I’m taking a little sidestep from my usual blogging subjects today for a bit of a PSA (okay, it’s actually quite lengthy). But first, can we all admire how beautiful my Mama is?
If you didn’t already know, in my day job I work in the Nursing Administration department for a local healthcare system (I think we’re kind of a big deal, but I’m definitely biased). In the course of my job, I hear the most amazing stories from the men and women who were called to be nurses. I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t know the story of why my mother became a nurse but the parts of her story I do know are pretty incredible.
I personally am not a nurse, but after working with them for these past years I have so much respect for all that nurses are asked to do. Nursing is both a science and an art. It’s generally not the kind of thing someone just wakes up one day and decides to do – it’s the kind of career where you feel called to it. Where something inside you drives you forward each day to serve your patients and their families.
Today, March 19 is Certified Nurses Day. But you may not know what that means or why you should care.
If you see a nurse’s badge, you might see that it says something like this:
Candice Sullivan, MSN, RN, RNC-OB, EFM-C, LCCE, RN-BC
Okay, raise your hand if that means almost nothing to you. Let me break it down.
MSN – Masters of Science in Nursing. This is the highest degree your nurse has obtained. Education is usually listed first because it’s rare that anyone’s degree is ever revoked.
RN – Registered Nurse. I hope you knew that one! This is your nurse’s license. It goes after education because you can let your license expire (though I don’t know why you would – in many states they just want your money to keep it active). To become a registered nurse you may only have to complete a two year degree program. When you finish your degree, you take the licensing exam and then you are allowed to practice. That’s it – that’s all it takes*.
RNC-OB, EFM-C, LCCE, RN-BC – These are all certification credentials. Each set of initials represents a different certification. They go at the end because you have to maintain them and they can lapse if you don’t keep them up. You can have as many of these as you’d like – but you have to do the work to get them.
A certified nurse is one who has passed a board certification exam to demonstrate that they have superior knowledge, skills, and experience. Maintaining a certification requires that you amass a certain number of continuing education credits (called contact hours) related to your area of practice or specialty.
For those of us who aren’t in medicine, it seems like that kind of thing would or should be standard practice. After all, if I’m putting my life (or a family member’s life) in your hands – shouldn’t you have some seriously specialized training and education?
The answer is no. Your nurse might have years of experience but, while you can’t beat that, that’s pretty much the minimum.
Certification is voluntary. It’s going “above and beyond” the call of duty. Having a nursing certification says, “I have worked hard to learn as much as I can about my area of practice and I have made the commitment to myself, my career, and my patients to keep working hard and keep expanding my knowledge. I see myself as a professional and I take my career seriously and I expect the people around me to do the same.”
But it does take time and energy and not everyone is a good test taker. You might get a one time bonus, you might have the cost of the exam ($300-$800 or so) and/ or prep course covered by your hospital – or you may not. You may have to use your own money to cover your prep materials, exam, and any travel required. You’ll devote your free time and energy to studying and preparing. The exams are hard and there’s no guarantee you’ll pass it. Add your other life obligations in there – family, etc. – and it’s a major undertaking.
Having a certification is not a requirement. It is a measure of excellence, dedication, and commitment. But once you have a certification there’s a whole new world of opportunities available to you. Not to mention the level of respect afforded to the nurse who values herself and her career enough to seek it out. Getting a certification is an investment in yourself and your future.
For you, the potential patient or family member of a patient, knowing your nurse is certified gives you peace of mind. You know they have to keep learning, keep meeting the qualifications to maintain that certification. Your certified nurse will know the most up-to-date information about your care options. They’ll know what the evidence says and they’ll have access to professional organizations where they can network with other nurses to learn what’s being done at other hospitals. You can expect a certain level of excellence from a certified nurse and know that they work hard to provide you with the absolute best care available.
So if you should happen to meet a nurse today (or any day!), ask if they hold a certification. If they say yes, be sure to say thank you. Tell them that it’s important to you, that you feel safer, that it helps you trust them, that you’re impressed by their dedication – whatever it is that you feel. Your nurse will appreciate that you cared enough to ask. If the answer is no, don’t feel bad – by asking you are showing them that you respect them as a professional and inviting them to tell you what their credentials are. And who knows? Maybe by asking you’ll inspire them to go and get it.
Did you know that certification was an option for nurses? Are you certified in anything?
*I don’t say “that’s it” to diminish the effort it takes to get an associates degree because I know for some people that is hard, I just want to say that it’s not always a lengthy process. There are even some accelerated bachelor’s degree (BSN) programs that you can complete in one year if you already have a bachelor’s degree in another subject.