emergency Nurse

Designed for nurses in emergency rooms, this credential covers an extensive variety of crisis interventions, such as cardiac, respiratory, and trauma scenarios.


  • Applicants must possess an RN license and expertise in emergency nursing.
  • Available through the Emergency Nursing Board of Certification. 
  • The test costs $230 and is administered at Pearson VUE locations or through live remote proctoring. 
  • Certification is renewed every four years.

CPN: Certified Pediatric Nurse

Validates nursing abilities relevant to pediatric care, recognizes proficiency above standard RN licensing, and is eligible for magnet status.


  • Nurses need an unencumbered RN licensure in the United States, at least 1,800 hours of clinical experience in pediatric nursing in the previous two years, and an overall of 3,000 hours across five years.
  • The Pediatric Nurse Certification Board issued this certificate. 
  • The specialty certification procedure includes a test, with fee and renewal information accessible from the board.

CNRN: Certified Neuroscience Registered Nurse

Meant for nurses who focus on neurological illnesses, and it is the only certificate that includes full neuroscience nursing expertise.


  • Valid RN license with a year of full-time specialty nursing expertise within the previous three years.
  • Administered by the American Board of Neuroscience Nursing. 
  • To qualify, nurses have to pass an examination, which has particular prices and renewal intervals determined by the certifying body.

ONC: Certified Orthopedic Nurse

The Orthopedic Nurses Certification Board recognizes the ONC specialty certification, which verifies skills in orthopedic nursing, including the management of acute neurological trauma and chronic disorders.


  • An unencumbered RN license
  • A minimum of 2 years of experience, 1,000 hours in an orthopedic environment within the past three years of practice.
  • Specific costs and renewal details are provided by the certifying board upon registration.

OCN: Oncology Certified Nurse

The Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation offers this specialty certification to those who specialize in oncology nursing.


  • A current RN license. 
  • Minimum of 2 years of professional nursing work experience.
  • 2,000 hours of geriatric oncology practice in the previous 4 years.
  • Minimum of 10 hours of oncology-related continuing education.
  • Certification costs and renewal processes are managed directly through the certifying body.

CENP: Certified in Executive Nursing Practice

CENP certification emphasizes nursing leadership and management skills. This is perfect for nurses seeking executive positions.


  • A valid RN licensure and a BSN with at least 4 years of executive experience, or an MSN plus 2 years of experience.
  • The American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) offers this program; members pay $325, nonmembers pay $450. 
  • Valid for three years.

HN: Holistic Nurse

Holistic Nurse specialty certification spans several levels of practice, combining alternative therapies with standard care.


  • Valid RN license, with varied educational and practical requirements (based on certificate level).
  • Administered by the American Holistic Nurses Credentialing Corporation (AHNCC). 
  • Costs between $375 and $450. 
  • Must be renewed every five years.

FNP-BC: Family Nurse Practitioner

FNP-BC applies to nurses who offer family-centered care to patients of all ages. An emphasis on illness prevention and management.


  • Valid RN license, MSN or comparable.
  • 500 hours of clinical experience validated.
  • The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) charges $295 for ANA members and $395 for non members. 
  • The certification is valid for a period of five years
  • Can be obtained via remote proctoring or in Prometric Test Centers.

RN-BC: Informatics Nursing Certification

Intended for nurses who improve patient care using information systems. Meant for those who work with healthcare technology as well as data management


  • A BSN, an active RN license, at least two years of practical experience, 30 CE hours in informatics, and relevant clinical hours.
  • Available via the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC); $295-$395
  • Renewal—every five years.
  • Administered at Prometric Testing Centers or via live remote proctoring.

PMHNP-BC: Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Qualifies nurses to offer comprehensive mental health diagnostic and medication management.


  • A valid RN license.
  • A master’s degree or greater in psychiatric the field of nursing.
  • 500 hours of clinical experience are required.
  • The American Nurses Credentialing Center charges $295-$395. 
  • The test is accessible at Prometric Testing Centers or via remote testing.
  • Valid for five years.
specialty certification in nursing

Maintaining and Advancing with Certifications

Getting a specialty certification in nursing is only the starting point. Nursing professionals must maintain and upgrade their skills in order to develop professionally. Professional activities include teaching or volunteering, attending continuing education courses, and passing a renewal exam.

  • Continuing Education: Certifying bodies require a number of continuing education (CE) hours for renewal. These courses keep nurses current on the newest techniques and innovations in their particular fields.
  • Practice Hours: Certifications typically require proof of real-world expertise in a nurse’s specialty field. This practice guarantees that nurses continue to improve their abilities and utilize their experience. A portion of these hours must be accumulated around the renewal deadline to guarantee the nurse’s ongoing proficiency and significance in the field.
  • Fees: Costs vary depending on qualification and might range between under $100 to almost $1,000. Certifying organizations often provide membership discounts to help manage these costs. Renewal durations might range from a single year to five years, based on the certification.


Specialty certifications, including emergency, pediatric, or critical care in the field of nursing, do more than just boost a nurse’s portfolio; they dramatically improve patient care quality while also increasing the nurse’s marketability and professional progression chances. This targeted expertise is especially valuable in high-stakes situations when accuracy and detailed knowledge can have a significant impact on patient outcomes.

The process of gaining and maintaining these credentials is demanding, demonstrating nurses’ sincere dedication to their professional development and the optimal health of their patients. Hospitals and healthcare institutions appreciate this dedication; many help nurses both personally and professionally while they pursue these qualifications, realizing that spending translates into improved patient care and increased facility reputations.

Furthermore, as healthcare expands and changes, the requirement for specialized expertise becomes increasingly important. Nurses with current qualifications are well-prepared to face these difficulties, bringing cutting-edge strategies and insights into their practice. Renewal of these certifications—via continuing education, clinical experience, or exams—ensures nurses stay current with new developments and continue to offer the best level of care.