Guide to NP Certification

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To provide patient care, nurse practitioners need to be both licensed and certified. Licenses enable one to practice as a nurse practitioner, whereas certifications demonstrate one’s proficiency in a given specialty. This article elucidates the certification process and offers an in-depth look at the NP certification exam required for each population-focus.

NP Certification Requirements

As a recently graduated nurse practitioner, your first step is to get certified. Licenses are awarded by a state, while certifications are awarded by a national organization. For example, a psychiatric nurse practitioner living in Arizona is licensed by the state of Arizona and certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Most states will not license a nurse practitioner unless he or she is also nationally certified in their population-focus (e.g., psychiatry).

There are five different nurse practitioner certification boards in the United States, each of which award certifications across different population-foci:

  1. American Nurses Credentialing Center(ANCC)
    • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care
    • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care
    • Family
    • Pediatric Primary Care
    • Psychiatric-Mental Health
  2. Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB)
    • Pediatric Primary Care
    • Pediatric Acute Care
  3. National Certification Corporation (NCC)
    • Neonatal
    • Women’s Health-Gender Related
  4. American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program (AANPCP)
    • Family
    • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care
  5. American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN)
    • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care

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Each certification board differs in which specialties they certify and the process to obtain the certification. The table below organizes the certification process for each certifying body. To get started, find your desired certification in the “population-focus” column. Then, read the requirements carefully and reference the organization’s website, certification manual, or test preparation resources for further details.

Please note, family, pediatric primary care, and adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioners can choose to become certified through either the ANCC or the AANPCP. These nurse practitioners can choose which board they prefer, but they cannot be certified through both. To make this decision, compare the costs and requirements, and reach out to respected people in your field for their opinion.

American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)

Population FocusRenewal Cycle & CostRequirements
Adult-Gerontology Acute CareAdult-Gerontology Primary CareFamilyPediatric Primary CarePsychiatric-Mental HealthEvery five years$270 for an ANA member$395 for a non-ANA member$340 for an AANP, GAPNA, or NGNA membersRN licenseMaster’s, postgraduate, or doctoral degree in that population focus from an accredited programMinimum of 500 supervised clinical hours in that population focusSchool transcript that demonstrates completion of advanced physiology, advanced health assessment, and advanced pharmacology coursesValidation of Education formSuccessful completion of a competency-based, 200-question examFor additional information, see the General Testing & Renewal Handbook

Pediatric Nursing Certification Board(PNCB)

Population FocusRenewal Cycle & CostRequirements
Pediatric Primary CarePediatric Acute CareEvery seven years $385Note: If you wish to apply for both the Pediatric Primary Care and Acute Care certifications at the same time, the cost is $600RN licenseMaster’s, postgraduate, or doctoral degree in that population focus from an accredited programMinimum of 500 supervised clinical hours in that population focusSchool transcript that demonstrates completion of advanced physiology, advanced health assessment, and advanced pharmacology coursesSuccessful completion of a competency-based, 175-question exam

National Certification Corporation(NCC)

Population FocusRenewal Cycle & CostRequirements
NeonatalWomen’s Health-Gender RelatedEvery three years$325 to apply and $275 for testingRN licenseMaster’s, postgraduate, or doctoral degree in that population focus from an accredited programPDF file of diplomaPDF file of official transcriptSuccessful completion of a 175-question, competency-based examFor additional information, see the NCC Certification Examination Handbook

American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board(AANPCB)

Population FocusRenewal Cycle & CostRequirements
FamilyAdult-Gerontology Primary CareEvery five years$240 for AANP members$315 for non-membersRN licenseMaster’s, postgraduate, or doctoral degree in that population focus from an accredited programMinimum of 500 supervised clinical hours in that population focusSchool transcript that demonstrates completion of advanced physiology, advanced health assessment, and advanced pharmacology coursesSuccessful completion of a competency-based, 150-question examFor additional information, please see the FNP AGNP Certification Candidate Handbook

American Association of Critical-Care Nurses(AACN)

Population FocusRenewal Cycle & CostRequirements
Adult-Gerontology Acute CareEvery five years$255 for AACN members$360 for non-membersRN licenseMaster’s, postgraduate, or doctoral degree in that population focus from an accredited programMinimum of 500 supervised clinical hours in that population focusSchool transcript that demonstrates completion of advanced physiology, advanced health assessment, and advanced pharmacology coursesSuccessful completion of a competency-based, 175-question examFor additional information, please see the AACN General Testing & Certification Guide

NP Certification Exam Guides

As noted in the tables above, each certification requires the successful completion of a competency-based exam. These exams differ by certifying organization and by population-focus. The table below is organized by population-focus and includes the critical information and resources needed to pass each exam.

