Nurse Practitioner Certifications

Nurse Practitioner Certifications

Nursing certification, required to work as a nurse practitioner (NP), involves a multi-year commitment, deep knowledge in a chosen specialty, and applicable skills. Due to growing demand for NPs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the U.S. economy will add an average of 24,200 job openings each year from 2019-2029.

NP certification requires a bachelor’s in nursing, a registered nurse (RN) license, and a graduate degree. Continuing education classes help these professionals stay up to date with relevant knowledge and skills in their field of expertise. An RN license, along with hundreds of hours of clinical practice, provides necessary on-the-job skills and experience.

Due to growing demand for NPs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the U.S. economy will add an average of 24,200 job openings each year from 2019-2029.

Specific certification exam requirements differ for each NP specialty, such as family care or neonatal practice. Specialty exams test candidates’ knowledge and ability to provide focused care. After obtaining NP certification, every state offers a process for NP licensure.

After completing all required steps, NP certification and licensure allow professionals to practice in healthcare settings and follow their career path. According to the BLS, NPs earn a median annual salary of 111,680.

Explore the NP certification process outlined and described below.

Nursing Certification Boards for NPs

Five primary organizations provide certification, an identifier of meeting national standards, for nurse practitioners. These certification boards administer multiple exams for NP certifications. Other boards provide individual certifications. Explore the offerings of each certification board or those that align with your desired NP specialty.

  • American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board

    AANPCB, established by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, offers three NP certifications. Available certifications include adult-gerontology primary care, family care, and emergency care. AANPCB holds national accreditation through the Accreditation Board of Specialty Nursing Certification.

  • American Association of Critical-Care Nurses

    The AACN, a nonprofit nurse specialty organization, offers nationally accredited options to over 100,000 nurses to highlight their expertise in the field. Founded in 1969, AACN provides 15 certification opportunities to critical-care nurses across the country.

  • American Nurses Credentialing Center

    Originally founded in the early 1900s, ANCC combines its efforts with the American Nurses Foundation, under the guidance of the American Nursing Association. Together, these organizations provide comprehensive support for NPs seeking certification.

  • National Certification Corporation

    The NCC provides credentials to nurse practitioners through specialty exams, including women’s health and neonatal care. Over 46 years, NCC awarded more than 185,000 certifications. Live, remote proctoring allows candidates to take seven of its certification exams from any internet-supported location.

  • Pediatric Nursing Certification Board

    PNCB, one of the largest pediatric nursing certification organizations, offers two NP certification options. Accreditation for PNCB comes from the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.


Additional specialty certification boards offer NPs further opportunities to gain credentials. These organizations provide single certifications for eligible NPs.

Certification Board for Urologic Nurses and Associates
CBUNA offers the certified urologic nurse practitioner (CUNP) exam to qualified candidates seeking to practice urologic care.

Dermatology Nurse Practitioner Certification Board
The DNPCB provides a three-year NP certification in dermatology after 3,000 clinical practice hours and a qualifying exam.

Nephrology Nursing Certification Commission
The NNCC, established in 1987, provides certification exams for nephrology NPs with at least 2,000 clinical practice hours.

Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation
ONCC, a nonprofit organization, provides accredited NP and advanced certifications in oncology.

Orthopaedic Nurses Certification Board
ONCB, established in 1986, provides an orthopaedic specialty certification program for nurse practitioners across the country.

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Available Nurse Practitioner Certifications

Nurse practitioners obtain certification to gain relevant knowledge and provide specialized care. NP certification requires an active, unencumbered RN license. Continuing education (CE) hours and clinical practice hours support the maintenance of your NP license and certification.

NP certification requires an active, unencumbered RN license.

Depending on your selected specialty of care and its aligned certification board, requirements and renewal timelines vary. Explore the options below, noting that some stated certifications only allow for renewal, not initial certification. These support NPs with up-to-date certification.


Adult

  • ACNPC: The acute care nurse practitioner certification provides renewals for those holding a current ACNPC certification. Acute care nurse practitioners support critically ill adult patients. AACN offers three renewal options for the ACNPC.
    • Offered by AACN
    • Cost: $250 AACN members | $340 nonmembers
    • Requirements: 1,000 clinical hours | 150 CE hours, 25 pharmacology CE hours
    • Renewal Cycle: 5 years
  • ANP-BC: The adult nurse practitioner-board certification offers renewals for those with current certification. Nurse practitioners can maintain their credentials every five years by completing 75 continuing education hours and submitting a renewal application.
    • Offered by ANCC
    • Cost: $275 American Nurses Association members | $295 American Association of Nurse Practitioners members | $375 nonmembers
    • Requirements: 75 CE hours, 25 in pharmacotherapeutics
    • Renewal Cycle: 5 years


