After working for nearly two decades in critical care, Diane Aho, nurse manager of the coronary intensive care unit at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, wanted to again validate her knowledge and experience. So she became a certified critical care nurse (CCRN) through the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN).

A Knowledgeable Role Model

Certification involved taking a review course and passing a comprehensive written exam. Aho must renew her certification every three years by completing 100 hours of continuing education or retaking the test.

"I had two main reasons for seeking certification," Aho says. "I wanted to prove to myself that I am an expert in critical care nursing. I also wanted to be a role model for the nurses I work with."

Seeing The Big Picture

Pamela Triplett, coronary ICU staff nurse and clinical educator at Regions, is also certified in critical care nursing. Triplett found that going through the certification process expanded her ability to think critically and respond to the complexities of patient care.

To become certified, critical care nurses need a broad knowledge of major body systems. That's helpful in the coronary ICU, where a patient's recovery may be affected by a wide variety of issues.

"I'm now better able to look beyond cardiac problems and think about pulmonary or neurological issues," says Triplett, who is also certified in cardiac medicine, a more specialized area of critical care.

A Sign Of Commitment

Certification represents an investment of time and money, but Aho believes the reward outweighs the pain. "The test is challenging, but doable. And many employers reimburse the test fee," she says. "Best of all, certification makes you proud of yourself and your practice."

Patients and families see certification as a sign of commitment and dedication, says Chris Boese, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer at Regions. Boese, who is certified in nursing administration, encourages all Regions nurses to seek specialty certification.

According to a Harris omnibus survey conducted in November 2002, 73 percent of those polled said they would be "much more likely" to select a hospital with a high percentage of nurses who had specialty certification.

Seeking Certification?

Diane Aho, nurse manager at Regions Hospital, offers these tips:

  • Identify your specialty and look for resources (for example, Nursing Certification Boards,
  • Talk to someone certified in the specialty.
  • Seek out a mentor.
  • Set a timeline and goal.
  • Attend a review course.
  • Find a "study buddy."
  • Don't just plan to take the test; do it.

Nancy Giguere is a freelance writer from St. Paul who has written about healthcare since 1995.