Certification requirements for NPs and PAs

Preparing for certification exams can be a stressful experience, but it does not have to be. There are many resources available that can help clinicians prepare for these all-important exams.

Two useful websites when preparing for certification are the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).

The American Nurses Credentialing Center provides certification exam preparations for approximately 50 different NP, clinical nurse and other advanced-level specialties. Some of these resources include free test outlines that include key areas that will be covered on the certification test and exam sample questions. The test samples often use old test questions to provide the candidate with a realistic idea of what to expect.

Review manuals and course manuals written by nurse specialists are also available for purchase. These manuals seek to improve the candidate's critical thinking skills and help to identify areas that a candidate needs to study further. Online courses, seminars and study groups are also available, many of which meet via telephone and videoconferences. Many geographical regions have groups that meet in person at schools, hospitals and other facilities, too.

When you are ready to take your NP credentialing exam there are approximately 300 centers open nationwide, and you can find directions to these facilities on the ANNC website.

Those who wish to become a PA must take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam or Recertifying Exam. This exam is a 360 question computer-based test that assesses basic medical and surgical knowledge. Practice exams are available online at the NCCPA website to help candidates prepare.

Additionally, American Acadamy of Physician Assistants offers a comprehensive 41-hour review that features a study guide and four practice tests. Past users report a 97% pass rate on the certifying exam. Other manuals and online practice tests are available from a variety of other sources including Kaplan, Test Prep Review and Test Master.

NCCPA will also offer a new voluntary specialty certification program called the Certificate of Added Qualifying Program (CAQ) in 2011. This test will enable recognition for PAs who have experience and knowledge in the following specialties: cardiovascular and thoracic surgery, emergency medicine, nephrology, orthopedic surgery and psychiatry.

Core requirements for the CAQ are valid unrestricted licensure and current PA-C status. Other CAQ requirements include specialty specific CME credits, one-to-two years experience working within the specialty, specialty procedure and patient experience and completion of a specialty exam.

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