Nurse Executive Certification

Nurse Executive Certification

Nurse executives take on diverse healthcare leadership roles. They can lead nursing teams, serve as directors of patient care, or oversee a healthcare organization. This field needs experienced, knowledgeable, and dedicated nurses with data and research skills.

According to PayScale, NE-BC nurse executives earn an annual average base salary of $134,000 as of August 2021.

Voluntary nurse executive certification can help registered nurses demonstrate leadership skills and experience. Two organizations offer nurse executive credentials. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) provides nurse executive certification (NE-BC) and nurse executive, advanced certification (NEA-BC). The American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) offers nurse leaders the certified in executive nursing practice (CENP) credential.

According to PayScale, NE-BC nurse executives earn an annual average base salary of $134,000 as of August 2021. PayScale also reports that nurses with CENP certification receive an average base salary of $121,000 per year. Learn how to become a nurse executive and explore certification requirements with our in-depth guide.

Read the Specifics:
NE-BC and NEA-BC Certifications | Requirements for the NE-BC and NEA-BC | Preparing for the NE-BC and NEA-BC | CENP Certification | Requirements for the CENP | Preparing for the CENP | FAQs

Nurse Executive Certification From ANCC

A subsidiary of the American Nurses Association, the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers various certification programs. ANCC provides two nurse executive credentials: the nurse executive certification (NE-BC) and the nurse executive, advanced certification (NEA-BC).

The NE-BC tests entry-level nursing leadership knowledge and skills. Topics covered include staffing, staff development, daily operations, and employee performance. NEA-BC candidates typically hold more advanced leadership roles focused on strategy, resource management, system integration, and high-level finance. Both tests constitute board certification examinations for nurse leaders.

In 2020, 957 people took the NE-BC exam and 686 passed. Another 528 test takers sat for the NEA-BC, with 362 passing.

In 2020, 957 people took the NE-BC exam and 686 passed.

These optional certifications may offer many benefits. For instance, credentialed nurse leaders often earn lucrative salaries. According to PayScale, NE-BC nurse executives may qualify for jobs such as chief nursing officer, vice president, and director of patient care services. These high-level occupations earn an average annual income of over $150,000 as of August 2021.

Becoming a nurse executive generally requires a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing. Aspiring nurse executives also need leadership experience and a commitment to continuing education. Some nurse leaders hold a bachelor’s in nursing and either a graduate degree in a leadership-related field such as business administration or a doctorate in nursing.

Certification Information

Nurse Executive


Nurse Executive Certification
Cost: $395 (non-member); $295 (member)
Requirements: RN license, bachelor’s degree or higher in nursing, 2000 hours of leadership experience, 30 continuing education credits in the last three years
Renewal Cycle: 5 years

Nurse Executive, Advanced Certification
Cost: $395 (non-member); $295 (member)
Requirements: RN license, master’s degree or higher (at least one degree must be in nursing), 2000 hours of leadership experience, 30 continuing education credits in the last three years
Renewal Cycle: 5 years

What Do I Need for the Nurse Executive and Nurse Executive, Advanced Certifications?

Experienced nurses with the appropriate credentials and education can apply to take the nurse executive or nurse executive, advanced certification exam. Both tests consist of 150 questions, 125 of which are scored. Test takers must complete the exam within three hours. Qualifying applicants may take their exam at a Prometric Testing Center or via Live Remote Proctoring.

Nurse Executive Certification

Cost: $395 (non-member); $295 (member) | Renewal Cycle: 5 years

Requirements:

  • A valid and unencumbered RN license in a U.S. state or territory or an international equivalent
  • A bachelor’s degree or higher in nursing
  • A minimum of 2,000 hours of leadership, management, or administrative experience with responsibility for at least one unit or department
  • At least 30 continuing education hours in leadership, administration, or management in the last three years

Nurse Executive, Advanced Certification

Cost: $395 (non-member); $295 (member) | Renewal Cycle: 5 years

Requirements:

  • A valid and unencumbered RN license in a U.S. state or territory or an international equivalent
  • A master’s degree or doctorate (with at least one degree in nursing)
  • A minimum of 2,000 hours of leadership, management, or administrative experience with responsibility for system-wide or organization-wide operations and outcomes
  • At least 30 continuing education hours in leadership, administration, or management in the last three years

How Do I Prepare for the NE-BC and NEA-BC Exams?

