How to Display Your Nursing Credentials

By Deborah Martin, DNP, MBA, RN, NE-BC, FACHE

male nurse or doctor sits at his desk looking at his computer screen and writing in his pad . Sunlight pours across the desk from the window beside the desk. He is wearing scrubs .

Organizing your nursing credentials

Nurses often joke about the alphabet soup of nursing credentials that can follow a nurse or advance practice nurse’s name. With all the different nursing and advanced nursing licenses, degrees, and certifications available, the growing list of letters can take on a life of its own.

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) provides a brochure on How to Display Credentials — but why use a standard format or list nursing credentials at all?

Credentials are a quick and easy way to communicate who we are not only to the public, but to colleagues in the healthcare community. They also denote accomplishments and achievements that are well worth sharing.

Why standardize?

As with any language, it is important for all parties to establish an agreed upon grammatical structure. The language of listed credentials is no different. With a standardized format, everyone can see at a glance what degree(s), license(s), and professional certifications a nurse holds.

When the presentation of credentials isn’t standardized, it takes longer to sift through the alphabet soup to understand the nurse’s background and expertise.

The standard format

ANCC states that the preferred order of credentials is as follows:

  • Highest earned degree
  • Licensure
  • State designations or requirements
  • National certification
  • Awards and honors
  • Other recognitions

The recommended order starts with the degree, which is a permanent credential and cannot be taken away unless under extreme circumstances. Following degrees are the license and state designations, as these are required to practice.

Professional certifications are sometimes voluntary, as are awards and honors. Additionally, professional certifications could lapse and are more easily separated from the individual than their license, which is why they follow degrees and licensure.

Some examples

Educational degrees include both graduate and undergraduate level degrees. License credentials are RN and LPN/LVN. State designations are used to recognize the advance level practice of APRNs and their area of practice (NPs, CNS, CNM, and CRNA).

Professional certifications would include the required advance practice credentials such as FNP-BC and specialty designations, such as RN-BC. Awards and honors might include achievements like Fellowships in an organization such as FAAN (Fellow with the American Academy of Nursing).

Some individuals may want to include several different degrees, rather than just the highest, especially if the degrees are in different areas. For example, a nurse may have both an MBA and an MSN, and it would be acceptable to list both.

However, if the nurse had a progression of nursing degrees, they would not note every degree. For instance, if they started as an ADN-prepared RN, and then continued to earn their BSN or beyond, they would not note them all.

For a nurse with an ADN and a BSN, their signature line would look like this: Holly Nurse, BSN, RN — or like this, if she had an ADN, BSN, and MSN: Holly Nurse, MSN, RN.

Technical certifications include designations like CPR, BLS, or ACLS. These are great to put on a resume, but do not belong with your professional credentials.

Related: Leadership and Nursing Practice Specialty CE Courses

Credentials in practice

For a little real-world practice, let’s break down my own credentials: DNP, MBA, RN, NE-BC, FACHE.

Although I have a BSN, MSN and DNP, you only see the DNP listed because it is my highest nursing degree. Since the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree is a practice degree, you may assume it’s clinical, but it’s not. My DNP is in innovation leadership. Be aware: not every DNP is a clinical degree.

My next degree is not in nursing; it’s a master’s degree in business. Although it is not a requirement to add degrees that are not nursing, an MBA can demonstrate depth of formal education and credibility for those in leadership and management positions, particularly when relating to the business side of healthcare.

I am a licensed Registered Nurse, so RN or my state-designated credential comes next. The license is followed by professional certifications. I am certified as a Nurse Executive (NE), which is a board certification (BC). In addition to this professional certification, I’m a Fellow with the American College of Healthcare Executives. This communicates an additional layer of credibility for my executive peers.

A roadmap of professional accomplishments

I hope this has helped shed light on what may have once been a murky alphabet soup. By adhering to a standardized format, you can rest assured that your credentials will be easily communicated to your colleagues and the public.

Since the alphabet soup demonstrates your professional accomplishments, let’s move from joking about it to celebrating it!

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