The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) provides two significant certifications for improving your nursing career in critical or progressive care settings: PCCN (Progressive Care Certified Nurse) and CCRN (Critical Care Registered Nurse). These qualifications are customized to specific nursing specialties and can bring significant benefits. Choosing which certification to pursue involves a full understanding of the various credentials, their qualification criteria, and how they relate to your professional goals.
In this discussion, we will examine the fundamental distinctions between PCCN vs CCRN certifications, allowing you to make an informed and right decision about which certification is best for your nursing career progression. Let’s check it out now!
What are the PCCN and CCRN?
Progressive Care Certified Nurse (PCCN)
Progressive Care Certified Nurse is an AACN Certification Corporation recognized service mark that represents certification in adult progressive care nursing. The American Association of Critical Care Nurses uses the term progressive care to describe areas where acutely ill patients are cared for, such as intermediate care units, direct observation units, stepdown units, telemetry units, transitional care units, and emergency departments, as well as to define a specific level of patient care. The AACN acknowledges progressive care as part of the critical care continuum.
Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN)
Critical Care Registered Nurse certification is a specialist credential obtained via the completion of an exam. This credential recognizes nurses who have proven advanced knowledge and abilities in caring for critically ill patients and their families.
The CCRN certification test evaluates a nurse’s knowledge and skill in critical care nursing, including areas such as hemodynamics, pharmacology, and patient evaluation. Nurses who pass the test are deemed to have advanced critical care nursing knowledge and abilities.
What are the differences between PCCN vs CCRN?
While both certifications are offered by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, they target different nursing specialties.
The first step to register for certification testing, you must fulfill a few fundamental conditions. The fundamental criterion for PCCN certification is that you be a presently licensed registered nurse (RN) or advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).
In addition to the nursing license, you must additionally satisfy one of the following requirements:
- Over the last two years, you must have completed at least 1,750 hours of direct care.
You must have at least 1,750 hours of direct care experience for adult patients to meet this criterion. These hours must have been completed during the last two years, with 875 done within the last year. You will almost likely fulfill this criterion if you have worked full-time as an RN or APRN in the last two years. (A year of full-time work is roughly 2,000 hours.)
- Five years with 2,000 hours in adult direct care
Working as an RN or APRN for five years with at least 2,000 hours of direct care for adult patients is the other option. At least 144 of these hours must have been performed within the last year.
Experience as a nurse manager or nurse preceptor may also qualify for eligibility for progressive care nursing certification. Applicants may, for example, use their expertise as a chief nursing officer to apply for this degree.
The first stage in the CCRN Certification Requirements procedure is simple. To practice nursing in the United States, you must first have a valid nursing license. The state board of nursing must verify and approve your license. When filling out your CCRN application, you must include your RN or APRN license number.
The following phase in the CCRN Certification Requirements procedure is more in-depth. To take the CCRN test, you must first demonstrate that you have worked in a critical care setting for a certain number of hours. Furthermore, you must have completed these hours lately.
The AACN provides nurses with the following opportunities for completing clinical practice hours:
- Option 1 – Practice as an RN or APRN for 1,750 hours in the direct care of acutely ill or critically ill patients in the past 2 years. Of those hours, you must have accrued 875 hours (or half) in your most recent year before applying for your CCRN certification.
- Option 2 – Practice as an RN or APRN for at least 5 years with a minimum of 2,000 hours spent in the direct care of acutely ill or critically ill patients. Of those hours, 144 must be accrued in the most recent year before applying for your certification.
This option permits nurses with more years of experience to sit for the CCRN test, even if they have previously worked in departments that offer acute care. Nurses who have previously worked in other hospital units or on a part-time basis, for example, can still earn this certification if they match the hourly criteria.
Nurses who are qualified to take the CCRN test typically work in the following settings: ICUs, CCUs, Specialty ICUs (surgical, medical, cardiac, respiratory, neuro), Pediatric ICUs, Neonatal ICUs, Critical care transport (ground and flight), Trauma units, Emergency departments, and Nurse Anesthesia.
Especially, there are additional parameters for reaching your hourly needs:
- Demographics of the Patient’s Age: Your qualifying hours must apply to the age category for which you are testing. The CCRN permits nurses to specialize in neonatal, pediatric, or adult critical care. As a result, if you solely care for adult patients, you can only take the Adult CCRN test. Nurses who care for several patient groups and complete the hourly criteria may, however, sit for multiple CCRN tests (for example, pediatric and adult).
- Practice location: You must finish your hours in a facility located in the United States or Canada. If your hospital is not located in one of these countries, you must ensure that it satisfies the US standard of acute and critical care nursing practice. The Joint Commission and the Magnet® designation have established these requirements. Joint Commission International can tell you if your facility satisfies these requirements. Your qualifying hours must apply to the age category for which you are testing. The CCRN permits nurses to specialize in neonatal, pediatric, or adult critical care.
PCCN vs CCRN exam
You must complete a 2.5-hour pass/fail examination consisting of 125 multiple-choice questions, 100 of which are scored, and the remaining are used to collect data for future tests. The examination will solely ask questions regarding adult patients.
The test is scored against a predetermined score, so you must obtain a specific quantity to pass. This score is determined by an exam development committee. This committee thoroughly examines each test question and establishes the basic knowledge expected of an examinee. A minimum score of 68 out of 100 is required to pass the PCCN exam.
