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Published on October 28, 2020

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Registered nurses (RNs) who want to further their position or change careers can benefit from enrolling in nursing graduate certificate programs. A graduate certificate in nursing presents a relatively affordable and efficient way for RNs who already hold a master's or doctorate in nursing to pursue a specialized area of nursing. Continued education can lead to exciting and lucrative careers in the nursing field, including as nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse specialists.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners have a projected 31% job growth rate between 2016-26.

How to Choose the Right Graduate Certificate in Nursing Program

RNs who hold a master's or doctorate degree can pursue a variety of graduate certificates in nursing, both online and on-campus. Some program characteristics to consider include program length, cost, accreditation status, and location.

Most graduate nursing certificates take one year or less to complete with part-time enrollment. Since most students work as full-time RNs while pursuing a graduate certificate in nursing, flexibility and convenience are a top concern. Earning your nursing graduate certificate online is a great option for working RNs. If you choose an online program, school location may matter, since some schools require students to meet internship or residency requirements.

Another important consideration is cost. The biggest determinant of cost is the type of school; in-state public schools cost less than most private schools and out-of-state public schools. Online nursing students should consider the curriculum and classes available. Depending on the program, classes and specializations can vary substantially. Make sure the programs you consider offer your preferred specialization. Also pay attention to internship, practicum, and other work experience requirements.

Employment and Salary Outlook for Graduate Certificate in Nursing Graduates

The BLS projects a 15% job growth rate for registered nurses between 2016-2026. Job prospects are excellent in the nursing field; however, certificates can make graduates more competitive on the job market. According to PayScale, the median annual salary for new nurses is $59,068, which rises substantially with 20 or more years of experience.

Graduate Certificate, Nursing Median Salary by Years Experience
Position Entry-Level Mid-Career Experienced Late Career
Registered Nurse $55,000* $63,000* $68,000* $71,000*
Nurse Anesthetist $133,000* $149,000* $157,000* $167,000*
Nurse Midwife $87,000* $95,000* $92,000* $108,000*
Nurse Practitioner $90,000* $97,000* $101,000* $105,000*

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Opportunities

Many graduates of graduate certificate in nursing programs continue working as RNs with specialties like public health, critical care, or neonatology. Those qualified as advanced practice registered nurses can work as nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives, clinical nurse specialists, and nurse anesthetists. Many take on leadership, administrative, educational, or management nursing roles. Nurses enjoy helping others and possess critical thinking, communication, and organizational skills. They are compassionate, detail-oriented, and motivated.

Registered Nurse

RNs care for and educate patients. They offer emotional support and advice. They work in hospitals, medical offices, long-term care facilities, schools, and outpatient clinics. A variety of nursing specialties exist, including neonatology, genetics, critical care, addiction, and rehabilitation nurses. RNs usually work as part of a medical team, with physicians and other healthcare professionals.

Medical Office Manager

Medical office managers coordinate and plan health services, at medical offices, hospitals, and healthcare facilities. They ensure that organizations operate in accordance with federal regulations. They improve the quality of healthcare services, create work schedules, manage an organization's finances, and develop organizational goals.

Minimum Data Set Coordinator

MDS coordinators are RNs who work in medical offices and long-term care facilities. They manage the MDS process, collect data, assess patients, create reports, explain federal guidelines to the nursing staff, and develop organizational plans.

Accreditation for Nursing Programs

The accreditation process requires schools and programs to meet quality standards set by an accrediting agency. Many employers prefer nurses who receive a degree from an accredited program. Most states require a nursing degree from an accredited nursing program to receive a nursing license. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) provides accreditation for postgraduate RN certificate programs, including programs for nurse anesthetists, clinical nurse specialists, nurse practitioners, and nurse midwives. The CCNE also accredits bachelor's, master's, and doctorate nursing programs.