Adult-Gerontology Acute Care

  • ACNPC-AG: The AACN administers an entry-level exam for acute care nurse practitioner certification-adult gerontology. This board certification focuses on adult gerontology, which is care for adults experiencing acute episodic, chronic, or terminal illnesses.
    • Offered by AACN
    • Cost: $260 AACN members | $370 nonmembers
    • Requirements: RN or APRN license | Graduate level ACNP-AG program | Clinical coursework
    • Renewal Cycle: 5 years
  • AGACNP-BC: The adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner-board certification awards qualified nurse practitioners credentials to practice adult gerontology. AGACNP-BC requires passing a 175 question certification exam. Credentials last five years.
    • Offered by ANCC
    • Cost: $295 American Nurses Association members | $290 American Association of Nurse Practitioners student members | $340 American Association of Nurse Practitioners members | $340 Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association members | $395 nonmembers
    • Requirements: RN license | AGACNP accredited graduate degree
    • Renewal Cycle: 5 years


Adult-Gerontology Primary Care

  • A-GNP: Adult gerontology nurse practitioner certification presents graduates of accredited NP programs with an opportunity to test their clinical knowledge of adult care. The 150-question exam tests knowledge of diagnosis, planning, and evaluation of care.
    • Offered by AANPCB
    • Cost: $240 AANP members | $315 nonmembers
    • Requirements: NP licensure | Graduate degree in adult-gerontology
    • Renewal Cycle: 5 years
  • AGPCNP-BC: Nurse practitioners certify in adult-gerontology primary care through board certification. Offered by ANCC, the AGPCNP-BC credential requires passing an exam after graduating from an accredited adult gerontology program. Maintaining certification requires continuing education hours and one selected renewal choice from eight options.
    • Offered by ANCC
    • Cost: $295 American Nurses Association members | $290 American Association of Nurse Practitioners student members | $340 American Association of Nurse Practitioners member | $340 Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association members | $395 nonmembers
    • Requirements: RN license | Graduate degree in adult-gerontology primary care | Advanced coursework in physiology or pathophysiology, health assessment, and pharmacology
    • Renewal Cycle: 5 years


Dermatology

  • DCNP: Dermatology certified nurse practitioners receive credentials through the Dermatology Nurse Practitioner Certification Board (DNPCB). The certification exam comprises 175 questions, measuring your ability to assess and diagnose dermatological conditions. DCNPs achieve nationally recognized specialization in dermatology.
    • Offered by DNPCB
    • Cost: $400
    • Requirements: Master’s or doctoral nursing degree | NP state licensure | 3,000 hours dermatology NP practice
    • Renewal Cycle: 3 years


Emergency

  • ENP-C: Emergency nurse practitioner certification awards family nurse practitioners (FNP) upon completing a competency examination. To qualify for the 150-question exam, FNPs need specialty education and clinical practice in emergency care. The exam focuses on five domains, including patient management and medical decision-making.
    • Offered by AANPBC
    • Cost: $240 AANP members | $315 nonmembers
    • Requirements: RN license | Family Nurse Practitioner certification | Emergency care clinical hours
    • Renewal Cycle: 5 years


Family

  • FNP-BC: Family nurse practitioner-board certification, offered by ANCC, provides credentials for specialized care to individuals of all ages. ANCC allots 3.5 hours to complete the 175-question exam.
    • Offered by ANCC
    • Cost: $295 American Nurses Association members | $290 American Association of Nurse Practitioners student members | $340 American Association of Nurse Practitioners member | $340 Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association members | $395 nonmembers
    • Requirements: RN license | Graduate degree in family nursing | Advanced coursework in physiology or pathophysiology, health assessment, and pharmacology
    • Renewal Cycle: 5 years
  • FNP-C: The family nurse practitioner certification, granted by AANPCB, recognizes clinical knowledge in the treatment of individuals, prenatal to the elderly. Obtaining certification requires passing a 150-question exam after earning a graduate degree from a family nurse practitioner program.
    • Offered by AANPCB
    • Cost: $240 AANP members | $315 nonmembers
    • Requirements: RN license | FNP graduate degree from an accredited institution | APRN core course completion
    • Renewal Cycle: 5 years


Neonatal

  • NNP-BC: Board certification as a neonatal nurse practitioner requires passing a competency examination. The exam, hosted by NCC, consists of 175 questions, lasts three hours, and must be taken no more than eight years after graduating from your NP program. With new, live remote proctoring, applicants can take the exam from any internet accessible location.
    • Offered by NCC
    • Cost: $325
    • Requirements:
      • Nursing license
      • NP graduate degree
      • Exam completion within eight years of graduation
    • Renewal Cycle: 3 years


