Certification is available to all graduates of any accredited masters, post-graduate, or doctoral nurse practitioner program within the chosen population focus. At this time, only California, Indiana, and Kansas will recognize nurse practitioners without national certification.
Because considerable differences in certification and state Board licensing policies have been a challenge to many advanced practice nurses, the proposed APRN Consensus Model recommends a certification process that will be more uniform between state jurisdictions. One significant change contained in the model is that new certification and licensing policies will focus on the nursing role first, then the population focus. This means that a role-specific certification exam will test in one of the six population foci: neonatal, pediatrics, adult-gerontology, women’s health, family/across the life span, and psychiatry/mental health. For example, the certification exam requirement for NPs serving the pediatric population would be the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner exam.
According to the APRN Consensus Model, APRN specialty preparation cannot replace educational preparation in the core role as NP, or in one of the six population foci.
Specialty certification will still be available, but will not be a requirement for advanced practice licensing. Additional education and preparation in a specialty area of practice must build upon the role and population focus and the model recommends that competence in a specialty area be assessed by professional organizations. For example, a new pediatric nurse practitioner who wants a specialty certification in oncology will take the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner certification exam first, then acquire further educational and skill depth within that role and population to meet the requirements for pediatric oncology certification. And, to establish further consistency, it is proposed that each state license show the nurse’s advanced practice role first, then the population to be served by the practitioner, followed by a specialty (if applicable). In the pediatric NP example discussed above, the license would show ‘APRN, Nurse Practitioner, Pediatrics, Oncology’.
Accredited certification examinations test graduate students on multiple components of a nurse practitioner’s intended area of practice. Testing has been developed to evaluate knowledge and clinical competence in all facets of patient assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and evaluation. Exam content also includes relevant knowledge and clinical competence in anatomy, pathophysiology, disease symptomatology, diagnostic testing, differential diagnosis, and epidemiology. Additional areas covered include research and evidence-based practice, interviewing techniques, counseling, educational theories, and biopsychosocial theories. Treatment knowledge should include pharmacologic, nonpharmacologic, and complementary therapies and protocols. Two additional areas of testing include strategies for health promotion and knowledge on the legal and ethical aspects of practice.
For clarification, it is important to fully understand the definitions of three key certification terms as defined by the APRN Consensus Model:
- Role – Appropriate clinical and didactic experiences of the 4 APRN Roles: Certified Nurse Practitioner (CNP), Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), or Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM).
- Population Foci – Competency in at least 1 of 6 population foci: family/individual across lifespan, adult-gerontology, pediatrics, neonatal, women’s health/gender-related, or psychiatric/mental health.
- Specialty – Focus of practice beyond role and population focus and linked to health care needs, including (but not limited to) oncology, orthopedics, nephrology, and palliative care.
The proposed changes in certification already described are seen as a positive step toward a consistent and effective model for the education and certification of advanced practice nurses. Prospective NPs should look closely at the expiration date of their chosen certification. The following list of organizations will provide some basic information on the certification options they currently offer.
American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program (AANPCP)
The combined Adult-Gerontology Primary Care NP certification offered by the AANPCP is nationally recognized and honored by the boards of nursing in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and some U.S territories.
American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
ANCC certification is recognized in all 50 states and offers the most options by population foci. Recertification is required every 5 years.
Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP)
Adult Nurse Practitioner (ANP)*
Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
Gerontological Nurse Practitioner (GNP)*
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP)
Adult Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)**
Family Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)**
* Scheduled to be discontinued in the future, will be replaced by a combination exam and certification
** At this time, the prospective PMHNP can complete an exam in family or adult psychiatric and mental health care, although it is anticipated that these will be combined in the future.
Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB)
The PNCB offers 2 certifications in pediatric care, both of which are recognized in all 50 states. Yearly recertification and 15 hours of continuing education are required, but a wide variety of options are offered for meeting the annual education requirement.
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – Acute Care (ACPNP)
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – Primary Care (PCPNP)
American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN)
The ACNPC is accepted in 39 states. AACN requires recertification every 5 years and several different options are offered to meet renewal requirements.
Adult Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNPC)
National Certification Corporation (NCC)
All states that require certification recognize NCC certification programs. NPs who have an NNP or WHNP certification must renew every 3 years and renewal options include a continuing education or reexamination requirement. Continuing education options and requirements are changing in the year 2014.
Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)
Women’s Health OB/GYN Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)
Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC)
The AOCNP certification is recognized in 11 states. The ONCC will be making some changes in certification eligibility in 2013. NPs with AOCNP certification must renew every 4 years and several different options are offered to meet renewal requirements.
Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner (AOCNP)