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Top 10 Critical Care Nurse Certifications

This article outlines the various certifications available to critical care nurses, providing an overview of the requirements and benefits for each.

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Brenna Goyette
Certified Professional Resume Writer, Career Expert

Published 16 min read

Certifications are highly important for critical care nurses in the job market. Having certifications demonstrates a nurse’s commitment to professional development and their competence in providing quality care to patients. Certifications also provide evidence that a nurse has met the standards set by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) and other professional organizations, which can help them stand out from other applicants. Furthermore, many employers prefer to hire nurses with certifications as they can be confident these individuals have received additional training and education in their field. Finally, certifications can lead to higher salaries and more career opportunities for critical care nurses.

This article reviews some of the top certifications for Critical Care Nurses and explains how they can help to advance a critical care nurse's career.

What are Critical Care Nurse Certifications?

Critical care nurse certification is a credential that recognizes the advanced knowledge and expertise of nurses who specialize in providing care to critically ill patients. It is awarded by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN) and is one of the highest credentials available in nursing.

The certification requires nurses to have at least two years of experience in an acute or critical care setting, as well as demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the unique needs of critically ill patients. Certification also requires nurses to pass an exam that covers topics such as patient assessment, hemodynamic monitoring, ventilator management, pharmacology, and infection control.

Having this certification can help nurses demonstrate their commitment to providing high-quality care for patients with complex medical needs. It can also make them more attractive candidates when applying for jobs or promotions in acute or critical care settings. Additionally, having this credential can provide nurses with access to professional development opportunities that are not available to non-certified nurses. Ultimately, having this certification can serve as evidence of a nurse's expertise and commitment to providing superior patient care in an acute or critical care setting.

Pro Tip: Critical Care Nurse Certification is a great way to demonstrate your commitment to the field and show potential employers that you have the skills and knowledge necessary for advanced nursing practice. Make sure to research the certification requirements thoroughly before committing to any course of study, as there are many different paths available.

Related: What does a Critical Care Nurse do?

Top 10 Critical Care Nurse Certifications

Here’s our list of the best certifications available to Critical Care Nurses today.

1. Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN)

A Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN) is a specialized type of registered nurse who has completed additional training and certification in order to provide care to critically ill or injured patients. CCRNs are responsible for monitoring, assessing, and caring for patients in intensive care units (ICUs), emergency departments, and other settings where life-threatening conditions exist.

In order to become a CCRN, one must first be a registered nurse with an active license. Additionally, the candidate must have at least 1 year of full-time experience as a registered nurse working in critical care within the last 2 years prior to taking the exam.

The CCRN exam consists of 150 multiple choice questions and takes approximately 3 hours to complete. The cost of the exam is $360 USD. After passing the exam, nurses will receive their CCRN certification from the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN).

2. Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN)

Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) is a certification program offered by the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN). It is designed to recognize nurses with advanced knowledge and expertise in emergency nursing.

To become a CEN, one must have at least two years of full-time emergency nursing experience within the last three years, or 1,000 hours of emergency nursing practice within the last three years. Candidates must also hold an active RN license and have completed 30 hours of continuing education in emergency nursing within the last three years.

The CEN exam consists of 200 multiple-choice questions covering topics such as patient assessment, trauma management, pharmacology, medical emergencies, cardiology, pediatrics, and professional issues. The exam takes approximately 3 ½ hours to complete.

The cost for taking the CEN exam varies by region but typically ranges from $300-$400 USD.

3. Trauma Nursing Core Course (TNCC)

The Trauma Nursing Core Course (TNCC) is a two-day course designed to provide nurses with the knowledge and skills necessary to care for trauma patients. The course focuses on the assessment, management, and evaluation of trauma patients in the prehospital setting and in the emergency department. It also covers the principles of trauma nursing, including airway management, shock management, wound care, and other topics related to trauma nursing.

TNCC is offered by the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA). The course takes approximately 16 hours to complete and includes both classroom instruction and hands-on practice sessions. The cost of TNCC varies depending on location but typically ranges from $200-$400 USD. To get TNCC certified, you must attend an approved TNCC course at an accredited facility or online program. After completing the course, you must pass an exam administered by ENA in order to become certified as a Trauma Nurse Core Course provider.

4. Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS)

Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) is a set of clinical interventions and protocols for the urgent treatment of cardiac arrest, stroke, and other life-threatening medical emergencies. It is an advanced form of basic life support (BLS) that includes additional skills such as airway management, defibrillation, and intravenous (IV) drug administration. ACLS is designed to help healthcare providers recognize and treat life-threatening conditions quickly and effectively.

ACLS certification typically requires a one or two day course that covers the basics of ACLS including airway management, pharmacology, rhythm recognition, defibrillation, and resuscitation. The course also includes practice scenarios to help participants gain experience in responding to medical emergencies. Participants must successfully complete the course in order to receive their certification.

Most courses require a fee for registration which can range from $100-$250 depending on the provider and location. In addition to the registration fee, there may be additional costs associated with purchasing textbooks or materials needed for the course.

Once certified, healthcare providers must renew their ACLS certification every two years by taking a refresher course or passing an exam.

5. Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS)

Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) is a certification program designed to teach healthcare providers the skills and knowledge necessary to manage a critically ill or injured child. The program is based on the American Heart Association's Guidelines for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Emergency Cardiovascular Care of the Pediatric Patient. PALS focuses on recognizing and treating infants and children at risk for cardiopulmonary arrest, shock, and other life-threatening medical emergencies.

The PALS course is typically offered in two formats: a one-day classroom course or an online course that can be completed over multiple days. The length of the course depends on which format you choose. The classroom version typically runs 8-10 hours, while the online version may take up to 16 hours to complete.

To get certified in PALS, you must successfully complete an approved PALS provider course, pass a written exam, and demonstrate proficiency in performing the skills taught during the course. You must also have current certification in Basic Life Support (BLS).

The cost of the PALS provider course varies depending on which format you choose. Generally speaking, classroom courses are more expensive than online courses; however, both typically cost between $100-$200 USD.

6. Certified Clinical Nurse Specialist in Critical Care (CCNS-CC)

A Certified Clinical Nurse Specialist in Critical Care (CCNS-CC) is a specialized nursing certification that is awarded to nurses who have achieved advanced knowledge and experience in the field of critical care. The CCNS-CC certification is designed to recognize nurses who have demonstrated excellence in providing direct patient care and leadership within the critical care setting.

The CCNS-CC certification requires a nurse to have at least two years of full-time clinical practice experience as an RN in the critical care setting, as well as passing a rigorous examination administered by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN). To maintain certification, nurses must complete continuing education credits every three years.

The cost for taking the exam varies depending on whether you are an AACN member or not. For non-members, the cost is $395; for members, it’s $295. In addition, there may be other costs associated with taking the exam such as study materials and travel expenses.

It typically takes about four to six months to prepare for and take the exam, although some nurses may need more time depending on their individual situation. Preparation includes studying relevant material from textbooks or online courses, attending review sessions or workshops, and completing practice exams.

7. Certified Critical Care Nurse Practitioner (CCNP)

A Certified Critical Care Nurse Practitioner (CCNP) is a nurse practitioner who has completed specialized training and certification in the care of critically ill patients. CCNPs provide advanced practice nursing care to patients in intensive care units, emergency departments, and other critical care settings.

The CCNP certification is offered by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). To become certified, candidates must have a current RN license, hold a master’s degree or higher in nursing, have at least two years of experience as an RN in acute or critical care settings, and pass an exam administered by the AACN.

It typically takes two to three years to complete all of the requirements for CCNP certification. Candidates must complete a minimum of 500 hours of direct patient care within the past two years prior to taking the exam. They must also complete 30 hours of continuing education related to critical care during that same period.

The cost for taking the exam is $395 for members of AACN and $495 for non-members. Additionally, there may be additional fees associated with completing continuing education courses or obtaining transcripts from educational institutions.

8. Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP)

Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP) is a program developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association to teach healthcare professionals how to care for newborns during delivery and in the first minutes of life. The NRP course provides healthcare professionals with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to effectively manage neonatal resuscitation events.

The NRP course is designed for physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, midwives, paramedics, and other healthcare providers who care for newborns at the time of delivery. It takes approximately 16 hours to complete the course which includes both online and hands-on training.

To enroll in an NRP course you must contact your local hospital or medical center that offers the program. You can also find a list of approved instructors on the American Academy of Pediatrics website.

The cost of taking an NRP course varies depending on where it is taken. Most hospitals charge between $150-$200 per person for the entire course.

