How Should Nurse Practitioners List Their Credentials?
One of the most common questions asked by new nurse practitioners is about the proper way to list professional degrees and credentials. The display of your degrees and credentials on the signage in your practice setting, on your business cards, and on the medication prescriptions you write is an important mechanism for conveying your qualifications to the public and to other healthcare professionals. Standardizing the presentation of NP credentials helps ensure that patients, colleagues, third-party payers and state and federal policy making bodies understand the scope of practice and the preparation and qualifications of nurse practitioners.
This post reports on recommendations from the two certifying bodies for family nurse practitioners and adult gerontology nurse practitioners (primary care focus): the American Association of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).
Recommendations From ANCC
In its credential brochure for nurses of all levels, titled How to Display Your Credentials, ANCC states that the preferred order of credentials for nurses is:
- Highest degree earned
- State designation or requirement
- National certifications
- Awards and honors
- Other recognitions
1). Highest Degree Earned
Your highest educational degree should appear first, according to the ANCC guidance. An educational degree is a credential that, except in an extreme circumstance, is permanent. The educational degrees earned by NPs entering practice today are master’s in nursing (MSN) or doctoral degrees (doctor of nursing practice, DNP). The ANCC recommends omitting your BSN if you have doctorate and master’s degrees.
Next in the order is licensure. This reflects what is required for practice in the state where you work. Most states issue licenses to NPs with terminology that reflects the way the state designates nurse practitioners (see number 3).
3). State Designation or Requirement
Common state designations for NPs are APRN (advanced practice registered nurse), ARNP (advanced registered nurse practitioner) and NP (nurse practitioner). Most NPs stop listing an RN credential after they become nurse practitioners. The Consensus Model for Advanced Practice Registered Nursing- APRN Regulation, which is supported by many nursing organizations, favors national use of “advanced practice registered nurse,” but this has not yet occurred.
4). National Certification
National certification is not required to practice as an NP in every state, thus it appears after the designation that is required by the state in which you practice. As of March 2021, only two states did NOT require NPs to earn national certification in order to practice: California and New York. (Note: Even if your state doesn’t require national certification, most employers and payers do.)
The way an NP indicates national certifications is dictated by your certifying body. ANCC credentials for family nurse practitioners should be displayed as FNP-BC (family nurse practitioner-board certified). ANCC credentials for adult gerontology primary care nurse practitioners should be displayed as AGPCNP-BC (adult gerontology primary care nurse practitioner-board certified). ANCC credentials for adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioners should be displayed as AGACNP-BC (adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioner-board certified).
5). Awards and Honors
Possible awards and honors for NPs include being inducted as a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing (FAAN) or a fellow of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (FAANP). Other certifications earned by NPs include credentials that reflect particular expertise, such as diabetes educator (CDE, certified diabetes educator) or menopause practitioner (NCMP, North American Menopause Society Certified Menopause Practitioner). These are only two of many possible examples.
Example of Credentials for ANCC-Certified NP
The following list shows common credentials that may be used by NPs who are certified by ANCC.
- Educational degrees: MSN, PhD, DNP
- Licensure and state designation: APRN, ARNP, NP
- National certification (primary care roles): AGPCNP-BC, FNP-BC
- Awards and honors: FAAN, FAANP, etc.
- Other certifications: CDE, NCMP, etc.
- Example: Mary Jones, DNP, APRN, AGPCNP-BC.
Recommendations From AANPCB
The American Association of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB) provides a standard guide for listing credentials in its Frequently Asked Questions document about the AANP certification exams. Listing NP credentials in a standard way is “especially important because consumers, insurance companies, credentialing bodies and government officials or entities require or expect it,” the document states. Here’s the order AANPCB recommends for the placement of credentials and degrees:
- Highest academic degree in nursing or related to nursing
- Nursing licensure
- Nursing certification
1). Highest Academic Degree Related to Nursing
For personal and business communications, AANPCB recommends listing academic degrees first because they are earned and considered permanent. NPs entering the workforce today have earned MSN and/or DNP degrees. The highest degree should be listed first.
2). Nursing Licensure
Listed next should be nursing licensure and APRN designations, which are regulated by individual state boards of nursing. Common state designations for NPs are APRN (advanced practice registered nurse), ARNP (advanced registered nurse practitioner) and NP (nurse practitioner). Most NPs stop listing an RN credential after they become nurse practitioners.
3). Nursing Certification
National certification is not required to practice as an NP in every state, thus it appears after the designation that is required by the state in which you practice. (Note: Even if your state doesn’t require national certification, most employers and payers do.) The way national certifications should be displayed is dictated by your certifying body.
National certifications awarded by AANPCB should be listed last. NPs who earn certification from AANPCB are eligible to use the trademarked credential NP-C to indicate certification status. Use of the first letter of the population focus of your educational preparation is optional (e.g., family as FNP-C, adult gerontology as A-GNP-C).
Published AANPCB guidance on credentials does not provide specific instruction for how to list additional honors (e.g., FAANP, FAAN) or additional degrees unrelated to nursing (e.g., MBA, MSW).
Example of Credentials for AANPCB-Certified NP
The following is a list showing common credentials that may be used by NPs who are certified by ANCC:
- Educational degrees: MSN, PhD, DNP
- Licensure and state designation: APRN, ARNP, NP
- National certification (primary care roles): FNP-C, A-GNP-C, NP-C
- Example of credentials for AANPCB-certified NP indicating population focus: Jane Doe, MSN, APRN, FNP-C.
- Example of credentials for AANPCB-certified NP using the general NP credential trademarked by AANPCB: Jane Doe, MSN, APRN, NP-C
Now that we have covered recommended ways to list your professional and academic credentials, let’s take a look at what is legally required.
What Is Actually Required?
Thus far we have outlined what each credentialing body for FNPs and AGNPs recommends for listing your credentials. There are minor differences, but the bottom line conclusion about the order is the same:
- Highest nursing degree
- Licensure/state requirement
- National certification
But do any actual legal requirements exist? In specific circumstances, yes. On legal documents such as prescriptions and patient medical records, you must use the credentials required by your state for your area of practice. Check with your state board of nursing to find out how you are required to list your credentials on legal documents including medication prescriptions.
For professional activities such as writing for refereed journals, presenting at nurse practitioner conferences, or testifying before a legislative body, no standard requirements exist. List all relevant credentials, as discussed earlier in this article. Journals may have particular requirements for the order of credentials, so follow what is published in their guidelines for authors.
What About Multiple Certifications or Specialties?
Since many nurse practitioners enjoy diversified practice and earn more than one national NP certification, ANCC offers the following guidance: List the highest education degree first (e.g., DNP, MSN). If you have a second degree (and perhaps a third) that is relevant, list it as well (e.g., DNP, MBA, MSN for a hospital executive). AANPCB has not published guidance for NPs with multiple certifications.
For the NP who has multiple certifications, ANCC recommends listing them in order of personal preference. Consider listing them in order of relevance to your practice or in the order they were earned, with the most recent first. ANCC advises listing certifications unrelated to nursing last.
We hope this article has been helpful in answering your questions about the “alphabet soup” that can materialize when nurses and NPs express their qualifications and credentials. Stick to the order and recommendation established by your credentialing body, and follow journal style guides when writing for publication.