How to Write Nursing Credentials: 3 Steps to Success

by | Feb 1, 2024 | Nursing School and NCLEX®, Nursing Student | 5 comments

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Figuring out how to write nursing credentials and degrees can get very confusing very quickly. Some nurses seem like they have the entire alphabet after their name! Let’s walk through how to write them so that you can be confident that how you are writing your accomplishments is 100% correct. And we’ll even tell you the answer to the most common question: Do you write BSN RN or RN BSN?

how to write nursing credentials

Why Nursing Credentials Matter

Credentials are a fast way to communicate your knowledge and expertise. This is critical in the healthcare world because increasingly complex roles require additional training. By looking at someone’s credentials, you can know if they’re an LPN vs. ADN vs. BSN, or you can see if they are certified or not, which would increase their level of knowledge and expertise in an area.

For example, if you walk into an ICU and see on a nurse’s badge that they have both an MSN and a CCRN, you know they’re not a new grad. You know they’ve worked in an ICU long enough to pass their CCRN.

Without getting into the whole ADN vs. BSN debate, it is important to know someone’s educational background, licenses, and specialty certifications in the workplace. Now, let’s get into how to write nursing credentials.

The DLC Rule: How to Write Nursing Credentials

Below are the basic building blocks for how to write nursing credentials.

  1. Highest degree earned (D)
  2. Active license(s) (L)
  3. Relevant certifications (C)

The way I remember this is to call it “The DLC Rule” – degrees, licenses, certifications.

(Eventually, later on in your career, if you achieve major awards and honors, those are technically listed after certifications. We’ll touch on that soon, but for now, most of us are new grads or nurses with new specialty certifications trying to look professional by writing our nursing credentials correctly!)

how to write nursing credentials dlc rule

Nursing Credentials Explained in Depth

We will break down each of the three sections mentioned so that you can learn how to write nursing credentials. Let’s go!

#1 – Highest Educational Degree Earned – D

The first thing that is listed behind your name is your educational degree.

Examples of education degrees include associate degrees (ADN), bachelor’s degrees (BSN, BA, BS), master’s degrees (MSN, MS, MA), and doctoral degrees (Ph.D., DNP). The key to how to write your nursing credentials begins with only including your highest degree earned. This means that if you got an associate’s, then a bachelor’s, and now have a master’s, you will not list all of those.

Key 🔑 point ➡️ It’s redundant to list every single degree you have earned unless they are completely different.

Sorry, I know that might feel harsh after working really hard towards them. However, brevity is important with credentials. It is assumed that if you have a master’s degree, you achieved a bachelor’s degree. Therefore, it’s redundant to include both in your credentials.

If I were to list out all of my degrees, my signature line would be Kati Kleber, AAS, BSN, MSN. That’s just too much, people! Stick with your highest degree earned. However, if you have a degree from a different field that is relevant to your current professional role, you can also include that. Let’s discuss why non-nursing degrees can be part of your nursing credentials.

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Non-nursing Educational Degrees Count, Too!

Non-nursing academic degrees can complement a nurse’s expertise and open up opportunities in interdisciplinary areas of healthcare, management, education, or research. They can be helpful to communicate in a professional setting. For example, if you are a nurse manager and have a master’s in both business administration AND nursing, that’s extremely beneficial to include in your nursing credentials! Jane Doe, MSN, MBA, RN is 💯

However, not all non-nursing degrees are helpful to include.

Consider How Relevant They Are To Your Current Professional Position

Before you include a non-nursing degree in your nursing credentials, consider how relevant they are to your current role. For example, let’s say you’re a second-career nurse, and you are a 52-year-old RN who has a BSN and two specialty certifications (CCRN, CMC). You are working on research on your nursing unit.

Back in your early 20’s, you obtained a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Women’s Studies, and in your 30’s, you obtained a Bachelor of Science with a major in Marketing. In your 40’s, you obtained a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Technically, it would be accurate to write Jane Doe, BA BS BSN CCRN CMC. When listing multiple degrees in a signature line, it’s generally recommended to include only the highest degree earned in each field or those most relevant to your current professional context. Therefore, in this context, it would be most appropriate to write Jane Doe, BSN RN CCRN CMC.

To include all of those degrees that are not relevant to this situation is kind of like telling the nurse who is admitting you for a heart attack at the age of 72 years old that you had your tonsils removed when you were 17 years old. Yes, it happened in your life, but it’s not really relevant to this current situation.