9. Surgical Critical Care Nursing Certification (SCCNC)

Surgical Critical Care Nursing Certification (SCCNC) is a certification program offered by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). This certification is designed to recognize nurses who have achieved advanced knowledge and skills in the care of critically ill patients. The SCCNC is an evidence-based, comprehensive exam that tests the nurse’s knowledge and experience in providing surgical critical care.

It typically takes about six months to complete the program and obtain the certification. To get certified, nurses must first meet eligibility requirements which include having a current registered nurse license, at least two years of acute care nursing experience, and 1,750 hours of direct patient care in a surgical critical care setting within the past three years.

Once eligible, nurses can apply for the exam online or by mail. The cost for taking the exam is $350 USD. Upon successful completion of the exam, nurses will receive their SCCNC certification from AACN.

10. Basic Life Support for Healthcare Providers (BLS/CPR).

Basic Life Support (BLS) for Healthcare Providers is a course designed to teach healthcare providers the necessary skills to provide life-saving interventions in emergency situations. BLS is based on the American Heart Association’s guidelines and includes instruction on cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), airway management, and use of an automated external defibrillator (AED). The course also covers recognition of cardiac arrest, relief of choking, and other medical emergencies.

BLS for Healthcare Providers typically takes 4-5 hours to complete. It can be taken as a traditional classroom course or online through an approved provider. The cost for the course varies depending on the provider, but generally ranges from $50-$100.

In order to obtain certification, students must pass both a written exam and skills test at the end of the course. Upon successful completion, students receive a two-year certification card that must be renewed every two years in order to maintain current certification status.

Do You Really Need a Critical Care Nurse Certificate?

When it comes to nursing, the answer to whether or not you need a critical care nurse certificate is a resounding yes. A critical care nurse certificate is essential for any nurse who wants to provide specialized medical care in an intensive care setting. This type of certification demonstrates that the nurse has the knowledge and skills necessary to properly assess, monitor, and treat patients with serious and life-threatening conditions.

Critical care nurses are essential members of a healthcare team; they provide round-the-clock assessment and treatment of critically ill patients, including those in the intensive care unit (ICU). They must be able to recognize signs of deterioration in their patients’ health status and respond quickly to prevent further complications or death. In addition, they must be able to effectively communicate with other members of the healthcare team, as well as with family members of their patients.

In order to obtain a critical care nurse certificate, nurses must complete an approved program that includes coursework on topics such as anatomy and physiology; pharmacology; pathophysiology; infection control; nutrition; and ethical considerations in patient care. Additionally, they must demonstrate competency in clinical skills such as patient assessment, monitoring vital signs, administering medications safely, performing invasive procedures safely, providing resuscitation measures such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and managing complex patient cases. Upon completion of this program, nurses will receive a certification from an accredited nursing organization that confirms their qualifications as a critical care nurse.

Having a critical care nurse certificate is essential for any nurse who wants to work in an ICU setting. It demonstrates competence in providing specialized medical care for critically ill patients and is increasingly being required by employers when hiring nurses for these positions. Therefore it is important for any aspiring critical care nurse to obtain this certification before applying for jobs in this field.

Related: Critical Care Nurse Resume Examples

FAQs About Critical Care Nurse Certifications

1. What is a critical care nurse certification?

Answer: A critical care nurse certification is a professional credential that recognizes nurses who have specialized knowledge and experience in caring for critically ill or injured patients. It demonstrates expertise in the field of critical care nursing and indicates that the nurse has successfully completed an approved program of study.

2. How do I become certified as a critical care nurse?

Answer: To become certified as a critical care nurse, you must complete an accredited program of study that meets the requirements of the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN). This includes coursework, clinical experience, and passing a national certification exam.

3. How long does a critical care nurse certification last?

Answer: The AACN requires recertification every three years to maintain your certification status. You must meet certain criteria including continuing education credits, professional development activities, and practice hours in order to remain certified.

4. Are there other certifications available for critical care nurses?

Answer: Yes, there are several specialty certifications available for nurses working in specific areas such as adult-gerontology acute care, pediatric acute/critical care, and neonatal intensive care nursing. Each specialty has its own set of requirements for obtaining certification.

5. Where can I find resources to help me prepare for my critical care nurse certification exam?

Answer: There are many online resources available to help you prepare for your certification exam including practice tests, study guides, and review courses from organizations like AACN and National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). Additionally, many hospitals offer preparation classes specifically designed for their staff members taking the exam.

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