Please note, family, pediatric primary care, and adult gerontology primary care nurse practitioners can chose to become certified through either the ANCC or the AANPCP. Exam details for both certifying bodies are included, but be sure to only submit an application to one or the other.

Adult-Gerontology Acute Care
Certifying OrganizationAmerican Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
Cost$270 for ANA member$395 for non-ANA member$340 for an AANP, GAPNA, or NGNA members
Renewal CycleEvery five years
Number of Questions200
Study ResourcesAdult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner Certification Intensive Review, Third Edition: Fast Facts and Practice Questions; ANCC Adult-Gerontology Acute Care NP Test Prep Course
Organization’s GuideANCC General Testing & Certification Guide
Practice QuestionsSample questions from ANCC website
Content Outline

APRN Core Competencies

– Advanced physiology

– Advanced pharmacology

– Advanced physical assessment   

Clinical Practice

– Clinical decision-making

– Health promotion and disease prevention   

Role-Professional Responsibility

– Scope and standards of practice

– Research and evidence-based practice

– Education

– Patient-provider relationship   

Healthcare Systems

– Healthcare policy

– Quality improvement principles      

Further details found in the ANCC Test Content Outline handbook
Adult-Gerontology Acute Care
Certifying OrganizationAmerican Nurses Credentialing Center (AACN)
Cost$255 for AACN members
$360 for non-members
Renewal CycleEvery five years
Number of Questions175
Study ResourcesAACN Adult-Gerontology Acute Care NP Test Prep Course
Organization’s GuideAACN General Testing & Certification Guide
Practice QuestionsSample questions from AACN Handbook
Content Outline

Clinical Judgement

– Cardiovascular

– Pulmonary

– Endocrine

– Hematology/immunology/oncology

– Gastrointestinal

– Renal/genitourinary

– Integumentary

– Musculoskeletal

– Neurology

– Psychosocial/behavioral/cognitive health

– Factors influencing health status

– Multisystem      

Professional Caring and Ethical Practice

Further details found in the AACN Exam Handbook
Adult-Gerontology Primary Care
Certifying OrganizationAmerican Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
Cost$270 for an ANA member
$395 for a non-ANA member
$340 for AANP, GAPNA, or NGNA members
Renewal CycleEvery five years
Number of Questions200
Study ResourcesAdult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Certification Review; Adult-Gerontology Primary Care NP Test Prep Course
Organization’s GuideANCC General Testing & Certification Guide
Practice QuestionsSample questions from ANCC website
Content Outline

Foundations of Advanced Practice Nursing

– Advanced physiology

– Advanced pharmacology

– Advanced health assessment

– Population health

– Considerations for diverse populations   

Professional Roles

– Translational Science

– Legal and ethical issues

– Scope and standards of practice

– Quality improvement and safety

– Leadership, advocacy, and collaboration

– Health policy   

Independent Practice

– Advanced care planning

– Health promotion and disease prevention

– Illness and disease management

– Diagnostic reasoning and clinical decision making        

Professional Caring and Ethical Practice

Further details found in the ANCC Test Content Outline book
Adult-Gerontology Primary Care
Certifying OrganizationAmerican Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program (AANPCP)
Cost$240 for AANP members
$315 for non-members
Renewal CycleEvery five years
Number of Questions150
Study ResourcesAdult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Certification Review; Adult-Gerontology Primary Care NP Test Prep Course
Organization’s GuideAANPCB Candidate Handbook
Practice QuestionsSample questions found in the Candidate Handbook (pg. 31-32)
Content Outline