Examples of Relevant Non-Nursing Degrees

Here are some non-nursing degrees that are relevant enough for a nurse to list in their credentials:

  1. Bachelor’s or Master’s in Public Health (BPH/MPH): Focuses on public health principles, epidemiology, health policy, and community health strategies. Relevant for public health nursing, health education, and policy advocacy roles.
  2. Master of Business Administration (MBA): Provides business management, finance, and leadership skills. It is helpful for nurses aiming for administrative, executive, or entrepreneurial roles in healthcare.
  3. Master of Health Administration (MHA): Focuses on healthcare management practices, health services administration, and policy. Suitable for roles in hospital administration, clinic management, and healthcare consulting.
  4. Master of Science in Health Informatics (MSHI): Combines healthcare, information technology, and data management. It is relevant for nurses interested in healthcare IT, electronic health records (EHR) management, and data analytics.
  5. Master of Education (MEd) or Doctor of Education (EdD): Focuses on education theory, curriculum design, and teaching strategies. Ideal for nurses pursuing careers in nursing education, academic leadership, or curriculum development.
  6. Master of Science in Bioethics (MSB): Explores ethical issues in healthcare, research ethics, and clinical decision-making. Applicable for roles in ethics committees, research oversight, and policy development.
  7. Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in various fields: Emphasizes research and academic scholarship in fields like psychology, sociology, or health policy. Suitable for nurses involved in research, academia, or high-level policy work.
  8. Master of Science in Counseling or Psychology (MS/MA): Provides expertise in mental health, counseling techniques, and psychological assessment. It is relevant for nurses focusing on mental health, patient counseling, and support services.
  9. Juris Doctor (JD): Law degree relevant for nurses interested in legal aspects of healthcare, healthcare policy, compliance, or serving as legal consultants/experts in medical-legal cases. (Lorie Brown is one of my favorite nurse attorneys!)
  10. Master of Science in Nutrition (MS): Focuses on dietetics, nutrition science, and wellness programs. Useful for nurses specializing in nutrition, wellness coaching, or managing dietary departments in healthcare facilities.

These degrees can significantly enhance a nurse’s qualifications and are highly relevant to list in their credentials, especially when pursuing specialized roles, interdisciplinary projects, or leadership positions in healthcare.

#2 – Licenses – L

Nursing licenses are official recognitions granted by state nursing boards that allow individuals to practice nursing at various levels. The three primary types of nursing licenses are Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), Registered Nurse (RN), and Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN). Each license type has different educational requirements, scopes of practice, and responsibilities, and because of this, it is important to make a distinction in your nursing credentials.

Similar to your degrees, if you achieve a higher distinction, it will cancel out the previous license. For example, if you worked as a LPN for 10 years and are now an RN, you should no longer list LPN as a credential.

If you obtain the APRN license, you do not need to list RNs in your nursing credentials any longer. Think about it: You cannot be an advanced practice registered nurse without being a registered nurse, so it’s unnecessary to include both.

Let’s say I was an LPN first, then was an RN, and am now a nurse practitioner with my APRN.

Kati Kleber, ADN, BSN, MSN, LPN, RN, APRN

Kati Kleber, MSN, APRN

If you’re unsure if it is a license or a certification, think about who gave it to you. If your state board of nursing granted your nursing license or advanced practice register nursing license, it’s a license. If it came from a professional nursing organization, it’s likely a certification. Speaking of certifications…

#3 – Nursing Certifications – C

The final piece of how to write your nursing credentials is certifications. Nursing certifications can get a little confusing, so bear with me.

Nursing certifications are a great way for nurses to demonstrate their expertise in specific areas of healthcare. These certifications often require meeting certain educational and clinical practice requirements, as well as passing a certification exam. Once you pass the exam, you can add letters to your name! For example, in 2015, I passed the CCRN exam, so my credentials then became Kati Kleber, BSN RN CCRN. However, I no longer hold that specialty certification, so I cannot list it with my credentials.

Certifications are not permanent, like your nursing degree, and must be renewed regularly. Eligibility for maintaining a certification often requires that one still works in that specific specialty and has completed many contact hours.