Applicants can access many study aids through ANCC. The organization provides a content outline, a reference list, and a sample set of questions and answers. ANCC also offers a self-paced online test preparation course consisting of 44.5 contact hours. The self-paced course costs $750 for non-members and $675 for members.

Top 5 Tips to Prepare for the NE-BC or NEA-BC Exam


  1. Certification exams demand thorough knowledge of the material. Make sure to set aside adequate time to study.
  2. Eat, sleep, and exercise properly to maintain optimum cognitive performance before the exam.
  3. Take advantage of an online course or study guide. ANCC offers the Nurse Executive Review and Resource Manual for $104.
  4. Support your study with resources such as preparation guides and flashcards. Publishers offering NE-BC and NEA-BC exam prep materials include Mometrix Test Preparation and ExamEdge.
  5. Consider taking graduate or undergraduate coursework in leadership.

Renewing and Maintaining NE-BC and NEA-BC Certifications

Both the NE-BC and the NEA-BC certifications require renewal every five years. Nurses may submit renewal applications up to one year before their certification’s expiration date.

To qualify for certification renewal, nurse executives must complete at least 75 continuing education hours. Renewal candidates must also fulfill one or more of the eight renewal categories. These categories include continuing education, academic credits, and professional service.

Renewal applicants should hold current certification and an active U.S. RN license or a legally recognized international equivalent. ANCC accepts renewal applications online and by mail. Online applicants can record professional development hours in their account before beginning their application.

Lapsed certifications require a renewal fee plus a reactivation fee of $125 in addition to meeting all the experiential and educational requirements.

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Nurse Executive Certification From AONL

The American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) administers the certified in executive nursing practice (CENP) certification. Previously called the American Organization for Nurse Executives, AONL provides education, advocacy, and community opportunities for 10,000 members.

In 2019, 875 people held the CENP certification. In the same year, 241 candidates took the CENP exam, with 145 passing. Aspiring nurse executives who did not pass the exam can retake it every 90 days, up to three times per year. Another 144 CENPs received their three-year renewals in 2019.

The CENP exam covers AONL’s nurse executive competencies, including leadership, relationships, and the healthcare environment. A voluntary credential, the CENP can help nurse leaders earn recognition as healthcare executives. The certification may also help boost nurse leaders’ salaries.

According to PayScale, nurses who hold CENP certification earn an average annual base salary of $121,000 as of January 2019. Leaders with a CENP can assume roles such as chief nursing officer, vice president, nursing director, and nurse manager. To qualify for the CENP exam, applicants need a nursing license, a degree in nursing, and 2-4 years of nurse leadership experience.

Certified in Executive Nursing Practice Certification


Cost: $325 (member); $450 (non-member)
Requirements: RN license, degree in nursing, 2-4 years of leadership experience
Renewal Cycle: 3 years


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What Do I Need for the Certified in Executive Nursing Practice Certification?

CENP certification can help nurse leaders in executive roles advance their careers. To take the qualifying exam, candidates must meet the following criteria:

  • A valid and unrestricted RN license.
  • A master’s degree or higher. At least one degree must be in nursing.
  • At least two years of experience in an executive nursing position. The applicant’s current job title does not need to match the title of the exam application, but they must hold a leadership position.

If an applicant does not fulfill the criteria listed above, they may take the exam if they meet these criteria:

  • A valid and unrestricted RN license.
  • A bachelor’s degree in nursing.
  • At least four years of experience in an executive nursing position.

AONL members pay $325 and non-members pay $450 to take the test. To recertify, nurses must pass the exam again or complete 45 continuing education contact hours over three years.

