Nursing Credentials

There are a number of credentials that a nurse can obtain. All of these require hard work, dedication, and time. Understanding what each possible credential means will not only aid nurses in choosing the right education, but it also protects the patients in their care. Every patient has the right to know and understand their nurse’s credentials. There can be any number of additional titles and abbreviations following a nurse's name, but they can all be sorted into five general categories.

nursing credentials

1. Degree Held

This is usually the first set of letters following a nurse's name. The abbreviation for the degree held may say “ADN”, “BSN”, “MSN”, “PhD”, “DrPH”, or “DNP”. This is not an exhaustive list, but these are the most commonly held credentials. 

The lowest degree offered for nursing is an Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN). This typically only requires two years of schooling through an accredited program. However, more and more employers require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), which requires an additional year of school. Many nurses who have obtained an ADN will continue on to achieve their BSN or MSN to pursue better job opportunities. 

A Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) offers nurses an opportunity to specialize in a field and obtain expertise. Even further education can be achieved through the use of a doctoral program (PhD). Here, nurses can obtain a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or Doctor of Philosophy (DrPH) degree. These high levels of education typically include extensive personal research and practice. 

A nurse may start with an ADN, then obtain a BSN, then an MSN, and then pursue their PhD. However, their varying types of education would not show on all of their documentation: “John Smith, ADN, BSN, MSN, PhD” is too cumbersome. Instead, only the highest degree held is listed.

2. License Held

A nurse is usually either serving as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or a Registered Nurse (RN). These positions offer minor variations in the amount of education required, the amount of autonomy offered, job requirements, and salary. If a nurse has transitioned from working as an LPN to an RN, only the RN would be listed after their name, following the highest degree held. For example: “John Smith, BSN, RN.”

3. Advanced State Requirements

Many states require proof of additional education in order for nurses to practice in advanced settings, such as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) or as a Nurse Practitioner (NP). If this is the case, the nurse will then hold the credential of APRN or NP, respectively. For the most part, these credentials will be used when that advanced designation is practiced under, when the state requires it, or at the nurse's discretion.

4. Certifications

Although there are many additional certifications that can be held, not all need to be mentioned in credentials. Typically, the certifications that are credentialed are nationally acclaimed, such as the Registered Nurse Board Certified (RNBC). These accreditations show outstanding skills in a specific treatment area and therefore deserve the added recognition that comes with credentialing. Simple or required ongoing education levels are not shown on a nurse’s title or after their name.

5. Other Nursing Credentials Considerations

There are many other potential awards and recognition that offer further credentials. For example, a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing (FAAN), or being a Board-Certified Editor for the Life Sciences (BELS), are two quite prestigious possibilities and are typically credentialed. However, when in doubt, simplicity is best. It can be overwhelming for a patient to see so many letters after their nurse’s name, and simplicity is appreciated.