How to overcome 5 challenges to med-surg certification

By | 2022-05-26T13:58:51-04:00 July 31st, 2018|0 Comments

Over the years, med-surg nursing has evolved into a highly-respected nursing specialty. Nurses who work in the field are charged with providing care to patients with increasingly complex medical issues, and many choose to pursue certification to validate their expertise and increase their professional development.

Mimi Haskins, DNP, RN, CNS, CMSRN

Mimi Haskins, RN

Mimi Haskins, DNP, RN, CNS, CMSRN, immediate past president of the Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board and a corporate nurse educator at Catholic Health in Buffalo, N.Y., said becoming a Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse through the MSNCB indicates nurses have acquired additional skills, knowledge and expertise in the med-surg field. MSNCB also offers a second credential: Certified in Care Coordination and Transition Management.

We asked Haskins for tips on how to overcome common challenges that nurses may face when considering certification:

1 – Second-guessing your abilities

Doing a great job as a med-surg nurse is one thing, but some nurses may question their ability to pass a certification exam.

Haskins said nurses who have worked in med-surg for at least two years and who study for certification usually do very well and feel an extreme sense of satisfaction after passing.

“I still remember how excited I was when I passed the exam,” Haskins said. “It really validates everything you’ve learned as a nurse and demonstrates to your employer, patients and their families that you have the knowledge, skills and expertise to provide the best possible care.”

2 – Financing the process

“We offer a FailSafe Certification Program, where a healthcare facility agrees that within a year’s time, 10 of its nurses will enroll to take either the MSNCB certification exams (CMSRN and the CCCTM for those nurses working in care coordination),” Haskins said.

As a participant in the FailSafe program, hospitals get a discount on the AMSN review course.

In addition, Haskins said the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses provides grants for Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse certification and recertification to AMSN members through its grant program. Each grant is awarded semi-annually and covers the full cost of application at the member rate.

“Both AMSN and the American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing offer grants for the CCCTM exam, as well,” Haskins said.

3 – Overcoming test anxiety

For nurses who haven’t taken an exam in a while or who have test anxiety, Haskins recommends taking a practice test to prepare for the certification exam.

Haskins said the FailSafe program offers a great way to help boost confidence for nurses who may be nervous about taking an exam or are unfamiliar with computer-based testing.

“Nurses who have taken a certification review course have been shown to do better on the exam than those who haven’t,” Haskins said. “In addition, nurses feel less pressure when they know that if for any reason they don’t pass the exam on the first try, the FailSafe program allows them to repeat the exam.”

4 – Feeling ill-prepared

For nurses who have been out of school a long time, the idea of a test may seem daunting.

Haskins said going into the test feeling prepared can make a huge difference and she recommends the free 15-question sample test on

“Along with the 15-question sample test, there are also review questions that can be purchased,” Haskins said. “We offer an online practice test consisting of 75 multiple-choice questions based on the blueprint of the CMSRN exam. AMSN also offers a test question review book and the Core Curriculum for Medical-Surgical Nursing, 5th edition.”

In addition, Haskins recommends joining a study group and refreshing your knowledge by taking a practice exam to help boost confidence.

“We’re proud to have a fairly high pass rate for the certification test,” she said.

5 – Overlooking human resources

Forming a study group and preparing for the exam along with colleagues can give nurses confidence as they prepare to take the test.

Haskins said studying within a group also allows nurses to identify topics where they may need to devote additional time studying. For example, a nurse may feel confident about diabetic care but feel she could use a refresher on respiratory issues.

“Staff at my facility got together and formed a study group with each person taking a section from the Core Curriculum and reviewing with their colleagues at weekly meetings,” she said.

Maintaining certification

Once you have obtained certification, which lasts for five years, you will want to maintain your certification. To be eligible for re-certification, nurses must hold a current med-surg certification, hold a current RN license, have accrued 1,000 practice hours in a med-surg setting in the last five years and have earned 90 contact hours in the last five years.

“AMSN offers their members a free CE article monthly, and continuing education credits can also be obtained by attending the AMSN annual national conference,” Haskins said. “This is true for the CCCTM certification as well.”

In addition, college classes also may be used for continuing education. Haskins said instructions for how to do that are located on the MSNCB website.

“Most professional nursing journals also offer CE articles that can be utilized to meet the 90 CE’s in five years,” Haskins said. “Many local chapters of professional nursing organizations also have educational programs throughout the year that have CEs attached to them as well.”

Get more information on med-surg nursing in our digital edition.



About the Author:

Linda Childers is a California-based freelance writer. Her work has appeared in Arthritis Today, The California Health Report, Allure, Health Monitor, The Rheumatologist, O, The Washington Post and many other media outlets.

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