Nursing Graduate Certificate Program Admissions

Most prospective students find the admissions process for nursing graduate certificate programs relatively simple compared to undergraduate or graduate degree nursing programs. Applicants typically do not need to complete an interview, answer essay questions, or submit test scores. Applicants must fill out a short application and submit transcripts with an application fee. To qualify for admission, you may need a bachelor's and a master's degree in nursing, with a 3.0 GPA at minimum. Typically, applicants must hold a current RN license and one year of professional nursing practice.

Admissions to graduate certificate programs tend to be less competitive than graduate degree programs. If you apply to certificate programs with requirements you might not meet, or if the program has a low acceptance rate, you might consider applying to several programs. Do your research and apply to programs you would like to attend.

Admission Requirements

Filling out a graduate certificate application typically takes less time and has fewer requirements than a graduate degree application. You will need to submit transcripts from all previously attended colleges or universities. You can order transcripts by contacting your school's registrar online; a fee may be applicable. Prospective students applying to a graduate certificate in nursing program typically pay a $50 application fee. Sometimes schools waive application fees for students experiencing financial hardship. Most graduate nursing certificate programs require applicants to hold a bachelor's and master's in nursing. Some graduate certificate in nursing programs require a 3.0 GPA at minimum.

What Else Can I Expect From a Graduate Certificate in Nursing Program?

Core Courses in a Nursing Graduate Certificate Program

Core courses offered in a nursing graduate certificate program differ significantly depending on the school and program. Applicants can consult the sample curriculum below to get an idea of the courses available in some graduate certificate in nursing programs.

Information Management for Clinical Practice

This course covers topics such as the evaluation of nursing informatics, managing patient health information, and administering computer information systems. Students learn to use information systems to support clinical practice, research, education, and administration, and must demonstrate basic competency in spreadsheets and word processing applications.

Evidence-Based Practice

Students explore evidence-based practice by using the scientific method and assessing credibility of evidence. They learn to develop the skills necessary to make clinical decisions using credible evidence. Issues investigated in the course include patient outcomes, healthcare delivery, barriers to evidence-based practice, and current trends in an evidence-based practice approach.

Organizational Systems and Leadership

Nurses learn different nursing leadership styles and strategies in this course. The course also provides an introduction to analysis of organizational systems. Students learn critical thinking, communication, teamwork, and advocacy in the context of nurse leadership. Other topics include human resource management, health care finances, quality improvement, and organizational change.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Graduate Certificate in Nursing?

Typically a certificate in nursing takes about two semesters to complete. Most certificate programs require students to complete about four courses. Program duration depends on the number of classes you take each term, and if your program offers courses year-round. If you complete one course each term, it will take about a year to complete a graduate certificate.

How Much Is a Graduate Certificate in Nursing?

The price of a graduate certificate in nursing depends on the type of program and school. Attending a public school and paying resident tuition is more affordable than going to a private school or paying non-resident tuition.

The number of credits you take each term can affect the cost of a graduate certificate. Usually, tuition is more affordable if you take more credits each term. If you only take one course each term, you often pay more per credit. Additionally, you should consider student fees and other educational expenses each term. Typical prices for graduate certificate in nursing programs range from $7,000 to $10,000. Remember that federal financial aid is often not available for a certificate program. Additionally, most scholarships go to students pursuing degrees, not certificates. Sometimes employers will pay for nurses to pursue further education in the nursing field.

Professional Organizations in Nursing

Joining a professional nursing organization opens up opportunities, including networking with colleagues, attending continuing education workshops and courses, and receiving discounted admission to conferences. The chance to meet and connect with other nursing professionals is beneficial for students and recent graduates.

American Nurses Association

ANA advocates for the nursing profession. Membership benefits include travel discounts, student loan solutions, professional liability insurance, financial planning, and long-term care insurance. Members also receive ANA's journal, professional development opportunities, and networking in their state association.

Emergency Nurses Association

The ENA dedicates itself to defining the future of emergency nursing and advocating for safe nursing practices. Members receive access to free continuing education, a community of colleagues, and the ENA's journal and newsletter.

American Association of Nurse Anesthetists

This organization has more than 52,000 nurse anesthetists members. AANA advances the profession through education; scholarships; and grants for students, practicing RNs, and faculty members.

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