Here’s a list of some common nursing certifications that the ADN or BSN-prepared nurse can work towards:

  1. Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN): Specialization in pediatric nursing.
  2. Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN): Specialization in cancer care.
  3. Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN): For nurses in critical care areas such as ICUs, emergency departments, neurocritical care, transplant ICUs, and more. This can also be pediatric and neonatal. Once you have obtained the CCRN certification, you are eligible for the following if you have the appropriate practice hours:
    • Critical Care Registered Nurse Knowledge Progressional (CCRN-K): For nurses who influence the care of critically ill patients but do not provide direct care (like educators, managers, researchers, and more).
    • Cardiac Medicine (CMC): Specializing in critically ill adult cardiac patients.
    • Cardiac Surgery (CSC): Specializing in critically ill adult cardiac surgery patients.
  4. Stroke Certified Registered Nurse (SCRN): Specializing in the care of stroke patients.
  5. Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN): Specialization in emergency nursing.
  6. Certified Nephrology Nurse (CNN): Focuses on patients with kidney diseases.
  7. Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse (CMSRN): Specialization in medical-surgical nursing.
  8. Specializes in mental health nursing.
  9. Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nurse (WOCN): Specializes in wound care, ostomy care, and continence issues.
  10. Orthopedic Nurse Certified (ONC): Specialization in orthopedic nursing.
  11. Certified Nurse Operating Room (CNOR): Specializes in perioperative nursing, which includes pre-op, and the operating room.

These certifications not only validate a nurse’s expertise in a particular area but also often lead to better job opportunities, higher pay, and improved patient care outcomes. Nurses typically pursue these certifications after gaining some experience in the relevant field and meeting the specific requirements set by the certifying body.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) Certifications

If you have your APRN, there are other certifications. However, one cannot have any of the following certifications without the APRN license first. To be qualified for any of these, you must have an APRN license and graduate from an accredited school, meeting appropriate educational requirements.

Examples of these advanced practice nursing certifications include:

Essentially, you get your APRN license from your state board of nursing and obtain one of these certifications from a national accrediting body. For example, CNSs might be certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or another specialty organization, while CRNAs are certified by the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA).

Non-Nursing Certifications Count, Too!

You may also have certifications that are relevant to your role but are not specific to nursing. That’s okay! What matters is that they are relevant. Many of these would not be appropriate to include in your nursing certifications listed after your name, but some are!

  1. Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS): While these are often required for nurses, they are not exclusive to nursing and are essential for responding to cardiac emergencies. IMPORTANT NOTE ➡️ Do NOT include BLS on your credentials. Everyone needs to have this who works in a healthcare setting, so it’s unnecessary to display this one.
  2. Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS): Similar to ACLS but focused on pediatric patients. This certification is valuable for nurses working in pediatrics, emergency departments, or intensive care units.
  3. Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES): This certification is for those interested in promoting health education and wellness programs, which can be an asset in community health nursing, public health, or school nursing.
  4. Project Management Professional (PMP): Nurses in administrative, leadership, or project-based roles may find this certification valuable for managing healthcare projects effectively.
  5. Certified Informatics Nurse (CIN): While this is a nursing-specific certification, it’s in a field (informatics) that intersects with IT. It’s beneficial for nurses interested in the intersection of healthcare and information technology.
  6. Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE): For nurses involved in diabetes education and management, this certification provides specialized knowledge in diabetic care.
  7. Occupational Health and Safety Technologist (OHST): Beneficial for nurses working in occupational health, ensuring workplace safety and health standards.
  8. Certified Nutrition Support Clinician (CNSC): For nurses involved in nutritional therapy, this certification provides advanced knowledge in managing and optimizing nutritional support for patients.
  9. Certified Infection Control Nurse (CIC): Focuses on preventing and controlling infections in healthcare settings.

So, if you’ve got an MSN and CIN and are an RN, your signature line would be: John Doe, MSN RN CIN.

Secret Step #4 – Awards and Honors

I know I said how to write nursing credentials was a 3-step process, but there is a secret 4ths step: Awards and Honors.

Here’s the deal with including awards and honors in your nursing credentials: They are for prestigious awards that are given after many years of dedication to the nursing field.

The two most common examples are:

Traditionally speaking, we do not put things like the DAISY award or other similar awards. While these are very important and a phenomenal achievement, they are not on the level of the lifetime achievement necessary to earn the designation of a Fellow from a professional organization. These nurses often have DNP’s or PhD’s and have made major contributions to the nursing field.

For example, in 2015, I won the Nurse of the Year award and was named one of the Great 100 Nurses of North Carolina. These awards meant the world to me, but they are not ones I include in my nursing credentials.

Kati Kleber with Nurse of the Year award: how to write nursing credentials:

So, technically, after credentials, you would include any major awards or honors in your signature. However, if you are a newer nurse who wants to know how to write nursing credentials, you likely have yet to receive any of these awards.

When to Write Nursing Credentials

You may ask, “How to write nursing credentials,” but … the next most common question is, what are we writing nursing credentials on, exactly?

One of the most common places to display your credentials is in your email subject line.

