What's the right way to list your nursing credentials?

Credentials are a form of communication

We have all seen multiple streams of initials after nurses’ names. This can make someone seem intimidating, especially if the credentials are paired with a long work title. A frequently asked question is how should nurses list their nursing credentials after their name? What do these initials mean? What initials do you include? Why do nurses feel the need to even do this? Is there a difference in listing credentials if a nurse is in academia versus service? Well, let me answer these questions for you.

First, we use initials to communicate some general knowledge about ourselves. I will use my own degrees and other credentials as example. (The American Nurses Credentialing Center also provides a great handout on this topic.)

The preferred order of credentials for all nurses, regardless of employment setting, is as follows:

• Highest degree earned

• Licensure

• State designations or requirements

• National certification

• Awards and honors

• Other recognitions

So, why this order? The order is in degree of permanence. The degree is first, as it cannot be taken away unless in rare circumstances. Then, your license, which is required for you to practice; you may choose not to renew it, but you would still have your degree. Licensure is followed by state designations and national certifications, which are usually time limited and need to be maintained through continuing education. You could let this lapse, but you would still be an RN. Next, the voluntary credentials. Awards, honors and recognitions are not required for practice.

Following the above, here is my signature line and how I note my initials: Jennifer Mensik, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN. Occasionally, I use Jennifer Mensik, PhD, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN. (I explain why shortly.)

Here is what it would look like, if I used all of my initials: Jennifer Mensik, PhD, MBA/HCM, BSN, ADN, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN. This is overkill.

Start at the top

First, you only should note your highest degree earned. In my case, it is my PhD. I normally drop other degrees because the PhD “trumps” them all. This is especially true if your other credentials are in the same profession. For instance, my associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree and PhD are all in nursing, therefore I only note my PhD. If I had a master’s degree in nursing, I would leave that off, too. However, my master’s degree is in business administration, so I include it. This would be true if I had an undergraduate or graduate degree in a different field. I do not usually like using a long list of initials after my name, but if I feel it is important in communicating with someone, I will add my MBA to my signature line.

Next, I note my RN degree, which is the only license I have. If you are an APRN, your state and certifying body will no doubt have their required way to note your credentials. Check with your state board of nursing to ensure you are representing yourself correctly with your degree and state credentials. I have heard people say they note their RN first after their name because they work in service and not academia. There is no separate manner in which to communicate to others based on employment setting; there is only one way, and it is the way I note here.

Many of us have both professional and technical credentials; however, only professional certification initials go after our names. ANCC also maintains a thorough list of generally accepted national professional certifications (for Magnet for instance), which includes both ANCC and non-ANCC professional certifications. These certifications acknowledge a higher level of achievement in a body of knowledge and that one is more than competent in a certain area.

National certifications, such as my NEA-BC (nurse executive advanced, board-certified) tells others that I have attained and continually maintain advanced knowledge in my specialty area, nurse management and leadership. If I noted someone had CCRN, I would know he or she has expert knowledge as a critical care nurse.

Technical certifications include certifications around a technical skill set, like ACLS, BLS, PALS and others. We do not note technical certifications after our names, but we would list them in a resume or CV in the skills section.

Finally, I note my FAAN. The Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing is an important accomplishment for nursing. There are other “Fellow” programs and designations in specialty areas, such as wound care and informatics. Each are acknowledgements and recognition of one’s accomplishments. I am one of about 2,400 nurses with FAAN credentials in the world, who was accepted into the academy based on my contributions to our profession and after an extensive application process.

There also is a personal recognition piece to this topic that everyone needs to acknowledge. We should be proud of our accomplishments and to note them. I have heard conversations in which others feel slighted at a lack of credentials or made fun of nurses with many credentials for thinking they are better than nurses with fewer credentials. None of this should be the case.

I think of our initials as our professional “clinical ladder” of sorts — a way to contribute to our profession in many ways. We all should be proud of who we are and where we are in our own stages as professional nurses.

Need tips on how to earn a degree via distance learning? Click here


About the author
Jennifer Mensik, PhD, RN, FAAN

Jennifer Mensik, PhD, RN, FAAN 

Jennifer S. Mensik, PhD, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, is vice president of CE programming for OnCourse Learning, and a faculty member for the Arizona State University College of Nursing and Health Innovation DNP program. Mensik’s specialty focus crosses many avenues including leadership, health policy, staffing, professional practice, education and the voice of nursing.

25 responses to “What’s the right way to list your nursing credentials?”

    • You would use both, particularly if your DNP was your terminal clinical degree (like NP). Your PhD is your research degree so listing both is appropriate. I have seen physician use both MD, PhD as well as PhD, MD so I would say if you needed to choose one way, I would say PhD, DNP.