How Do I Prepare for the CENP Exam?

The CENP exam consists of 175 multiple-choice questions, of which 150 count toward passing. Test takers must answer at least 108 questions correctly to pass. Exam questions cover competencies in leadership, business skills, and professionalism.

AONL offers candidates several resources to help prepare for testing. The CENP candidate handbook covers the five competencies and outlines the types of questions on the exam. Test takers can also access a practice exam and a review course. AONL’s website provides a list of other recommended resources.

AONL’s review course consists of 13 hours of study over four weeks. The organization’s members pay $525 and nonmembers pay $625. Course enrollees receive a discount on the practice exam. Other educational companies also offer books and practice tests to help nurses prepare to take the exam.

Test takers who qualify for assistance under the Americans with Disabilities Act should contact AONL at least 45 days before their test date to request accommodations.

Renewing and Maintaining CENP Certification

Nurses need to renew their CENP certification every three years. Recertification applicants may submit their paperwork no more than one year before or 30 days after their certification expires. Applicants who submit their paperwork prior to their certification’s expiration date pay $50 less in renewal fees. AONL does not accept applications after the 30-day grace period.

The organization offers two recertification methods. Nurse executives can complete 45 or more eligible continuing professional development hours within three years prior to their certificate’s expiration date. Alternatively, they can retake and pass the CENP examination within one year of their certificate’s expiration.

Nurses who choose to recertify through professional development should ensure that their development program meets AONL’s eligibility criteria. Then, they must submit their hours through the organization’s online certification management portal.

Read More:

Differences Between Nurse Executives, Administrators, and Managers Executive Nurse Leader vs. Clinical Nurse Leader

Choosing Between Nurse Executive Certification Programs

Nurse leaders can choose among several nurse executive certification programs, including the NE-BC, the NEA-BC, and the CENP. In general, the NE-BC and NEA-BC certify nurse managers in daily unit operations. The CENP serves nurses working in executive positions.

Nurse Executive vs. Nurse Executive, Advanced vs. Certified in Executive Nursing Practice Certifications

NE-BC NEA-BC CENP
Certifying Organization ANCC ANCC AONL
Requirements A valid and unrestricted RN license | A bachelor’s degree or higher in nursing | A minimum of 2,000 hours of leadership experience with operational responsibilities in one or more departments in the last three years | 30 hours or more of continuing education in the last three years A valid and unrestricted RN license | A graduate degree with at least one degree in nursing | A minimum of 2,000 hours of leadership experience with organization- or system-wide operational responsibilities in the last three years | 30 hours or more of continuing education in the last three years A valid and unrestricted RN license | A graduate degree with at least one degree in nursing plus two years of experience OR a bachelor’s degree in nursing plus four years of experience
Renewal Calendar Renew every 5 years Renew every 5 years Renew every 3 years
Test Content Tests nurse management knowledge and skills Tests advanced nurse management knowledge and skills Covers AONL competencies
Test Style and Length 150 questions, 3 hours 150 questions, 3 hours 175 questions, 3.5 hours

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a nurse executive certification?

    Nurse executives receive certification through private organizations such as ANCC after meeting background requirements and passing the appropriate exams. Nurse executives must also hold state licensure as registered nurses.

  • How many nurse executive certification programs are there?

    Nurse leadership organizations offer several nurse executive certification programs. AONL offers the CENP credential. ANCC administers the NE-BC and NEA-BC certifications.

  • What are the qualifications of a nurse executive?

    A nurse executive must complete a bachelor’s degree or higher in nursing and pass the NCLEX-RN. Many nurse executives earn a graduate degree in nursing leadership. Nurse executives should also hold professional leadership experience.

  • How hard is it to become a nurse executive?

    Becoming a nurse executive requires at least a bachelor’s degree. Many nurse executives also hold a master’s degree or doctorate along with leadership experience. Earning and maintaining certification requires ongoing professional development.


Featured Image: sturti / E+ / Getty Images

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