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The Anatomy of Nursing Credentials: Decoding the Letters After Your Name in Nursing

As a nurse and family nurse practitioner, I have worked hard to obtain additional board certifications in areas of nursing that I am passionate about, and I understand the importance of accurately and professionally displaying your credentials. Whether you're a Registered Nurse (RN) or a Nurse Practitioner (NP), the manner in which you present your qualifications can impact your professional identity and credibility. In this blog, I'll guide you through the best practices for writing your credentials, ensuring that you showcase your expertise with clarity and integrity based on guidelines from the American Nurses Credentialing Center. I will say that I find the excessive use of commas in these guidelines a bit tedious, but otherwise, I try to follow the ANCC guidance.

Understanding the Hierarchy of Credentials

The first step in writing your credentials is to recognize the hierarchy in which they should be listed. Generally, this order is:

  1. Highest Academic Degree: Start with your highest nursing educational degree. It could be an associate's, bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree. This is placed first because it signifies your formal education and foundational knowledge. If you have a degree in another field, you may choose to list that degree as well, with the highest degree first. (For example, Alicia Smith, DNP MSN RN). If you obtained a BSN followed by an MSN, you would write Alicia Smith, MSN RN. You would not need to include the BSN. You can read more in this brochure.

  2. Licensure: Your license, such as RN or NP, comes next. This is crucial because it denotes your legal authority to practice. Remember, licensure is a requirement for practice, not an optional accolade.

  3. State Designations or Requirements: Include any state-specific credentials or designations that are necessary for your practice. This might include Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) or other similar titles, depending on your state’s regulations. Interestingly, each state chooses its own designation for nurse practitioners, so you may see it written in several variations depending on what state an NP is licensed.

  4. National Certifications: These are your specialty certifications awarded through organizations like the American Nurses Credentialing Center. For instance, if you're a family nurse practitioner, you might include FNP-BC (Family Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified) or FNP-C (Family Nurse Practitioner- Certified). These certifications showcase your specialized skills and expertise. ANCC guidelines state that you can list these certifications in the order of your preference- possibly starting with your most significant, recent, or most relevant to your current practice.

  5. Awards and Honors: Although less common, if you have received any significant awards or honors relevant to your nursing practice, you can include them.

  6. Other Recognitions: This can include additional credentials like certifications in functional medicine or nurse coaching, which are pertinent to my professional focus and might be to yours as well. This may include non-nursing credentials.

Examples for Reference

Let’s put this into practice with a couple of examples:

  • If you hold a Master of Science in Nursing, are a licensed RN, are certified in acute care, and have a certification in nurse coaching, your credentials would look something like this: Jane Doe, MSN, RN, ACNP-BC, NC-BC.

  • As a Doctor of Nursing Practice, licensed as an NP with a specialty in family practice and a certification in nurse coaching, you would write: John Smith, DNP, FNP-BC, NC-BC

Best Practices and Tips

  1. Consistency: Be consistent in how you present your credentials across different platforms - be it your resume, email signatures, business cards, or social media profiles.

  2. Simplicity: While it’s important to showcase your qualifications, avoid overloading your credentials. Stick to the most relevant and significant ones.

  3. Stay Updated: Keep your credentials current. This includes maintaining your licensure and any certifications and updating your credentials as you achieve further education or accolades.

  4. Professionalism: Always present your credentials in a manner that reflects professionalism and respect for the nursing profession.

  5. Educate Yourself: As the nursing field evolves, so do the ways in which we present our professional identity. Stay informed about any changes in credentialing norms or guidelines.

Personally, I chose to let my menopause certification (NCMP) lapse recently and had to order new stationary and edit my online titles. I did this because I felt that board certification no longer reflected my practice. I feel this is the exception, so I definitely recommend putting reminders in your calendar and staying on top of requirements for renewing your hard-earned titles and certifications. Last year, I earned my board certification as a certified nurse educator (CNE), and I feel that is a much more appropriate reflection of where I am in my career as a functional medicine NP and nurse educator.

How do these rules apply to me? Honestly, I'm really forgetful at including the NP part because I feel it is redundant coming just before ARNP. I am finishing my post-MSN DNP degree in three months. Before graduation, my credentials are MSN NP ARNP FNP-C NC-BC AFMC CNE. After graduation, I will drop the MSN, so it will change to DNP NP ARNP FNP-C NC-BC AFMC CNE, and finally, I hope to replace my current functional medicine certification AFMC with the Institute for Functional Medicine's IFMCP certification when I'm less busy after school ends. I've had too much on my plate for too long, lol!

Earning that next degree or board certification takes determination and hard work. It reflects a dedication to improving the care you are able to offer your patients. Writing your credentials as an RN or NP is more than a formality; it's a reflection of your professional journey and expertise. By following these guidelines, you ensure that your qualifications are presented accurately and professionally, bolstering your credibility in the eyes of colleagues, patients, and the broader healthcare community. Remember, your credentials narrate your professional story; make sure they tell it well.

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