Nurses who receive certification, including those serving in all advanced practice roles, provide added assurance to the public that they have acquired the specialized professional development, training, and competencies required to provide safe, quality care for specific patient populations. For example, NPs and CNSs may qualify for certification after completing a master’s degree, post-master’s coursework, or doctoral degree through an accredited nursing program, with specific advanced coursework in areas such as health assessment, pharmacology, and pathophysiology; additional content in health promotion, disease prevention, differential diagnosis, and disease management; and at least 500 hours of faculty-supervised clinical training within a program of study (ANCC, 2010a, 2010c).
Certification is time-limited, and maintenance of certification requires ongoing acquisition of both knowledge and experience in practice. For example, most advanced practice certification must be renewed every 5 years (NPs, CNSs); requirements include a minimum of 1,000 practice hours in the specific certification role and population/specialty. These requirements must be fulfilled within the 5 years preceding submission of the renewal application (ANCC, 2010b). CRNAs are recertified every 2 years and must be substantially engaged in the practice of nurse anesthesia during those years, in addition to completing continuing education credits (NBCRNA, 2009). Recertification for CNMs is shifting from 8 to 5 years and also involves a continuing education requirement (AMCB, 2009).
As the health care system grows in complexity, expectations are that APRNs will have competence in expanding areas such as technology, genetics, quality improvement, and geriatrics. Coursework and clinical experience requirements are increasing to keep pace with these changes. Jean Johnson, Dean of the School of Nursing at The George Washington University, notes that in terms of education, this is a time of major transition for APRNs.14 With the DNP, some nursing education institutions are now able to offer professional parity with other health disciplines that are shifting, or have already shifted, to require doctorates in their areas of practice, such as pharmacy, occupational and physical therapy, and speech pathology. As discussed above, DNP programs allow nurses to hone their expertise in roles related to nurse executive practice, health policy, informatics, and other practice specialties. (It should be noted, however, that throughout this report, the discussion of APRNs does not distinguish between those with master’s and DNP degrees who have graduated from an accredited program.)
Graduate-level education produces nurses who can assume roles in advanced practice, leadership, teaching, and research. For the latter role, a doctoral degree is required, yet as noted above, fewer than 1 percent of nurses have achieved