If you are working in a hospital with paper documentation, you likely will have to sign your name often. In these situations, it’s not necessary to write out your entire list each time. What matters with this documentation is that you are a registered nurse. Therefore, sign with RN after your name or APRN, respectively. The reader wants and needs to know if the person signing the document is qualified to do so.

Your work badge is also an important place that your credentials will be. This enables people to quickly know your level of education, expertise, and training.

Finally, your resume and other professional documents will require correct nursing credentials to ensure you communicate your attention to detail and knowledge of how to accurately state your expertise.

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Examples of How to Write Nursing Credentials

Let’s go through some real examples of different combinations of degrees and certifications that you may come across so that you can see how to write nursing credentials in a very practical sense.

how to write nursing credentials: anatomy of nursing credentials

Associate Degree and Med-Surg Certification

If you have your ADN and obtained your med-surg certification, your credentials would be Din Djarin, ADN RN CMSRN.

Here’s a weird nursing culture exception to the rule ➡️ With associate-level degrees and a nursing license, many don’t indicate their degree in their credentials. They write RN after their name. However, technically speaking, ADN RN would be correct.

Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing and Critical Care Certification

Let’s say someone has a bachelor’s in nursing and also obtained a critical care certification. In this case, his credentials would be Moff Gideon, BSN RN CCRN.

Master’s in Nursing Education with Education Certification

This is a certification without a special acronym. This one would be Cara Dune, MSN RN-BC. This nurse would have completed her master’s and then obtained a specialty certification in education. The “RN-BC” designation is used for various specialties. You can always ask what their board certification is if you are unsure.

Doctorate in Nursing, Family Nurse Practitioner

This would read something like Fennec Shand, DNP APRN FNP. APRN comes before FNP because the family nurse practitioner certification is only possible because this person is an APRN. This is comparable to adding CCRN after RN. One cannot be a CCRN without being an RN.

New Graduate Nurse from a BSN or AD program

This will be the VAST majority of the people reading this post.

  • AD grad: Luke Skywalker, ADN RN or Luke Skywalker RN
  • BSN grad: Leia Skywalker, BSN RN

Final Thoughts on How to Write Nursing Credentials

Understanding and displaying your nursing credentials isn’t just about showcasing your hard-earned qualifications; it’s about presenting your professional identity with pride and confidence.

Remember the DLC Rule, nurses! Degrees, Licenses, Certifications!

Your credentials are a testament to your commitment to excellence in healthcare. Wear them like a badge of honor, for they are not only a reflection of your skills and dedication but also a beacon of trust for those in your care. So, take these three steps to heart, display your credentials with confidence, and look like the pro you truly are.

Now that you’ve gotten the full explanation drop your credentials in the comments! And if you’re not sure, ask away. We read every comment 😃

FAQ of How to Write Nursing Credentials

Do you write BSN RN or RN BSN?

The 100% correct way to write this is BSN RN. Remember our DLC Rule! The “RN” represents your Registered Nurse license with your state board of nursing. Your BSN represents the nursing degree you obtained from an educational institution. If you recall the credential hierarchy, it is degrees before licenses. Therefore, it will always be “BSN RN”.

How to write BSN RN after name?

As mentioned before, write your name and BSN RN after it. For example, if your name is Jane Doe, you’d write Jane Doe, BSN RN.

How do I write my MSN BSN RN credentials?

Remember our DLC Rule! Your MSN is your highest degree earned; therefore, it cancels out the BSN. The correct way to write this would be Jane Doe, MSN RN.

What’s the difference between a nursing degree and nursing credentials?

A degree in nursing is an educational qualification a college or university awards. It signifies the completion of a specific program of study in the nursing field. Examples include an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), or a Ph.D. in Nursing.

Conversely, nursing credentials encompass a range of qualifications, including degrees (ADN, BSN, MSN, etc.), licensure (LPN, RN, APRN, etc.), certifications (CCRN, CMSRN, etc.), and other formal recognitions. “Nursing credentials” is a broader term encompassing all types of formal recognitions a nurse can earn. In summary, while a degree is a specific type of educational qualification, credentials in nursing refer to the broader spectrum of qualifications a nurse can hold, which includes degrees, licensure, certifications, and other recognitions in the field.

Does BSN come with RN?

Not necessarily. Working as a nurse means that someone did two things: They graduated from an accredited nursing school AND received a nursing license (RN) from a state board of nursing (BON). State BON’s will only grant an RN license to someone who has passed the NCLEX and a background check (and paid their fees). So, someone could have graduated with a BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing), but never got their RN license. Maybe they didn’t pass the NCLEX, or maybe a BON did not feel appropriate to give them a license. Therefore, it is important to also write RN if you graduated with your BSN and have your RN license. Without an RN license, you legally cannot practice nursing.

