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February 2, 2017

How to Display Your Nursing Credentials

By Dawn Papandrea

Alphabet Soup!! That’s what many nurses refer to when they discuss all the letters behind nurse names on name badges and signature blocks. It can be very confusing to those who don’t understand the meaning of all the letters.

If nurses are confused, think how patients and families must feel.

As a nurse, you are probably used to the list of credential acronyms after your collegues’ names.. Whether you’re just starting out or are in the process or advancing your nursing career, you’ll come to realize that credentials – and how you display them – are important. They indicate that you have education and certification to do a particular type of nursing.

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“Having a standard way ensures that everyone—including nurses, healthcare providers, consumers, third-party payers, and government officials—understands the significance and value of credentials,” says the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) , a subsidiary of the American Nurses Association (ANA).

To help avoid any confusion as to which designations should get top billing, there is a specific procedure for displaying your credentials in a uniform way. This is a step-by-step guide to understanding and displaying your nursing credentials (as recommended from the American Nursing Association).

Let’s use the example of this nurse:

Margaret Miranda, MSN, RN, APRN, OCN

1. Start with Education

Immediately following someone’s name, start by listing the highest earned degree. Educational degrees are the most important because they are permanent. Once you earn them, they stay with you throughout your professional life.

If you've earned a non-nursing degree, that is usually not included unless it's directly related to your nursing job somehow. One example of a relevant, non-nursing degree might be if you are a nurse manager and you earned your MBA.

If you do wish to list a second degree, it should go after your highest nursing degree. Using the example at the beginning, Margaret Miranda has a Master’s of Science in Nursing thus the letters MSN follow her name.

2. Licensure

Next up is your licensure (e.g. “RN” “LPN”). In order to be a practicing nurse, your educational accomplishments are not enough. You must become licensed. Therefore, you must include if you're an RN or an LPN immediately following your degree. Margaret Miranda is a Registered Nurse therefore the letters RN follow here educational degree (MSN).

3. Specialty

If you've gone on to earn any additional authorities to practice an advanced nursing specialization, you'll want to list that designation next. These acronyms might include things like APRN (Advanced Practice Registered Nurse), NP (Nurse Practitioner), and CNS (Clinical Nurse Specialist). Margaret Miranda is also a Advanced Practice Registered Nurse and therefore the letters APRN follow her licensure of RN.

Some nursing specialties also require national certification from an accredited certifying body. Some nurses decide to take a particular certification that sometimes shows a higher level of knowledge in that specialty and that's where this next credential listing comes into play.

Examples of national certifications include Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN), Family Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified (FNP-BC) Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN) and Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist-Board Certified (AGCNS-BC). If you have more than one certification, you can either list them in order of relevance to your current practice, or in the order you obtained them. Margaret Miranda is also an Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN) and therefore the letters OCN follow the letters APRN.

The average starting salary for a Registered Nurse (RN) is $71,000. Advanced education or additional certifications typically increase a Registered Nurses pay by $3-8/hour depending on the certification. 

Ready to take the next step in your nursing career? View 21,162 Nursing Jobs.

Style Notes

So now that you know the order in which you should list your nursing credentials, what will your signature actually look like written out? Here’s an easy rule to remember: Credentials should be comma-separated from your name and from each other, and they do not include periods. Returning to our prior example:

Margaret Miranda, MSN, RN, APRN, OCN

When Should I Include My Nursing Credentials?

While it’s not necessary to include a laundry list of credentials every time you sign a check or your kids’ homework, you’ll need to use them when you’re on the job. Most important is that you include your credentials on any legal medical documents that you sign, including prescriptions, medical charts, and patient records.

Another time when you should list your nursing credentials is if you choose to submit a paper to a nursing journal, since it’s important to show that you have expertise in the subject you’re writing about.

Nursing is all about being well educated, keeping patient care skills fresh, and achieving career goals through certification. As you keep tacking on more and more professional accomplishments, don’t be shy about adding more letters to your signature. After all, you worked hard to earn them, and they represent all of the knowledge and experience that you’ve accumulated over the years.

What Are Today's Best Opportunities for Nurses?

High-paying nursing opportunities abound. As an in-demand nurse, you are in control of your career. Check out the best jobs from coast to coast on our job board. Get the pay and career path you deserve. Click here to see today's best nursing opportunities.

Dawn Papandrea is a Staten Island, NY-based freelance writer who specializes in personal finance, parenting, and lifestyle topics. Her work has appeared in Family Circle, WomansDay.com, Parents, CreditCards.com, and more.

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