    • If you completed both, then you use both. There are many dual PhD/DNP programs. If you only completed a PhD, then you note a PhD. If you completed only a DNP, then you note only a DNP. They are two separate degrees.

  1. I was a registered dietitian prior to becoming a nurse, and I still maintain the credential.
    I also just completed and MSN in Nursing Informatics.
    How should I list my credentials?

    • Tara, go ahead and list your credentials as: MSN, RN, RD (based on the information above) unless your MSN is noted in a different way from your school, in which list it as the school notes it followed by RN, RD.

  2. I have a question related to credentialing. What is the difference between a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and a Bachelor of Science with a major in nursing (BS) degree? Similarly, what is the difference between a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and a Master of Science with a major in nursing degree? Does it matter which credential (BSN versus BS or MSN versus MS) nurses use as a credential after their names?

    • Darrel, The difference comes from what degree the school confers to the graduate. Your diploma and transcript will say exactly what degree the College or School conferred to you. It could be a BS or BSN, or MN or MSN. One would need to use the credential initials the equal the degree that was conferred. If you don’t have a BSN, but a BS, then you need to state those credentials. The difference comes from the focus of perhaps more art versus research or vice versa in the course program. All are accepted equally in nursing.

  3. I have two certifications- CNL from my MSN program and PCCN. Which one should I list first or does it even matter?

  4. My orthopedic surgeon has a PhD and and MD, and in talking with him about this subject, he told me that a PhD is considered a higher academic achievement than the MD, so he lists his credentials as PhD, MD,…

  5. According to you write-up you did not earn a PhD. You earned a DNP which is NOT the same. The two are not nor have they ever been equal and interchangeable. As such, your initials are incorrect. The DNP degree is a practice doctorate. The PhD is a research doctorate. Not the same…unless of course you have both – but you didn’t list that.

    • That’s the whole lack of consensus on whether the DNP is valid. Yet another made up degree by professional nursing students who can’t or don’t practice clinically.

    • According to the article, she earned a PhD but teaches in a DNP program. I’m in a PhD program but see the value of a DNP and do not appreciate your comments.

  6. I have my MSN, my RN, my CNOR and recognized as a member of the International Nursing Honor Society. Do I include;and if so, how do I include the Honor Society recognition?

    • Sabra, you would note your credentials as: MSN, RN, CNOR. There are no credentials or initials for STTI membership, but you would definitely make sure you note this on your resume/CV.

  7. Hi I have completed a post graduate certification in health care informatics, how would i list that, or would I just include it on a CV?

    • Patricia,

      Since it isn’t a new degree (a certificate instead) then list it under education on your CV. Of course if you are certified in informatics, make sure you list that certification after your educational degrees.

  8. I am a Diploma RN with a PhD in a non-medical field. When listing my credentials for a nursing position I typically leave off the PhD or put it at the end, so as not to imply that I have advanced nursing training, however I do list my nursing certification. Is that what you would recommend?

    Thank you.

    • Cecilia,

      This is a personal call, but on your resume/CV, I would definitely noted that you have a PhD and in what field. That is an accomplishment. I have heard hiring managers who are concerned on why someone with a PhD or other doctorate would want to practice at the bedside. More managers than not are welcoming of doctoral and masters prepared RNs practicing at the bedside. Additionally, if this is an organization on the Magnet journey or Magnet, they welcome you to practice at the bedside. If you are going to list it, I would still list PhD, RN. You do not have to list any of your credentials along side your name beyond RN, but if I was in your position, I would list the PhD.

  9. Yikes! Controversy! I have learned that those with fewer initials after their names sometimes resent those who have more, or think they are bragging if they display those initials. I leave most of mine off, except for when I feel they are needed to establish my qualifications.

    People say “over-educated, over-qualified”, or other such things, and I think they are assuming education=pay rate, which it is not. Education makes a person perhaps more qualified, perhaps not, depending on the job. I do not even mention my MBA for the most part, because I am a nurse, and it is not relevant to most things that I do.

    I am grateful for this article as I have seen initials listed many different ways and I think consistency is important for us all to be able to interpret initials correctly.

  10. Hello Jennifer,
    I am a certified Case Manager (CM) through ANCC. My Certificate shows I am certified in Nursing Case Management RN-BC. Based on your credentials NEA-BC, people will know what you are certified in. No one knows what I am certified in with RN-BC.
    Any suggestions? I am currently in my last class for my Masters so I will then have MSN, RN-BC after my name however, again, what about my CM?

    Thank you,

  11. all this alphabet soup is ridiculous, all of the nurses and all the degrees, a simple RN is all that’s needed, all those letters do not make you a better nurse, in fact too many nurses have their noses in the books for the almighty degree instead of hands on patient care

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