Nephrology

  • CNN-NP: Certified nephrology nurse-nurse practitioner, awarded by the NNCC, requires nurse practitioners to meet specific criteria and pass a content test. The exam includes 175 questions and takes place over four hours. A passing score of 70% or higher is required. The exam tests the understanding of internal medicine practices, specifically regarding kidney function, and one’s ability to care for patients with kidney disruptions.
    • Offered by NNCC
    • Cost: $350 American Nephrology Nurses Association, American Society of Nephrology, National Kidney Foundation, Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs members | $375 nonmembers
    • Requirements: RN license | 2 years and 2,000 hours nephrology NP experience | Master’s degree or higher in nursing | 60 CE hours
    • Renewal Cycle: 5 years


Oncology

  • AOCNP: ONCC offers the advanced oncology certified nurse practitioner designation. The corporation provides two pathways to certification, both concluding with a 165-question test. NPs must meet all requirements for certification within five years of applying for the AOCNP exam.
    • Offered by ONCC
    • Cost: $296 ONS/APHON member | $416 nonmember
    • Requirements: RN license | NP graduate degree with a concentration in oncology, adult, family, gerontology, or women’s health | 500 supervised adult oncology NP hours or 1,000 clinical practice hours practice as adult oncology NP | One graduate level oncology course or 30 oncology CE hours
    • Renewal Cycle: 4 years


Orthopaedic

  • ONP-C: The ONCB administers the orthopaedic nurse practitioners certification, assessing competency and care ability. Certification requires three years of NP practice after the completion of a graduate level program. In addition to an RN license, applicants must obtain 2,000 hours of advanced clinical practice with musculoskeletal conditions.
    • Offered by ONCB
    • Cost: $345 NAON, AANP, NOVA, and CONA members | $460 nonmembers
    • Requirements: RN license | 2,000 hours advanced nursing experience | Graduate degree in nursing | 3 years RN or APRN experience
    • Renewal Cycle: 5 years


Pediatric Primary Care

  • CPNP-PC: PNCB presents the certified pediatric nurse practitioner-primary care process for qualified NPs. Applicants test their knowledge and skills for primary care pediatric nursing. The 175-question CPNP-PC exam occurs over three hours.
    • Offered by PNCB
    • Cost: $385
    • Requirements: RN license | Postmaster’s certificate program in pediatric primary care NP, or bachelor’s degree accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) with a concentration in NP pediatric primary care | 500 supervised hours in primary care pediatrics | Advanced graduate level coursework in physiology or pathophysiology, health assessment, and pharmacology
    • Renewal Cycle: 7 years


Pediatric Acute Care

  • CPNP-AC: Nurse practitioners can apply for the certified pediatric nurse practitioner-acute care exam after graduating from an accredited NP program. The CPNP-AC exam consists of 175 questions related to the care of pediatric patients.
    • Offered by PNCB
    • Cost: $385
    • Requirements: RN license | 500 supervised primary care pediatric hours | Postmaster’s certificate program in pediatric primary care, or ACEN- or CCNE-accredited bachelor’s program with a concentration in NP pediatric primary care | Advanced graduate coursework in physiology or pathophysiology, health assessment, and pharmacology
    • Renewal Cycle: 7 years


Psychiatric-Mental Health

  • PMHNP-BC: The board-certified psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner designation requires applicants to pass a 175-question exam testing clinical competency of psychiatric mental health across the lifespan. PMHNP-BC professional certification allows professionals to provide care as a psychiatric and mental health NPs.
    • Offered by ANCC
    • Cost: $220 American Psychiatric Nurses Association members | $290 American Association of Nurse Practitioner student members | $295 American Nurses Association members | $340 American Association of Nurse Practitioners members | $340 International Society of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses members | $395 nonmembers
  • Requirements: Accredited graduate degree in psychiatric-mental health NP program | Clinical training in 2 or more psychotherapeutic treatment modalities | Advanced graduate courses in health assessment, physiology or pathophysiology, and pharmacology | Courses in health promotion or maintenance, differential diagnosis, and disease management
  • Renewal Cycle: 5 years


Urology

  • CUNP: CBUNA certifies urologic nurse practitioners through an examination process available to associates, RNs, and NPs. Nurse practitioners must complete an accredited program and two years of urologic care to apply for CUNP certification. The certification exam consists of 175 questions covering the application of urologic theory and practice.
    • Offered by CBUNA
    • Cost: $320 Society of Urologic Nurses and Associates members | $395 nonmembers
    • Requirements: Graduate degree from an accredited nursing program | NP license | 2 years NP experience | 800 urologic clinical practice hours
    • Renewal Cycle: 3 years


Women’s Health

  • WHNP-BC: NCC offers board certification for women’s healthcare nurse practitioners through a computerized test. The exam tests applicants on their knowledge of and ability to apply women’s health education in a healthcare facility. The test includes 175 questions and takes place over three hours.
    • Offered by NCC
    • Cost: $325
    • Requirements: RN or APRN license | Accredited graduate NP program | Examination within 8 years of graduation
    • Renewal Cycle: 3 years

What Do I Need for NP Certification?

