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With the country in chaos during the spread of the coronavirus, we’ve published many stories on how to deal with it in various ways. But in addition to dealing with it now, this experience may have gotten you thinking about your career in the future—especially with emergency services.

While the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN) will celebrate its 40th anniversary this coming July, we interviewed its leader now to give you information that you may want if you’re contemplating moving into this kind of work and want to know about the Board Certifications available and how to get them.

Janie Schumaker, MBA, BSN, RN, CEN, CENP, CPHQ, FABC, is the Executive Director of the BCEN, which is based in Oak Brook, Illinois. She answered our questions about what board certification for emergency nursing means and how to go about it.

What is the importance of being board certified as opposed to simply earning another kind of certification?

Holding a board certification vs. earning a certificate are often confused and misunderstood.

A board certification, like for example BCEN’s Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN ®) or Trauma Certified Registered Nurse (TCRN®) designation, is an earned credential that demonstrates the individual’s specialized knowledge and skills across an entire specialty body of knowledge. Certification is awarded by a third-party organization, like the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing, and high-quality programs are accredited by an organization such as the Accreditation Board for Specialty Nurse Certification (ABSNC).

Individuals receive their certification after meeting strict eligibility requirements and successfully completing a rigorous national certification examination. In addition, board certifications have ongoing requirements that must be met to maintain the credential, ensuring the holder is sustaining their level of expertise. Certifications are nationally recognized and are appropriately included with the earner’s signature along with their academic credentials.

Where board certification is about validating mastery across a specialty, a certificate and other instruction-based certifications importantly help nurses acquire focused knowledge and skills. Examples of certificates are Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) or Trauma Nursing Core Course (TNCC™).

Board certification is the highest professional credential a nurse can earn, and being board certified demonstrates a commitment to one’s career, patients, and organization.

How do nurses earn this?

Earning a board certification from BCEN requires an unrestricted U.S. RN license or equivalent. Just recently, we announced a new international candidate process that for nurses educated and/or practicing outside the U.S. We recommend that a nurse has two years of practice in the specialty area before sitting for that exam. When ready, nurses complete an application to sit for the exam, chose a testing time and site that works for them, and then take the test on the specified day. Of course, there is much preparation that is necessary prior to the exam.

If nurses think they might be interested in becoming board certified, what do they need to do?

Nurses who are interested in becoming board certified should incorporate preparation into their career plans early. Often it is required or recommended nurses have a certain amount of time working in their specialty area—for example, 2 years.

Start by researching the nursing specialty certification board that provides the credential in your specialty area. Take a look at their website. They will have a candidate handbook that explains eligibility and testing. Each certification exam has a test blueprint or content outline. This is very helpful in determining what to expect on the exam and what to study.

Many certification boards also provide a list of reference books used to create their exams. These can be very helpful to know what resources to use to study. Another thing that is highly effective is for nurses interested in certification to form a study group and prepare for the exam together.

Nurses interested in certification should also ask their employers about the support and resources they offer. Many employers value the impact certified nurses make in the workplace and offer support in various forms. Membership in a professional association can mean you qualify for a discount on certification and recertification fees.

[BCEN’s resource page, which includes everything from content outlines to test anxiety resources is here. Their resource page for students is here.]

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