If you have an interest in cardiology and helping critically ill adults, then becoming a certified cardiac nurse might be perfect for you. Learn how to get your Cardiac Nurse Certification (CSC) in this simple guide.
What is cardiac surgery certification (CSC)?
This is a specialty certification for nurses caring for acutely/critically ill adult cardiac surgery patients.
To qualify, you have to either be providing direct patient care to cardiac patients or supervising nurses that do. The supervising roles that qualify include nurse practitioner, educator, preceptor, manager, or are supervising nursing students who are caring for this specific patient population.
After you pass the exam, you can add “CSC” to the end of your credentials. However, it’s a certification that must be attached to another certification (like CCRN, PCCN, or CCNS).
So, if you work on a cardiac progressive care unit full time and have your progressive care certification PCCN, you could sit for this exam provided you care for cardiac surgery patients. Once you pass your credentials would go from Jane Doe, BSN RN PCCN to Jane Doe, BSN RN PCCN CSC.
It’s always a great thing to add letters behind your name!
Eligibility Requirements for the CSC Exam
There are eligibility requirements that you must meet before you can take the CSC exam.
You must have an unencumbered nursing license. This means you are not under any disciplinary actions and it’s a current license.
You must also already have another certification like the CCRN, PCCN or CCNS. This is a specialty certification that you add to another certification. You cannot get this all by itself.
If you don’t already have another certification, check out The Critical Care Nurse Certification blog post about getting your CCRN.
Another eligibility requirement is that you have to have some practice hours caring for acutely/critically ill adult cardiac surgery patients.
Specifically, you need 1,750 hours as an RN or APRN OR be an RN or APRN with 5 years of experience and a minimum of 2,000 hours with 144 of those hours in the most recent year.
Please keep in mind that these hours must be verifiable by someone else. You’ll be required to list someone who can verify that you do work in an approved area.
These requirements are all directly from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN), who write the exam and provide the certification itself. If you’re not sure if you’re eligible or if the area you work in counts, you can always ask your educator or manager directly or even contact the AACN.
I’ve had my CCRN since 2015 and have had to contact them a few times and they’re always easy to get a hold of, responsive, and kind. When in doubt, reach out.
How To Sit For the CSC Exam
Before you are able to sit and take the exam, you have to be approved.
This means filling out the application on the AACN’s website (you’ll have to create an account first if you don’t already have one). Part of this application is providing the name and contact information of a colleague or manager who can verify your eligibility to sit for the CSC.
You’ll need to provide some demographic information as well as sign an honor statement.
Then, you’ll submit your application and wait for the approval. This typically takes about 2-4 weeks. Once all that information is processed, they’ll contact you (via email and postcard) to let you know that you’re good to go!
After you receive your approval notification, you have 90 days to schedule your exam.
Essentially, you only want to start this process if you know you want to test and have already started studying.
What Score Do You Need to Pass the CMC Certification Exam
This information comes directly from the exam handbook.
The exam is a total of 90 questions, with 15 of them not counting towards the final score. You have two hours to take the exam.
To pass the CMC, you must get at least 52 questions out of the score 75 questions correct. This translates to getting approximately 69% of the answers correct.
Avoid Test Anxiety
Author and Critical Care Clinical Nurse Specialist Nicole Kupchick has some advice for anyone that is nervous about the exam. “ “If you come across a question that you have NO idea the answer, tell yourself it’s a question that doesn’t count! Don’t psych yourself out if you don’t know the answer. There will be some questions that you’re aren’t completely sure about!”. (Source: Ace the CMC®: You Can Do It! by Nicole Kupchik, pages xiii-xviii)
Prepare yourself ahead of time that there are going to be questions you don’t know. That’s ok because there really will be questions that you won’t know. You just need a 69% to pass.
What’s On the CSC Certification Exam
Again, this information comes directly from the AACN and is the exam blueprint (page 9).
Here’s the exact breakdown of the Cardiac Nurse Certification Exam.
Procedures are 19% of the CSC exam. This includes the CABG, MAZE, valve repair, surgical treatment of lung and esophageal cancer, and various vascular surgeries.
Complications are 31% of the CMC exam. This includes cardiovascular, pulmonary, endocrine, hematology/immunology, neuro, gastrointestinal, renal, multisystem, and behavioral.
Therapeutic interventions consist of 36% of the exam. This touches on chest tubes, meds, pacing, ventilation, blood glucose management, lumbar drains, pain management, delirium prevention and treatment, recovering from sedation, and much more.
Finally, monitoring and diagnostics consist of 15% of the exam. This includes train-of-four, capnography, pulse ox, CVP, coagulation labs, ABGs, QT interval and ST-segment monitoring, 12-lead ECG interpretation, chest x-ray, and PA catheters.
If you wanted to get a little preview of what the test questions are like, page 10 of the exam blueprint has eight of them.
How Do I Know If I Passed the CSC Exam?
It’s not like the NCLEX where you have to wait for a while or pay to find out earlier. You will find out immediately after the exam whether or not you passed. Hooray for immediate results!
What’s the Renewal Process For A CSC Certification?
The certification lasts three (3) years. You can either retake the exam after three years, or you can renew it with something called CERPs.
CERPs are continuing education recognition points and are unique to the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). The AACN offers a ton (I mean, so so so many) different continuing education opportunities in various forms on a wide array of categories.
|Category A||Category B||Category C|
Response to diversity
Facilitation of learning
They do that so people who renew their certifications aren’t getting a ton of hours in one very specific category. It wouldn’t be helpful to renew a CCRN (the critical care certification) with all of your hours on advocacy and nothing on the latest evidence related to patient care.
Basically, to renew this certification you need to get 25 CERPs from Category A under clinical judgment pertaining to cardiac surgery over the course of 3 years.
As an AACN-certified nurse who has had to report CERPs before, the AACN website is really straightforward in calculating these even though it sounds confusing at first glance. You can report and record all of your hours there, and if you take them through the AACN’s website directly (or go to one of their conferences like NTI), it auto-populates for you into your profile.
You just log in and click on “Transcripts” in your profile and it shows you your total CERP count and how many you have for each category.
See below to check out my profile:
Study Materials For the CSC Exam
What are the best study materials for the CSC exam? There are so many out there!
My favorite review for the exam is this book. (And next time you’re at the AACN’s annual critical care conference, NTI, make sure you look for the author, Nicole Kupchik, as she is often a featured speaker!). It has 180 practice questions with rationales and reviews written in an outline format that follows the exam blueprint precisely.
Click here to check out that book.
And if you just wanted to brush up on various skills or knowledge bases related to cardiac surgery patient care, I’ve got some online courses that may fit what you’re looking for that all come with continuing education credits. Please note that these reviews are not specific to the CSC exam, but their topics are discussed on the exam:
- Chest and abdominal x-ray interpretation
- Basic 12-lead EKG interpretation
- Lab values and ABG interpretation
- Fluid resuscitation and vasopressors
If you need some cardiac basics first
Need more in-depth cardiac info? Check out the Cardiac Nurse Crash Course brought to you by FreshRN® where we discuss essential topics like chest tube and arterial line care, cardiac nursing report for the ED/ICU/floor, CABG patient care, in-depth discussion on atrial fibrillation, diagnostics like stress tests and caths, and much more!