Menorah Medical Center
May 31, 2013

Peg Wisner, APRN, AOCN is an oncology clinical nurse specialist and cancer liaison at Menorah Medical Center.

by Linda Friedel | Reprinted courtesy of KC Nursing News

Patients sit up and take note of lettering on nurse’s badge more than ever today, say area nursing leaders. Credentialing signals safety and expertise.

“Certifications are important in nursing in a lot of ways,” said Shawn Zembles, RN, DNP, CCRN, ACNS-BC of St. Mary’s Medical Center. “First off, there is an element of public protecting. There has been a number of studies that certified nurses are more safety-conscious.”

All hospitals are tracking fall rates, Zembles said. It’s a national goal to reduce patient falls while patients are in the hospital, he said. Certified nurses have additional training and experience which non-certified nurses do not have, Zembles said, and that translates to better safety.

“Certified nurses have lower fall rates than non-certified,” he said. “We know that our patient outcomes are better.”

Certification governing bodies require one to two years of experience in a specialty before a nurse can sit for a certification exam, he said.

“We tend to see nurses who are in specialty areas have the opportunity to be certified,” Zembles said. “There are a lot of certifying exams out there for nurses.”

In the emergency department, for example, nurses must have a year of experience to sit for the emergency nurse exam. The exam is sponsored by the Emergency Nurses Association, he said.

“That measures a body of knowledge that addresses all areas of emergency nursing,” Zembles said. “It confirms that that nurse with the certification has the experience and level of knowledge expected for that exam.”

At least 50 certifications are available for nursing specialty areas, Zembles said. Intensive Care, medical-surgical, OBGYN and neuroscience are examples of specialties eligible for certification, he said. Most certifications are valid for four years, he said.

“It validates a level of knowledge and level of experience for nurses,” he said.

During his two decades of nursing, Zembles says he has seen a rise in certifications.

At St. Mary’s Medical Center 21 percent of the nursing force is nationally certified, he said. As part of its strategic planning, St. Mary’s goal is to increase certifications by 10 percent each year, he said. A peer mentoring process has helped to foster certifications, he said.

“We have been able to meet or exceed that goal in the last three years,” he said. “We’re seeing that growth in all our nursing services. We’re seeing it in all departments.”

Stacie Kelly, RN, BSN, CEN, charge nurse in the emergency department at Overland Park Medical Center, recently earned her certification in emergency nursing. She opted for the certification to provide better patient care and to be a resource for newer nurses, she said.

“I’m a charge nurse,” she said. “I think it’s important that I can be a resource for everybody in my department. I am a weekend option charge nurse.”

Earning certification was no small task, Kelly said. She found herself squeezing study time in nearly every spare moment, standing in line at the grocery store, memorizing flip cards in the salon.

“It was nerve-racking,” she said. “You have to put in a lot of time to study. Any little free time I would practice the questions. It’s really a good sense of accomplishment after I passed.”

The certification process began with a trip to Lawrence, Kan. last fall. Kelly and three co-workers participated in a two-day, 16-hour review course in Lawrence. She said the course was well worth her time. The instructor was engaging and provided excellent case studies with more than enough resources, she said.

“He was awesome,” she said. “It was the best class I ever took – jam-packed knowledge. I am trying to get more of my co-workers to go.”

Half of the cohorts who began the process with Kelly completed certification, she said. Once she completed the review course, Kelly had 90 days to prepare for the certification exam. The process reminded her of preparing for the NCLEX, she said, however unlike the NCLEX examination, she received her results immediately. The moment was thrilling, she said.

“It was awesome. My heart was beating fast,” Kelly said. “I called my husband. I was glad I took it and I am glad it was done.”

Kelly is currently in graduate school preparing for her future as a nurse practitioner. She plans to maintain her certification and encourages her colleagues to pursue their certification in emergency nursing. She said patients inquire about the certification credential on RNs’ nametags. The goal is to instill confidence, she said.

“Hopefully they’re in capable hands,” Kelly said. “Someone has gone above and beyond to be a better nurse.”

Zembles says credentials translate to a big comfort factor with patients who know that nurses are certified. Patients are more informed than ever before, in part because nurses are teaching patients to ask questions and become more involved, he said. Credentialing sends a signal beyond the bedside, he said.

“It not only assures the patients, but other nurses and physicians that the certified nurse has that experience and knowledge level,” he said. “So there’s more camaraderie and more trust that certified nurses are sensing from others. It really shows your commitment to the profession and life-long learning.”

Menorah Medical Center has a nursing work force of more than 50 certified nurses, said Peg Wisner, APRN, AOCN, oncology clinical nurse specialist and cancer liaison at Menorah Medical Center. Wisner earned her certification in 1987, she said, and continues to encourage others in the same path.

“The whole rationale for certification is to promote excellence in a specialty area,” Wisner said. “We want to encourage those nurses in a specialty to further their specialization and validate their expertise.”

Wisner said certified nurses at Menorah were honored during National Nurse’s Week for professionals who took that extra step. Certification is professionally and personally rewarding, she said. It can open the door for professional opportunities, she said.

“Sometimes it may be required for some advancement,” she said. “It just felt really good that I had the knowledge to pass that AOCN exam. It’s a confirmation each time you renew that. You are keeping up with the advancements in your specialty.”

For oncology certification, Wisner has the option of either re-taking the test or submitting the number of nursing education credits she has achieved. Between online courses, continuing education opportunities and specialty nursing organizations, Wisner said it is not difficult to find ways to maintain certifications. It takes persistency, she said.

“It’s dedicating the time to either study for the test or take the required numbers of CNEs,” she said. Michele Malone, RN, MHL, NEABC, director of Women’s Services and Nursing Excellence at North Kansas City Hospital (NKCH) said NKCH has focused on certifications more in the past five years, she said.

“Everybody here supports certification for nurses,” she said. “It’s becoming increasingly important in the marketplace.” She said three years ago between eight and 10 percent of the working nurse force at NKCH was certified compared to 28 percent today.

“That is a big jump,” she said. “We’re having a certification boom.”

Malone said nursing leadership at NKCH has achieved certification and encourages certification with all nurses. The hospital subsidizes a portion of the cost for re-certification and provides course review material. Malone said nursing leadership and unit co-workers acknowledge newly certified nurses. There is also an annual breakfast in honor of nurses who have achieved certification, she said

“We like to make a big deal out of it,” Malone said. “It’s formal validation of the knowledge that the nurse has.

“We hope to increase our nursing certification by five to 10 percent every year. We’ve been doing it. It’s very doable.”