I’ve been a nurse for more than two years, but around the 18-month anniversary of my nursing career, I started to feel a little itchy. I knew I wanted to advance my practice in some way, but I wasn’t quite sure how. It was certainly too soon for me to think about going back to school. But did I want a new specialty? No! I had finally started to feel a sense of mastery in some areas of my emergency nursing practice. So, how about a new job? Well…yes. When I realized it was a change of scenery I was really after, I started to think about ways to make that a reality for me. How could I be attractive to a future employer? How could I gain some personal job satisfaction for myself?

Although there were no incentives or rewards for me to do so at the time, I began to research becoming a certified nurse. You can obtain board certification in many different types of nursing practice: In my practice, emergency nursing, you can become a board certified emergency nurse (BCEN) by meeting testing requirements and then passing the certified exam. There are certifications available for many different registered nursing specialties.

I bought a book and started studying. There are in-person courses for you to take if you learn better by taking classes or courses, but I found the book practice exams and online tests to be very helpful for preparing for test content, especially reading the rationales for the correct answers. Many are formatted in a way very similar to the NCLEX exam, so you can expect either fond memories or horrible post-traumatic stress flashbacks.

There are many benefits to becoming board certified in your specialty:

1. It is a concrete way for you to demonstrate your skills to your employer.

You also get to add several letters to the top of your resume showing that yes, you are the expert in this field of nursing.

2. It usually counts toward your continuing education.

It’s a great way to kill two birds with one stone.

3. Many employers offer incentives for their employees to get certified.

At my new employer, the exam is paid for, you receive a bonus if you pass, and they reward certified nurses with a recognition dinner once a year.

4. It makes you stand out.

If you’re up for a position as a staff nurse against someone with exactly the same experience as you, it is your board certification that just may land you the job over someone else. The best news is that most certifications are good for three to four years!

For more information about nursing certification boards and specialties, see the great list compiled here.

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Laura Kinsella

Laura Kinsella, BSN, RN, CEN, is an emergency room nurse in Washington, DC.
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