Career Advice: Which APRN Certification Exam Should I Take?

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This question is from my colleague, Susan Toberman, BSN, RN, CCRN, CFRN, EMT from the University of Tennessee Medical Center (UTMC) in Knoxville, TN. 
Sue is an acute care/critical care nurse with many years of experience. At the time she submitted this question, she was an emergency department flight nurse and the clinical coordinator of UTMC’s LIFESTAR program.  Her dilemma consisted of her desire to take the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) AG-ACCNS exam versus the ANCC AGCNS exam.

Bottom Line: Take the APRN Certification Exam your state will accept!

When deciding on whether to take any advanced practice certification exam, your first visit should be to your State Board of Nursing (SBON) website.  So Sue needs to know which exams the state of Tennessee will recognize for advanced nursing practice as a clinical nurse specialist.  If the Tennessee SBON doesn’t accept the AACN exam then taking that exam won’t do her any good.  So I would check the SBON website or call the SBON for that information. 

Most, if not all, of the specialty APRN certification exams have now been retooled to conform to the APRN Consensus Model requirements.  For example, I was the Lead Subject Matter Expert for the new CNS consensus-model based certification practice exam offered by AACN for the adult-gerontology (AG) population. The new credential, replacing the CCNS, is ACCNS-AG.  All of AACN’s advanced practice exams are now based on the Consensus Model content requirements.  

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) has advised state boards of nursing to accept the Consensus Model-based exams – but each state still makes their own decision.   Additionally, many SBONs provide a list of certification exams from professional nursing organizations that they’ll accept as verification of competency. NCSBN’s list of  approved certification exams can be found by clicking on this link. 

According to their website, the Tennessee SBON doesn’t specially name AACN as an approved organization, but they do say they go by the NCSBN’s list, which has AACN as an approved certification organization. 

I personally like having the recognition of my expertise in critical care—so the AACN exam (the CCNS at the time) was for me.  But if you have any doubt about which test to take, take the exam that the SBON accepts first, then take the exam you want, if different.  This way you are sure that your certification will be accepted when applying to the state board for recognition as an APRN.

“Take the APRN Certification Exam your state will accept!”