The exam will put you to the test in the following areas. The items are based on the AACN Synergy Model for Patient Care, which is a conceptual framework that connects patient requirements to nursing abilities. Take note of the proportion of the exam allotted to each topic.
Clinical Judgement (80%):
- Cardiovascular (33%)
- Pulmonary (14%)
- Endocrine/Hematology/Gastrointestinal/ Renal (18%)
- Neurology/Multisystem/Behavioral (15%)
Professional Caring and Ethical Practices (20%):
- Systems Thinking
- Clinical Inquiry
- Facilitation of Learning
- Response to Diversity
- Caring Practices
Check out PCCN Practice Questions to help you focus on the areas where you are looking for improvement.
The CCRN examinations are 3-hour assessments with 150 multiple-choice questions. 125 of the 150 items are scored, while the remaining 25 are utilized to collect statistical data on item performance for future tests. To pass the exam, you will need to get at least 83/125, which is merely 66.4%.
The AACN provides a CCRN test strategy that nurses may use to prepare for the exam. The test will mostly consist of clinical questions, but it will also include nursing leadership, ethics, diversity, and advocacy. The following is a breakdown of the exam content:
Clinical Judgement (80%):
Cardiovascular system (17%)
Professional Caring and Ethical Practice (20%):
Facilitation of learning
When you look at the CCRN exam plan, you will notice that each category covers a wide range of topics. When investigating, however, there are a few areas you should focus on, such as electrolyte imbalances, diabetes insipidus, ARD, hemodynamic measures (such as SVR and cardiac output), and renal impairment.
You must retain your current, unencumbered RN or APRN license and complete the Renewal by Synergy CERPs program criteria or pass the PCCN test within your 3-year certification term. You must also have completed 432 hours of direct care of severely sick adult patients, with 144 of those hours acquired in the 12 months before your planned renewal date.
You must retain a valid, unencumbered RN or APRN license and satisfy Renewal by Synergy CERP (Continuing Education Recognition Points) program criteria or pass the CCRN test within the 3-year certification term. You must additionally complete 432 hours of direct care of acutely/critically sick patients, with 144 of those hours accrued in the 12 months before your planned renewal date. The bulk of your renewal-eligible hours (total and in the year preceding renewal) must be spent on critically ill patients.
Which Certification Should I Take? PCCN vs CCRN
PCCN certification helps you maintain an up-to-date knowledge base of care for acutely ill adult patients. In addition to providing you with a sense of professional pride and achievement, PCCN certification reinforces the special knowledge and experiences required for progressive care nursing. Research studies link higher levels of clinical knowledge, skill and experience with certification.
CCRN certification helps you maintain an up-to-date knowledge base of acute and critical care nursing. In addition to providing you with a sense of professional pride and achievement, CCRN certification reinforces the special knowledge and experiences required for acute and critical care nursing. Research studies link higher levels of clinical knowledge, skill and experience with CCRN certification.
Can I meet the PCCN clinical hour eligibility requirement for practice hours completed outside the U.S.?
Eligible clinical practice hours for AACN Certification Corporation exams and certification renewal are those completed in facilities located in the United States or Canada, or in facilities that have been determined to be comparable to the United States standard of acute/critical care nursing practice, as evidenced by Magnet® designation or Joint Commission International accreditation.
What happens if you fail the PCCN certification test?
If you fail the PCCN exam, you can retake it as many times as you want, up to 4 times a year (3 months between each test session). Every time you want to retake the test, you’ll have to pay a retest fee, which is discounted from the original fee.
What if I care for both adult and pediatric patients?
You can take the Adult and Pediatric CCRN examinations if you satisfy the clinical hour criteria for both patient categories.
Hours spent caring for the patient group — adult, pediatric, or neonatal — connected to the exam for which you are seeking are eligible. You may not identify yourself as a CCRN if you just have Adult CCRN certification and are caring for pediatric or neonatal patients.
If I work in an Emergency Department, am I eligible to renew my CCRN?
The AACN Certification Corporation recognizes that critical care nursing happens outside of the typical ICU/CCU context. Acutely and critically sick patients, regardless of the clinical setting, require trained, clinically competent nurses.
If you have left an ICU-type setting to work in another area with acutely/critically ill patients and can sign your honor statement in good faith that you have completed the clinical hours, with the majority of the hours required for eligibility with critically ill patients, you will be able to keep your CCRN certification.
Why a progressive care certification?
National progressive care nursing practice studies undertaken in 2008 and 2012 confirmed the progressive care environment, patient populations treated, and core competencies, fundamental knowledge, and abilities required of progressive care nurses.
The acuity of hospitalized patients has continuously grown, as needs critical care beds. Because of the high demand for and scarcity of critical care beds, patients are frequently transferred from critical care units while still requiring a high degree of nursing care and attention. Patients who were previously hospitalized in intensive care units are now frequently transferred to progressive care units.
In conclusion, when choosing between PCCN vs CCRN certificates, consider your career objectives as well as the nursing specialization you want to pursue. PCCN certification is for nurses who work in progressive care units, whereas CCRN certification is for critical care nurses. PCCN certification may be more matched with your practice if you usually work with severely unwell adult patients in intermediate care settings. If your primary concentration is on caring for critically sick patients in intensive care units, CCRN certification may be the preferable option.
It is also a good idea to go through the qualifying requirements for each certification, as they may differ in terms of clinical hours and continuing education. Eventually, your selection should be based on your professional goals and the nursing specialization that best fits your career path.
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