Nursing Credentials: A Guide

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Written by Kathleen Walder Content Writer, IntelyCare
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Reviewed by Alexa Davidson, MSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
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From the time you enter nursing school, you start working to earn letters after your name. Those nursing credentials identify your specialty skills, education level, and career progression. You know they’re important, but do you know how to use credentials, especially how to write nursing credentials when you have more than one?

This guide will answer those questions and give you information about the various credentials, where they come from, and how and where to use them.

What Are Nursing Credentials?

Credentials are shorthand for your professional qualifications, such as your degree, license, and any additional specialty training you obtained. The acronyms of your nursing credentials inform other healthcare providers, patients, third-party payers, and government officials of the education and training you amassed.

For example, an abbreviation like “RN” (short for registered nurse) after someone’s name tells you that the person completed an accredited nursing program, passed the NCLEX-RN exam, and is licensed to practice nursing.

In a healthcare setting like a hospital or skilled nursing facility, those letters may also communicate to colleagues what procedures you are educated in and legally allowed to perform. The credentialing system works to protect patients by ensuring that only professionals with the correct qualifications are performing a specific set of duties for which they have been properly trained.

From a compliance standpoint, nurse credentials facilitate reimbursement from commercial insurance carriers, Medicare, and Medicaid by ensuring that a nurse who provides services has the necessary skills and education level. In case of a lawsuit, credentials communicate that a healthcare provider has followed best practices and quality standards.

On a personal level, when you apply for a job, your credentials instantly tell the hiring manager if you are qualified to perform specific tasks and procedures.

Who Issues Nursing Credentials?

A few entities are authorized to issue credentials for nurses. The organizational body depends on the type of credential.

  • Accredited schools issue educational credentials in the form of degrees that you receive from nursing programs.
  • State or local governments issue licenses that allow you to practice in a geographic area.
  • Professional organizations like the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) issue national certifications that recognize experience and additional education.
  • Leadership organizations including the American Academy of Nursing (AAN) issue credentials for awards and honors.

Nursing Credentials: Examples

You can earn several types of nursing credentials — educational, licensure, state requirements, national certification, awards and honors, and other certifications. Below are the categories of credentials, along with examples of each.

1. Educational Degrees

2. Licensure Credentials

  • RN (registered nurse)
  • LPN (licensed practical nurse)

3. State Designations or Requirements

  • APRN (advanced practice registered nurse)
  • NP (nurse practitioner)
  • CNS (clinical nurse specialist)

4. National Certification

  • RN-BC (registered nurse-board certified)
  • FNP-BC (family nurse practitioner-board certified)
  • CCRN (critical care registered nurse certification, issued by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses)
  • CPN (certified pediatric nurse, issued by the pediatric nursing certification board)
  • CNE (certified nurse educator, issued by National League for Nursing)
  • ACNC (Ambulatory Care Nursing Certification, issued by the American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing)

5. Awards and Honors

  • FAAN (fellow, American Academy of Nursing)

6. Non-nursing certifications

  • CPT (certified phlebotomy technician)

Credential vs. Certification

Accredited third parties with authoritative power may award both nursing credentials and certifications. The phrases are sometimes used interchangeably because they both validate an individual’s professional achievement — but there’s a difference between the two.

Certifications can lead to credentials. For example, the nurse executive certification (NE-BC) is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Specialty Nursing Certification, a professional society within the nursing profession. Once you pass the nurse executive certification program, you are awarded the credentials NE-BC.

Another distinction: The process of earning certain certifications is typically not as intense or lengthy as the process to earn credentials. Compare the process of earning EMT certification (around 170 hours) versus earning BSN credentials (four years).

What Is a Certificate Program?

A certificate is a form of continuing education, but it is not a degree. (You graduate from a two- or four-year school to earn a degree.) To earn a certificate, you would take a stand-alone class or set of classes, and complete them with a passing grade. Getting a certificate does not add letters to your name, but can be an advantage on your resume.

How to Write Nursing Credentials

There is a standard order for how your nursing credentials should appear, especially if you have more than one set of letters after your name. The order below should be followed when putting your name on any professional correspondence and also demonstrates how to list nursing credentials on a resume.

How to Display Nursing Credentials: Order of Appearance

  1. Highest earned educational degree
  2. Licensure
  3. State designations or requirements
  4. National certifications
  5. Awards and honors
  6. Other recognitions

This order for nursing credentials takes several things into account. The education degree comes first because it is a permanent credential that cannot be revoked (except under extreme and rare circumstances). Next are the licensure and state credentials you must have in order to practice nursing. National certification can be voluntary. Awards, honors, and other types of recognitions are always voluntary.

How to Write Nursing Credentials When You Have More Than One of the Same Type

Multiple credentials in the same category can be confusing, but there is a standard to follow. Here are some nursing credentials examples to use as a guide if you have:

1. More Than One Education Degree

List the highest education degree first: Sue Smith, PhD, MSN. This order communicates that you have a doctorate and a masters of science in nursing.

If your second degree is in another relevant field, you may also choose to list it. In that case, list your highest non-nursing degree first, followed by the highest nursing degree: Sue Smith, MBA, MSN, RN.

2. Multiple Nursing Certifications

List nursing certifications first, followed by non-nursing certifications: Sue Smith, MSN, RN, ACLS, EMT.

If you have more than one nursing or non-nursing certification, you can list either category in the order you prefer, but it makes sense to list them in the order of relevance to your practice or in the order they were obtained, with the most recent first.

If you earned a certification as a phlebotomy technician before your emergency medical technician certification, you’d write: Sue Smith, MSN, RN, ACLS, CPT, EMT.

Now Your Credentials Are in Order, Let’s Work on Your Career

You worked hard to earn your nursing credentials. But sometimes, finding a job that meets your needs can be a hassle. Want to change that? Learn how IntelyCare can match you with the types of nursing jobs that fit your goals.