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What Is Certification?

Certification is an examination that must be taken in order to practice as a nurse practitioner. The nurse can choose to be board certified or university-level certification can also be selected. The certification process provides individual disciplines for the nurse to specialize in. The examinations are offered through on-site test sites as well as online. The nurse can test at the entry level and once certification is met the initials ‘NP-C’ can be used. This specifies that the nurse practitioner has received certification.

There are also university nursing schools that offer one- to two-year certification programs. These are offered to active practicing registered nurses who have a Master’s degree in nursing. This type of program can offer clinical work and experience. The practicing RN will use their advanced clinical knowledge and can take national certification exams in their select specialty area. For example, the University of Texas at Arlington offers a nurse practitioner program that is available to students seeking a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree and as post-MSN certificate programs. Students must meet the admission criteria unconditionally. Students seeking a post-master’s certificate must have completed an MSN from a National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC) or Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) accredited program. There are many universities that offer certification programs and specialty areas.

To be certified is the formal process by which the certifying agency, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), can validate nurse practitioners’ skills, knowledge and clinical abilities in the defined role and area of specialty practice. This is based on pre-determined standards that are put in place by the committee. They can achieve initial certification credentials when they complete the graduate of nursing education, meet certification requirements and pass the certification examination. The process of certification renewal requires completion of professional development activities including continuing education. These courses can be taken at online learning centers and students can select the practice role of your specialty. This provides additional opportunities to let the nurse practitioner expand his or her role and focus on their specialty area.

Certification is required for licensure and also for reimbursement in some states. This let’s future employers know that the nurse has met the standards of practice and provides greater opportunities to the advanced practice nurse in the profession. This also provides the nurse with a sense of accomplishment and helps to achieve future goals. Renewal is required every five years with AACN and it is nationally recognized in all states.

Types of Nurse Practitioner Certification

There are many options to consider when deciding what specialty area to practice in as a nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioner certifications can be achieved in the following areas: acute care, adult, adult psychiatric and mental health, family and pediatric among others. Each specialty area requires additional advanced training in order to take certification examinations on the specific area. Below, we discuss the various specialty areas that the an NP can specialize in.

Acute Care: This area of study will prepare the adult acute care nurse practitioner (AACNP) to provide the advanced practice nursing care to adults with neurological, cardiopulmonary, oncology, HIV/AIDs and acute complex disease states. The primary role of the NP is to be responsible for direct care of the acute patient population. This type of certification will include advanced clinical applications and nursing with a focus on physiology, pathophysiology and pharmacology. The Nurse Practitioner will perform health assessments, health risks and order and interpret diagnostic tests. The management of common health problems and disease specific signs and symptoms will be followed closely. Prescribing medications and other treatments when necessary to coordinate care for the patient as well as promote health and quality of life concerns.

Adult: The primary focus of adult care is on the care of older adults. There are many chances for diverse learning opportunities with adult care. The nurse may decide to focus on adult primary care or geriatric primary care.

Adult Psychiatric and Mental Health: This certification focuses on individuals who have psychiatric disorders, substance abuse problems or individual medical conditions that need collaboration for treatment. The nurse will have extensive skills in psychosocial and physical assessment as well as the management and behavior therapy. The NP who specializes in this area must have a desire to use education and medication management to promote mental health. Cultural sensitivities and outcome evaluations are completed regularly. Nurse practitioners who work in this area will work with both adults and children.

Family: This certification focuses on psychosocial and community health areas and offers primary care services to patients of all ages. This specialization has a broad, but comprehensive emphasis on the areas necessary for primary care practice.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner: This certification focuses on the treatment or common acute and chronic conditions of children. The emphasis is family centered and has advanced clinical training in the field of pediatrics.

Deciding which specialty to study further will help new nurse practitioners in the certification process. Certification is essential to specialize in a specific area. This will help NPs work independently and competently in the practice setting of their choice.

Preparation for Certification Tests

To register for the certification tests you must fill out an application for the specialty area you’ve selected. This can be done online or via hard copy documentation. The American Nurse Credentialing Center offers a streamlined process to submit an application, test preparation and test-taking tips as well as recertification. The exams are a computer-based test. You are able to apply year-around and then are required to take the exam within a 90-day window at a location and time that is convenient.

As soon as you have applied to take the certification exam the studying begins! In order to succeed at studying, create a plan. Before each study session, create a goal for yourself for that session. Ask yourself, “What do I want to get out of this study session?” “What do I need to review or learn from this material?” There are endless test preparation web sites available on Internet. Deciding what resources to use may be a task. First skim the material offered by the preparation site and then take a few notes to ensure it fits with your style of studying as well as your certification specialty. Not everything will need detailed attention. Spend your study time wisely

There are also numerous review seminars, workshops, study guides, documents and pre-test question booklets for the nurse to choose from. The university or college attended as well will usually offer some type of review course to prepare for certification and licensing. The decision is clearly up to the individual and each person can specify and select what works best for them.

The final days of test preparation can create anxiety that can reach unhealthy stress levels for some individuals. Most people will experience some kind of stress level at test time. For some, it can be unhealthy and impair their ability to concentrate and think. Here are a few tips to reduce the test anxiety:

  • Don’t get lost in the details. If you get easily distracted because you are disorganized, then remove all distractions that can. Recognize the test anxiety you may be feeling and take the necessary steps to resolve this.
  • Boost your self-confidence with ample preparation. You won’t be as nervous on test day if you are well prepared.
  • Relax your mind; try to use breathing techniques to relax.
  • Eat and rest well. Good nutrition is essential and it also improves your study habits.
  • Stay on schedule. Keep track of your exam date so that it does sneak up on you. Keep your routine simple and relaxed and it will decrease your chance of text anxiety.

Finally, when you take the exam the results will be the fruits of your many days of studying and preparation and the rewards lie ahead with practicing in the field as a nurse practitioner.



Last Updated: 05/19/2014

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