What is the FCCM certification?

In nursing and critical care medicine, “FCCM” stands for Fellow of the American College of Critical Care Medicine. This designation is awarded to individuals who have made significant contributions to the field of critical care and have demonstrated a commitment to excellence in clinical practice, research, or education in critical care medicine. The American College of Critical Care Medicine (ACCM) is part of the Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM), which is a leading professional organization dedicated to ensuring excellence and consistency in the practice of critical care. Holding the FCCM designation is a mark of distinction, indicating that the individual has been recognized by their peers for outstanding achievements and contributions to the critical care field. While many recipients are physicians, nurses are eligible for this distinction.

What does FAAN mean in nursing?

FAAN is a very prestigious nursing award. It stands for “Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing.” If you see this on someone’s credentials, they have made significant contributions and/or advancements to the nursing field. They are a big deal!

Being named a Fellow in a professional academy or organization like the American Academy of Nursing is one of the highest honors in the nursing profession.
The designation “fellow” signifies that the individual has met rigorous criteria for membership, including evidence of significant achievements in nursing, leadership in the profession, contributions to healthcare research, practice, policy, or education, and a commitment to the mission and goals of the academy. Fellows are expected to continue contributing to advancing nursing and health care through scholarly activities, innovation, and leadership.

What does BBSN mean?

BBSN does not mean anything in the context of nursing. If this is used in a healthcare setting, it is likely a typographic error that likely meant “BSN” which means Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

How to write nurse practitioner credentials?

Follow the same DLC Rule!

Degree first. You may have an MSN or a DNP.

Licenses next. You likely have a license with your state board of nursing that is an APRN license (Advanced Practice Registered Nurse). Because this is a step above an RN license, it cancels out the RN license in your credentials. (Please note that all states use APRN; however, the terminology, scope of practice, and regulatory requirements can vary significantly from state to state.)

Certifications are next. These show your specialty. Common certifications include FNP (Family Nurse Practitioner), AGACNP (Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner), PNP (Pediatric Nurse Practitioner), and so on, awarded by certifying bodies such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).

Example ➡️ So, if you are a family nurse practitioner with an MSN, your credentials would be Jane Doe, MSN APRN FNP-BC, or Jane Doe, MSN APRN FNP-C (the BC vs. C depends on which certifying body granted your certification).

Keys 🔑 to remember as a Nurse Practitioner ➡️ Where people often get confused is their license vs. their certification. Your license comes from the state board of nursing (a STATE thing). Your certification comes from a certifying body, like the ANCC, the AANP, etc (a NATIONAL thing). This is similar to when you get your RN license. To get an RN license, you must apply to a state board of nursing AND pass a national test (the NCLEX).

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    Picture of Kati Kleber, founder of FRESHRN

    Hi, I’m Kati.

    Kati Kleber, MSN RN is a nurse educator, author, national speaker, host of the FreshRN® Podcast, and owner of FreshRN® – an online platform created to educate, encourage, and motivate newly licensed nurses in innovative ways.

    Connect with her on YouTube, Pinterest, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, and sign-up for her free email newsletter for new nurses.

    5 Comments

    1. Cassidy Tripi

      Do you think you could do a segment or add on to this post about CCRN certification and others like that? More of a how to go about getting them. It seems like it’s exactly what I want to do when I graduate but I know nothing about it. Thanks for your time!

      Reply
      • Kati Kleber

        Cassidy – WONDERFUL suggestion. So wonderful in fact that I’m going to do another post devoted solely to specialty certifications. But so you don’t have to wait for the CCRN one… I got my CCRN in 2015, had been in Neuro ICU for 3 years at that point. Went to the AACN’s website to see what I had to do to qualify, took a review course from the AACN and bought PASS CCRN for the practice questions, studied for a few months… scheduled my exam, tested, and that’s that!

        Reply
        • Cassidy Tripi

          That’s great! Thank you!

          Reply
    2. Linda Tichenor

      Hi Kati,
      I would like to clarify the peri-operative certifications line: CNOR is peri-operative and does not include PACU. PACU and Same Day Surgery are CPAN and CAPA respectively. Having my CPAN for many years and participating in CNOR review courses, they are 2 different worlds. CPAN is considered a critical care certification. (please create a course ) :o)
      Respectfully yours

      Reply
      • Kati Kleber, MSN RN

        Thanks Linda! The correction has been made. I wish I knew enough about these areas to make a course!

        Reply

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