NP certification requires a degree from an accredited program, passing exam scores, and clinical training, in which candidates practice their skills and gain expertise in healthcare settings.

After graduating from high school, aspiring NPs next earn a bachelor of science degree in nursing (BSN). Obtaining a BSN opens the door to RN licensure, another requirement for NPs.

RNs gain skill and expertise through practice and on-the-job training. After gaining some experience in a healthcare facility, professionals might pursue a graduate program, which is the next step toward certification.

NP certification requires a degree from an accredited program, passing exam scores, and clinical training, in which candidates practice their skills and gain expertise in healthcare settings.

Based on their availability, location, and desired level of expertise, prospective graduate students might select a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctorate of nursing practice (DNP). National certification boards require aspiring NPs to include full transcripts of all graduate degree coursework with their certification exam applications.

Most NP certifications require at least 500 clinical hours in a specialty to apply for certification. NP certification also requires an application for state licensure.

Nurse Practitioner Requirements

How Do I Prepare for NP Certification Exams?

Preparing for your NP certification exam takes time and focused attention. Each certifying organization offers guidance on how to study for the exam, in addition to external study resources. Consider the prep tips below as you prepare for your certification exam.

Most NP tests comprise 150-175 questions. Certification exams often include a set of unscored pretest questions as well. Each exam asks questions related to the theory of and applicable skills for a given specialty.


4 Pro Certification Prep Tips

Start Early


Give yourself plenty of time to prepare. Plan to study at least 3-6 months before your exam date.


Practice


Take practice tests. Certification boards provide sample test questions to help you study. Dig into these as a way to gain comfort with exam questions and build confidence.

Plan Ahead


Make a plan for test day. Consider what you need to feel ready for the exam. Be sure to check out any certification board guidance on what to bring and what not to bring with you on test day.

Ask Advice


Ask other NPs to share tips and learnings from their exam process. You might stumble across some helpful advice or gain a study buddy with valuable test-taking experience.

Certifying Body Resources

American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANP)

Practice exams

American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN)



American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)

Test prep resources

National Certification Corporation (NCC)

Preview tests

Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB)

Practice tests

Certification Board for Urologic Nurses and Associates



Dermatology Nurse Practitioner Certification Board



Nephrology Nursing Certification Commission

Exam references

Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation

Practice tests

Orthopaedic Nurses Certification Board

Exam prep products

External resources

Consider this NP exam preparation guide for an additional deep dive into NP certification test prep tips and resources.


Renewing and Maintaining NP Certification

NP certifications generally last 3-5 years before requiring renewal. Not renewing your certification on time means losing your credentials. Once certification is lost, you must begin the eligibility process from the beginning.

Maintaining certification often requires professional development and clinical practice. Continuing education courses, typically 75-100 required hours, support ongoing knowledge acquisition.

NPs must maintain clinical practice hours for certification. Certifications require up to 1,000 hours of clinical practice to keep credentials active.

Some certifications allow renewal by exam process. This means professionals can maintain their credentials through a renewal exam instead of by submitting proof of professional development and clinical practice.

An unencumbered RN license is required to maintain all NP certifications. Renewal costs for each certification vary but often fall between $100 and $400. Some certifying bodies offer reduced certification and renewal fees with organization membership.

Resources for Nurse Practitioners


Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are all nurse practitioners certified?

    Yes. All nurse practitioners must certify in a specific area of expertise. Some nurse practitioners receive additional certifications to gain knowledge and build upon their skills in a chosen specialty.

  • How do you become a certified nurse practitioner?

    Certified nurse practitioners must obtain a master’s degree or higher. Graduates must then gain clinical experience at a recognized healthcare facility. Required certification exams test aspiring NPs knowledge and skills to enter the healthcare industry.

  • Which NP certification exam should you take?

    Each NP certification exam provides nurse practitioners with credentials to begin their careers. Determining which exam to take depends on your chosen career path and the specializations you wish to follow.

  • How do I maintain my NP certification?

    Most certifications require nurse practitioners to take professional development classes and gain clinical practice hours in their specialty. Requirements for clinical hours and continuing education classes vary for each certification.


Featured Image: Reza Estakhrian / The Image Bank / Getty Images

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