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Credentials: Like Learning Your ABCs All Over Again

Way to go! Congratulations! Youíve graduated nursing school and have officially achieved your BSN. From here you can go on to pass your licensure test and become an RN. And if you work hard, you can go on to lead a very distinguished nursing career and, in the process, earn the right to add practically the entire alphabet to the end of your name. The question is: Should you?

Look through any given nursing publication and you are likely to see more peers with long, long strings of credentials after their name, many of which leave you scratching your head in puzzlement. It’s beginning to seem like being a registered nurse is no longer impressive enough. We have to step back for a moment and realize that our nametags are not our resumes. Every achievement we’ve ever accomplished doesn’t have to appear in neon lights.

Can Credentials Actually Look Unprofessional?
Nancy Nurse, RN-C, BS, MN, PhD, NP, FAAN — It’s hard to believe this is an actual strip of credentials that appeared after someone’s name. Now let’s think of most other professions whose names would be followed with credentials. Think of your attorney, accountant, physician even your priest or rabbi. How many of them have six sets of credentials after their names? Six sets of credentials are excessive, no matter how you look at it.

It’s fair and understandable to be proud of your hard work and accomplishments, but we need to evaluate which of these accomplishments deserve to be made public. It’s pretty much guaranteed that, beyond RN and LPN, most patients will have no idea what the other credentials mean. On that note, many of the other healthcare professionals we work with will also have no idea what these letters stand for. So ultimately, we’re not adding any credibility to our name or profession.

If You Insist On “Stringing” Us Along… Do It Right.
If you absolutely feel the Morse Code that appears after your name deserves to be there, at the very least you can have a complete, detailed understanding of why. There are some basic rules when it comes to the alphabet soup of credentials.

First, there are six basic types of credentials you may possess.
Degree- e.g., BS, MS, JD, PhD, EdD…
Licensure- e.g., RN, LPN
State designation or requirement- this type of designation may vary from state to state. These credentials are similar to licensure, but they designate authority and recognition to practice at a more advanced level in a particular state. Some examples are APN, APRN, ARPN, CRPN, NP, CNS and CS. These credentials are authorized by a state based one meeting certain criteria, which may include the completion of advanced education, specific course work or certain types of experience.
National certification- are awarded by a nationally recognized, usually accredited, certifying body such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center, the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certifying Board or from the American Society of Association Executives certifying body.
Awards or honors- e.g., FAAN (Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing) and FCCM (Fellow of Critical Care Medicine)
Other certifications- These can include a variety of thing and may or may not be associated with your license or profession, e.g., ELS (editor for life sciences).

Now with all the possibilities out there… which credentials do you actually have to use? Legally, the credentials that a nurse is required to use are those that the state has authorized and says must be used when practicing in that particular state.

Rule of Thumb - When You Absolutely Have to List Them All.
If you have multiple credentials and want them all to be seen know there is a general rule you can adhere to “Follow your name with the credential that can least be taken away from you, in decreasing order, with awards or fellowships last.”

Example: Jane Doe, PhD, RN, CPNP. The degree, once awarded, can least be taken away. The license, however, does have the potential to be revoked or taken away.

Another example: Jane Doe, AD, RN, C, CCRN, CCM. This is an associate degree, critical care, and med/surg nurse with a new case manager certification.

Credentials are necessary, within reason.
It’s important for a patient to know that he or she is indeed being spoken to by a nurse or a doctor. But, at the same, time a long list of credentials may only confuse them. Are you ready to take responsibility and educate the public about the letters after your name? You should be if you plan to make them public knowledge.

You might want to consider using the appropriate credentials at the appropriate time. If you’re applying for a particular job or giving any important presentation and the degrees and additional credentials will provide emphasis on your background, use them. It’s that simple. But if they are not contributing to the big picture — simple is just as good!





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