Domain I

– Assessment

– Diagnosis

– Planning

– Evaluation   

Domain II

– Adolescen

– Young adult and adult

– Older adult

– Frail elderly      

A detailed list of knowledge areas and procedures can be found in the Candidate Handbook (pg. 24-25)
Family
Certifying OrganizationAmerican Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
Cost$270 for an ANA member
$395 for a non-ANA member
Renewal CycleEvery five years
Number of Questions200
Study ResourcesFamily Nurse Practitioner Certification Intensive Review, Third Edition: Fast Facts and Practice Questions; ANCC Family NP Test Prep Course
Organization’s GuideANCC General Testing & Certification Guide
Practice QuestionsSample questions from the ANCC website
Content Outline

Foundations of Advanced Practice Nursing

– Advanced physiology

– Advanced pharmacology

– Advanced health assessment

– Population Health

– Considerations for diverse populations   

Professional Roles

– Translational Science

– Legal and ethical issues

– Scope and standards of practice

– Quality improvement and safety

– Leadership, advocacy, and collaboration

– Health policy   

Independent Practice

– Advanced care planning

– Health promotion and disease prevention

– Illness and disease management

– Diagnostic reasoning and clinical decision making      

Further details found in the ANCC Test Content Outline book
Family
Certifying OrganizationAmerican Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program (AANPCP)
Cost$240 for AANP members
$315 for non-members
Renewal CycleEvery five years
Number of Questions150
Study ResourcesFamily Nurse Practitioner Certification Intensive Review, Third Edition: Fast Facts and Practice Questions; AANP Family NP Test Prep Course
Organization’s GuideAANPCB Candidate Handbook
Practice QuestionsSample questions found in theCandidate Handbook (pg. 31-32)
Content Outline

Domain I

– Assessment

– Diagnosis

– Planning

– Evaluation   

Domain II

– Prenatal

– Pediatric (including newborn and infant)

– Adolescent (early and late)

– Adult

– Geriatric

– Frail elderly      

A detailed list of knowledge areas and procedures is in the Candidate Handbook (pg. 27-28)
Neonatal
Certifying OrganizationNational Certification Corporation (NCC)
Cost$325
Renewal CycleEvery three years
Number of Questions150
Study ResourcesMerenstein & Gardner’s Handbook of Neonatal Intensive Care
Organization’s GuideNCC Certification Examination Catalogue
Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Candidate Guide
Practice QuestionsSample questions found in the Candidate Guide (pg. 18)
Content Outline

General assessment

– Perinatal

– Neonatal

– Family integration

– Discharge planning and follow-up   

General management

– Pharmacology

– Nutrition, fluids, and electrolytes

– Thermoregulation

– Resuscitation and stabilization     

The disease process

– Embryology

– Physiology

– Pathophysiology

– Resuscitation and stabilization        

A detailed content outline can be found in the NCC Exam Handbook (pg. 16); additional details can be found in the Candidate Guide (pg. 7)  
Pediatric Primary Care
Certifying OrganizationAmerican Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
Cost$270 for an ANA member
$395 for a non-ANA member
Renewal CycleEvery five years
Number of Questions200
Study ResourcesPediatric Nurse Practitioner Certification Review Guide: Primary Care; Pediatric Primary Care NP Test Prep Course
Organization’s GuideANCC General Testing & Certification Guide
Practice QuestionsSample questions on the ANCC website
Content Outline

Foundations of Advanced Practice Nursing

– Advanced physiology

– Advanced pharmacology

– Advanced health assessment

– Population Health

– Considerations for diverse populations   

Professional Roles

– Translational Science

– Legal and ethical issues

– Scope and standards of practice

– Quality improvement and safety

– Leadership, advocacy, and collaboration

– Health policy   

Independent Practice

– Advanced care planning

– Health promotion and disease prevention

– Illness and disease management

– Diagnostic reasoning and clinical decision making      

Further details found in the ANCC Test Content Outline book
Pediatric Primary Care
Certifying OrganizationPediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNBC)
Cost$385
Renewal CycleEvery seven years
Number of Questions175
Study ResourcesPediatric Nurse Practitioner Certification Review Guide: Primary Care; Pediatric Primary Care NP Test Prep Course
Organization’s GuideExam FAQs
Practice QuestionsCan be purchased on the PNCB website
Content Outline

