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Nursing credentials are a form of communication.
We have all seen streams of initials after nurses’ names. This can make someone seem intimidating, especially if the nursing credentials are paired with a long work title. Some frequently asked questions about credentials are:
- How should nurses list their credentials after their name?
- What do these initials mean?
- Which initials do you include?
- Why do nurses feel the need to even do this?
- Is there a difference in listing credentials if a nurse is in academia versus service?
Well, let me answer these questions for you.
First, we use initials to communicate some general knowledge about ourselves. I will use my own degrees and other credentials as examples. (The American Nurses Association also has a position statement on this topic.)
Preferred order of nursing credentials
The preferred order of credentials for all nurses, regardless of employment setting, is as follows:
- Highest degree earned
- State designations or requirements
- National certification
- Awards and honors
- Other recognitions
So, why this order? The order is in level of permanence. The degree is first, as it cannot be taken away unless in rare circumstances.
Then, list your license, which is required for you to practice. You may choose not to renew it, but you would still have your degree.
Licensure is followed by state designations and national certifications, which are usually time limited and need to be maintained through continuing education. You could let this lapse, but you would still be an RN.
Next, list your voluntary credentials. Awards, honors, and recognitions are not required for practice.
Following the above nursing credentials process, here is my signature line and how I note my initials: Jennifer Mensik, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN
Occasionally, I use Jennifer Mensik, PhD, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN. (I explain why shortly.)
Here is what it would look like, if I used all of my initials: Jennifer Mensik, PhD, MBA/HCM, B
SN, ADN, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN. This is overkill.
Start at the top with your highest degree
- First, you only should note your highest degree earned. In my case, it is my PhD. I normally drop other degrees because the PhD “trumps” them all. This is especially true if your other credentials are in the same profession. For instance, my associate degree, bachelor’s degree and PhD are all in nursing, therefore I only note my PhD. If I had a master’s degree in nursing, I would leave that off, too. However, my master’s degree is in business administration, so I include it. This would be true if I had an undergraduate or graduate degree in a different field. I do not usually like using a long list of initials after my name, but if I feel it is important in communicating with someone, I will add my MBA to my signature line.
- Next, I note my RN degree, which is the only license I have. If you are an APRN, your state and certifying body will no doubt have their required way to note your nursing credentials. Check with your state board of nursing to ensure you are representing yourself correctly with your degree and state credentials. I have heard people say they note their RN first after their name because they work in service and not academia. There is no separate manner in which to communicate to others based on employment setting; there is only one way, and it is the way I note here.
- Many of us have both professional and technical credentials. However, only professional certification initials go after our names. ANCC also maintains a thorough list of generally accepted national professional certifications (for Magnet for instance), which includes both ANCC and non-ANCC professional certifications. These certifications acknowledge a higher level of achievement in a body of knowledge, and that one is more than competent in a certain area.
- National certifications, such as my NEA-BC (nurse executive advanced, board-certified), tells others that I have attained and continually maintain advanced knowledge in my specialty area, nurse management and leadership. If I saw someone had CCRN, I would know he or she has expert knowledge as a critical care nurse.
- Technical certifications include certifications around a technical skill set, such as ACLS, BLS, PALS and others. We do not note technical certifications after our names, but we would list them in a resume or CV in the skills section.
- Finally, I note my FAAN. The Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing is an important accomplishment for nursing. There are other “fellow” programs and designations in specialty areas, such as wound care and informatics. Each are acknowledgments and recognition of one’s accomplishments. I am one of about 2,900 nurses with FAAN credentials in the world, who was accepted into the academy based on my contributions to our profession and after an extensive application process.
There also is a personal recognition piece to this topic that everyone needs to acknowledge. We should be proud of our accomplishments and note them.
I have heard conversations in which others feel slighted at a lack of nursing credentials or make fun of nurses with many credentials for thinking they are better than nurses with fewer credentials. None of this should be the case.
I think of our initials as our professional “clinical ladder” of sorts — a way to contribute to our profession in many ways. We all should be proud of who we are and where we are in our own stages as professional nurses.
Editor’s note: This blog post was published in April 2020 and has been updated.
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