How & Why You Should Become Certified in Your Specialty

There are many compelling reasons to become certified in a specialty to further your nursing career; from earning more money to showing commitment to your specialty, nursing certifications allow nurses to be more confident in clinical decision making. Here we outline steps to certification, how to test and what to consider.
obgyn specialty

Many nurses consider certification once they’ve worked in a specialty for a few years. In my personal experience, becoming certified requires hard work, but can be a satisfying achievement–and has been within my own career. In order to become certified, you must meet several requirements as determined by the ANCC (American Nurses Credentialing Center). I’ll discuss with you the general steps to certification, the options for testing, and specific reasons why you should consider becoming certified in your specialty.

Steps to Certification

The ANCC serves as the accrediting body for individuals and institutions. They outline the requirements for becoming certified and renewing certifications. Be warned: it is a process to become certified and there is a test you must pay to take and pass.

Specific requirements depend on the specialty you’re seeking certification in. However, the general requirements, according to the ANCC’s site, regardless of the specialty, include: you must have worked a minimum of 2 years full time in the specialty and completed 30 hours of continuing education in the past 3 years. You must also hold an active, current RN license.

In addition to the general requirements, the nurse usually has to provide proof of education in original transcripts from the college they attended. If you’re about to graduate as a nurse practitioner, the ANCC will accept unofficial transcripts. Once you pass the nurse-practitioner certification exam, you must provide official transcripts to the ANCC when they become available. There are other requirements if you’re applying outside of the United States.

Become Certified in Your Specialty

How to Test

There are options to test. Live remote proctoring (LRP) from home is a testing option during the COVID 19 pandemic. However, be sure your computer meets technology requirements set by the credentialing center. More information about the technology requirements can be found here. These types of tests must be scheduled in advance.

The other option for testing is in-person at a Prometric testing center. In this case you would schedule an appointment in advance. You are allowed to retake the test if it’s not passed the first time and the new testing date must be scheduled again online. Don’t worry if you don’t pass the first time; the test is difficult. I studied for months before taking it.

If you’re a brand new applicant, the test is computer based and consists of 150-175 questions that must be answered within 3.5 hours. 25 of those questions are pretest questions and are not counted. You’ll be provided a scratch pad for the duration of the test that is collected after testing. No suspense about the score: you’ll receive your score at the end of the test and it is pass or fail. A handbook is available online that discusses the details about testing.

The ANCC recommends preparing for the exam about 6 months in advance. I recommend developing a plan and routine for studying. Study guides and reference books can be helpful to assist in preparation. Finding a study buddy is also helpful to stay accountable, motivated, and to work out questions on the material. I found a study buddy and we studied together at least once a week for an hour or two. There are additional materials available on the ANCC website as well as other sources to prepare you for the content on the test.

You will have several documents to submit to the ANCC and you’ll want to keep thorough records. It’s important to stay organized and keep copies. Using a calendar with the testing date written down and deadlines for paperwork submissions can be helpful too.

Once certified, the certification is valid for 5 years and then must be renewed every 5 years. You will receive the certificate in the mail that can be framed and you’ll have bragging rights to use “board certified” after your name! Renewal requirements are on the ANCC website and you must provide proof of continuing education and other sources showing you’re advancing within the specialty.

What to Consider 

The American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN) highlights some of the following reasons that becoming certified can benefit.

  • Being certified in your specialty allows you to be more confident in your clinical decision making
  • Certification validates your knowledge in your specialty
  • It may earn you a pay raise
  • Certification is very marketable on your resume
  • Certification shows you’re committed to your specialty

If you’re thinking of taking the next step, make a plan and stay organized. There are many reasons you could choose to become certified in your specialty. As the AACN webpage notes, certification extends beyond our roles as nurses and benefits patients, employers and institutions. The process can be involved but it does demonstrate commitment to the specialty, and ultimately, to the profession. Good luck!


ANCC Homepage. American Nurses Credentialing Center. Accessed November 8, 2020.

“COVID-19 Policy FAQs.” American Nurses Credentialing Center. Accessed Nov 8, 2020. 2020. Accessed November 11, 2020.

“Certification: General Testing and Renewal Handbook.” April 1, 2017, American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Accessed November 11, 2020.

“Certification Benefits Patients, Employers, and Nurses. American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN). Accessed November 11, 2020.

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