Health promotion

– Infants

– Toddlers and preschoolers

– School-age children

– Adolescents

– Young adults   

Assessment and diagnosis

– History and physical examination

– Diagnostic testing and screening

– Analysing information

– Diagnosis     

Management

– Therapeutic interventions

– Procedures

– Counseling and education

– Collaboration and referral

– Case management

– Evaluation and follow-up     

Professional issues

– Leadership and professional development

– Research

– Business management

– Legal and ethical issues        

Further details can be found in the PNCB Certification Content Outline document
Pediatric Acute Care
Certifying OrganizationPediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB)
Cost$385
Renewal CycleEvery seven years
Number of Questions175
Study ResourcesLippincott Certification Review: Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
Organization’s GuideExam FAQs
Practice QuestionsCan be purchased on the PNCB website
Content Outline

Assessment

– Health history

– Physical examination   

Diagnosis

– Age-specific diagnoses

– Pathophysiology

– Pharmacology

– Psychological responses     

Management

– Implementation, evaluation, and revision

– Education, collaboration, and referral     

Professional Practice Role

– Advocacy

– Legal and ethical practices

– Quality

– Economics of healthcare      

Further details can be found in the PNCB Certification Content Outline document  
Psychiatric-Mental Health
Certifying OrganizationAmerican Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
Cost$270 for an ANA member
$395 for a non-ANA member
$340 for an AANP member
Renewal CycleEvery five years
Number of Questions200
Study ResourcesPsychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Certification Review; ANCC Psychiatric-Mental Health NP Test Prep Course
Organization’s GuideANCC General Testing & Certification Guide
Practice QuestionsSample questions on ANCC website
Content Outline

APRN Core Competencies

– Advanced physiology

– Advanced pharmacology

– Advanced physical assessment   

Clinical Practice

– Clinical decision making

– Health promotion and disease prevention   

Role-Professional Responsibility

– Scope and standards of practice

– Research and evidence-based practice

– Education

– Patient-provider relationship   

Health Care Systems

– Healthcare policy

– Quality improvement principles      

Further details can be found in the PANCC Test Content Outline book  
Women’s Health-Gender Related
Certifying OrganizationNational Certification Corporation (NCC)
Cost$325
Renewal CycleEvery three years
Number of Questions150
Study ResourcesMidwifery & Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Certification Review Guide
Organization’s GuideNCC Certification Examination Catalogue
WHNP Candidate Guide
Practice QuestionsSample questions in the Candidate Guide (pg. 17)
Content Outline

Physical assessment and diagnostic testing

– Health history

– Laboratory procedures     

Primary care

– Health promotion

– Patient counseling

– Management of health problems     

Gynecology

– Fertility control

– Male issues

– Gynecologic disorders     

Obstetrics

– Pregnancy

– Prenatal care

– Fetal well-being

– Postpartum     

Professional issues

– Research and evidence-based practice

– Legal, ethical, and safety issues   

Pharmacology  

A detailed content outline can be found in the NCC Exam Handbook (pg. 16); further details can be found in the Candidate Guide (pg. 8)  

Dr. Melissa DeCapua, DNP, PMHNP-BC

Dr. Melissa DeCapua, DNP, PMHNP-BC

Author

Melissa DeCapua is a board-certified psychiatric nurse practitioner who graduated from Vanderbilt University. She has a background in child and adolescent psychiatry as well as psychosomatic medicine. Uniquely, she also possesses a bachelor’s degree in studio arts, which she uses to enhance patient care, promote the nursing profession, and solve complex problems. Melissa currently works as the Healthcare Strategist at a Seattle-based health information technology company where she guides product development by combining her clinical background and creative thinking. She is a strong advocate for empowering nurses, and she fiercely believes that nurses should play a pivotal role in shaping modern health care. For more about Melissa, check out her blog www.melissadecapua.com and follow her on Twitter @melissadecapua.

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