Health Care Practitioner Accreditation

A certificate program is an educational program that awards a certificate after the program is completed. Certificate programs are open to anyone and they provide the learner with specific skills and knowledge. They are often useful in the workplace as a way of demonstrating additional knowledge or skill in a subject area. They are helpful to individuals who are seeking to improve their knowledge in a particular area, obtain continuing education credit toward a national certification, or change careers. A certificate of completion is awarded at the end of the program. Credentials (i.e. “letters” after a name) are not awarded for a certificate program.

Often, healthcare organizations will offer their own internal “credentialing” program to teach their staff specific skills or procedures. These programs are often designed to meet the criteria of that specific organization and involve a combination of classes, an exam, and practicum. These programs apply to the practice within that organization since they are usually not certified by an independent, third-party agency. This type of certificate program is not nationally recognized and does not award credentials.

A certification refers to an earned credential that demonstrates specialized knowledge, skills, and experience. Certification is a voluntary process of validating knowledge, skills, and abilities beyond the scope of the nursing (or other healthcare) license. Certification is awarded by a third-party, nongovernmental entity. Certification candidates receive their credential only after they meet strict eligibility criteria and successfully complete a standardized exam. Credentials are nationally recognized and they are also portable so they can be used in all states and all organizations. Certification credentials are often good for a period of time (such as 5 years) and include ongoing requirements that must be met to keep the certification current. The recertification process usually includes a combination of continuing education and experience in the subject area to ensure that credential holders have maintained a specific level of expertise in their specialty and that they participate in activities that support competency in their specialty. Certification usually results in the ability to place “letters” after one’s name. They, too, are often useful in the workplace as a way of demonstrating additional knowledge or skill in a subject area and are helpful to individuals who are seeking to improve their knowledge in a particular area or change careers (include starting one’ own business).

Certificate vs. Certification Exams

Often an exam is required to complete a certificate program. This exam is very different from a certification exam. Certificate exams are developed by the organization that created the course content. Certification exams are comprised of standardized exam questions based on national studies of job analyses and nursing/health care roles. Certification exams are administered in a secure and proctored environment, and they undergo regular statistical psychometric analyses that measure the fairness and difficulty of the exam questions.

For further information about certification, check these agencies.

Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE)
National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA)
American Board of Nursing Specialties (ABNS)

Nursing Credentialing Organizations

Select one of the major credentialing entities listed below to learn more about their respective certification programs for nurses.

The American Nurses Association/American Nurses Credentialing Center

The American Nurses Association (ANA) and The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) state that certification:

  • identifies nurses with strong professional development standards
  • is a measure of professional competency
  • is recognized by all state boards of nursing and the U.S. military
  • validates nurses’ skills, knowledge, and abilities
  • empowers nurses within their profession
  • contributes to better patient outcomes

The ANA’s credentialing arm, the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), is the largest nurse credentialing organization in the United States. More than 250,000 nurses have been certified by ANCC since 1991.

The ANCC offers certification for nurses, nurse practitioners, and advanced practice nurses in more than two dozen specialties. For further information on ANA/ANCC certifications, visit their Web sites.

American Holistic Nurses Credentialing Corporation
The American Holistic Nurses Credentialing Corporation (AHNCC) offers certification for holistic nurses. Nurses are certified at several levels. ALLEGRA Learning’s courses are accredited by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and several certificate programs are also nationally endorsed by the American Holistic Nurses Association. Many of these courses/certificate programs meet the education requirements for the AHNCC national certification exam in holistic nursing.

American Association of Critical Care Nurses
The American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN) offers its own credentialing program specifically for critical care nurses. Like the ANA/ANCC, an AACN credential requires a qualifying examination and has its own set of requirements which RNs must meet in order to take the credentialing examination.

AACN offers certification for staff nurses in multiple areas including:

  • acute care
  • critical care
  • progressive care
  • cardiac medicine
  • cardiac surgery
  • advanced practice (clinical nurse specialist)
  • nurse manager and leader

For more details, visit the Web sites of either the AACN or the AACN’s Certification Corporation.

Other Professional Nursing Associations in Specialty Practice Areas

Several professional nursing associations representing various specialty areas have their own credentialing programs. Some offer credentials that compete with the credentials offered by the ANA/ANCC while others offer credentials for specialties for which the ANA/ANCC do not have an equivalent. Each nurse is encouraged to perform the appropriate research on the credential that he or she feels meets their own specific career needs before making a selection. The list below provides you with some resources for that research.

Emergency Cardiovascular Care Credentialing

The following courses are offered by the American Heart Association, the American Red Cross, the Emergency Nurses Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

  • Cardiovascular Care/Life Support Courses for Health Professionals

    • Basic Life Support Health Care Provider Course (BLS)—A half-day course designed to provide a wide variety of health care professionals with the ability to recognize life-threatening emergencies, provide CPR, use an AED, and relieve choking in a safe, timely, and effective manner. Noncertified, licensed, and nonlicensed health care professionals attend this course.
    • Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support Course (ACLS)
    • Pediatric Advance Life Support Course (PALS)
    • Cardiovascular/Life Support Courses for the public include CPR for Family and FriendsHeartsaver AED, and Heartsaver First Aid
  • CPR and First Aid Courses for professional rescuers, community members, and workplaces.
  • Emergency/Trauma Nursing Courses