Becoming a nurse is a dream for many individuals. This career is incredibly rewarding, allowing you the chance to work with people in need and to make a difference in others’ lives. But deciding to become a nurse is just the beginning. There are many professional pathways you can pursue within this field.
Today, there are hundreds of different types of nurses and nursing certifications. There are also many different nursing credentials that you can earn. If you’ve ever read a medical journal, or looked at the badge of a healthcare worker, you may have noticed the (what seems like) alphabet-soup following the professional’s name. These are their credentials – letters dictating their specific role and specialty within the medical field.
For nurses, there are several types of credentials. There are educational credentials, which represent the highest level of nursing degree you’ve earned – for example, BSN or MSN. There are also license credentials, which stand for your title or the type of nurse you are. In addition, there are credentials that signify any professional certifications you have earned.
If you are an aspiring nurse, and wondering about your options after nursing school, read on. Below, we dive into the various nursing credentials you can pursue through your education, license, and career.
Nursing Education Credentials:
The American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN) notes that, in the standard format for nursing credentials, your education should come first. Your nursing education credentials represent the highest level of degree you’ve earned. If you’ve earned more than one degree, your nursing degree should come first. Below is a list of common education credentials that follow a nurse’s name:
- ADN (Associate Degree in Nursing)
- BSN (Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing)
- MSN (Master’s Degree in Nursing)
- Doctoral degrees such as PhD, DrPH, DNS, and DNP
Nurse Licensing Credentials:
Licensing credentials are earned after completing your national or state board examination, and becoming licensed to practice in the field. There are different exams for different nursing licenses. For example, to earn the Registered Nurse or RN credentials, you must successfully complete the NCLEX-RN examination. Below are examples of common nursing licensures and credentials, starting with the most entry-level and moving up towards the most advanced.
- CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant): CNAs are not licensed to practice medicine, but rather, assist advanced nurses with basic patient care. This includes helping to transport patients, feed and bathe patients with less mobility, and ensuring patients are comfortable. Earning a CNA title typically takes a matter of months’ to complete.
- LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse): Licensed Practical Nurses, or LPNs, are licensed to provide basic patient care, such as administering IVs and checking patients’ vitals. LPNs and CNAs both report to Registered Nurses (RNs). Earning the LPN credential generally takes about one year.
- RN (Registered Nurse): Registered Nurses are the nurses you see most bustling about a hospital or clinical practice. These nurses are licensed to practice a full scope of patient care, including performing diagnostic tests, coordinating treatment plans, administering medications, and educating patients about preventive care. Becoming a licensed RN generally takes about two years’ time, due to the level of clinical training involved. RN nurses report to their higher-ups, usually APRNs or doctors.
- APRN (Advanced Practice Registered Nurse): Advanced Practice Registered Nurses are licensed through a state board of nursing. This license can be earned only after earning the RN credentials and completing a master’s degree program. Due to the level of education needed, APRNs are licensed to practice independently without physician oversight. At a high level, there are four types of APRN roles you can pursue with this credential:
- Nurse Practitioners (NP)
- Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS)
- Certified Nurse-midwives (CNM)
- Certified Nurse Anesthetists (CNA)
Licensure requirements – and even how you display your nursing credentials – can vary by state. For example, most states have a required way to note APRN credentials. Most states also have unique requirements for becoming licensed as an APRN. Be sure to check with your state board of nursing to ensure you are representing yourself, your degree, and your credentials correctly.
RN Credentials or Certifications:
If you are interested in becoming a nurse, earning your Registered Nurse credentials is typically the first step. As noted above, Registered Nurses have the ability to work fully and directly with patients – providing care, comfort, and education during times of need. In addition, to become an RN, you only need an associate degree to be eligible.
After becoming an RN, however, you may wish to advance your career. Some RNs go on to pursue their Bachelor’s or Master’s in Nursing, though these degrees are not required for most standard nursing roles. Many RNs choose to pursue specializations and certifications within their field. These are granted by accredited credentialing bodies, such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Specialized RN credentials include, but are not limited to:
- RN-BC (Registered Nurse-Board Certified) – Note, with this RN credential, you can pursue board certifications in Informatics Nursing, Pain Management, Pediatric Nursing, Gerontological Nursing, Ambulatory Care Nursing, and more!
- CPN (Certified Pediatric Nurse)
- TCRN (Trauma Certified Registered Nurse)
- CEN (Certified Emergency Nurse)
- CWCN (Certified Wound Care Nurse)
- CTRN (Certified Transport Registered Nurse)
- CARN (Certified Addictions Registered Nurse)
- OCN (Oncology Certified Nurse)
- NSCN (National Certified School Nurse)
- FNP-BC (Family Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified) – note this requires a master’s degree
You can learn more about the different RN specialties here.
In addition to national certifications, you can also include any relevant awards and honors in your nursing credentials. Awards recognize outstanding achievements you’ve made within the field, such as the Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing (FAAN) or Fellow Critical Care Medicine (FCCM).
Displaying Your Nursing Credentials
The standard format for nursing credentials, as set forth by the AACN, is to list them with the most permanent credentials first. Below is the order in which to display your nursing credentials. Remember, you must use the credentials required by your state:
- Highest degree earned
- State designations or requirements
- National certification
- Awards and honors
- Other recognitions
Are you ready to launch a successful nursing career? Goodwin University is a leader in nursing education, with associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degree programs available for aspiring nursing professionals. We can help you get started on your nursing career, or advance your current position with an advanced degree and credentials. Call 800-889-3282 to learn more.
Goodwin University is a nonprofit institution of higher education and is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Goodwin University was founded in 1999, with the goal of serving a diverse student population with career-focused degree programs that lead to strong employment outcomes.