The Power of Knowledge: Boosting RN Certifications in the ED

What started out as a goal of "filling up" our Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) plaque five years ago, has grown into adding a fourth plaque to accommodate the long list of our certified emergency nurses. Almost half of our staff—nearly 100 RNs — are CEN certified, making the ED an area with one of the highest rates of certifications in University Hospital.


This success can be directly attributed to the financial support, encouragement and recognition offered by UW Health. At the hospital level, nurses are reimbursed for the exam fee upon passing the exam as well as for the renewal for their existing certification. Additionally, certified nurses receive a $300 bonus each year for their certification, providing they have met all other qualifications.


Certification review courses from the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) e-Learning, are offered to emergency nurses at no cost and the classes always fill.Beyond the financial incentives that the hospital provides, the support and recognition for certification has carried the most sustainable impact. Certification review courses from the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) e-Learning, are offered to emergency nurses at no cost and the classes always fill. Before the nurses receive access to the course, they sign a letter of agreement saying they will take the CEN exam. Almost all of the nurses successfully pass the exam upon completion of this course. 


ED certified nurses are recognized in the department's electronic newsletter and an article also gets posted on UW Health's intranet around the time of National Certified Nurses Day—recognizing the value of all certified nurses—and thanking the more than 800 UW Health nurses who are certified.


In the past, a Certification Reception/Breakfast was held in honor of certified nurses, but because the event couldn't accommodate all shifts, a new and more personalized congratulatory packet from nursing leadership will be sent to each certified nurse."


Support continues for earning contact hours. Every month, the hospital provides education with contact hours and if a nurse cannot attend, he/she can watch the archived education electronically and receive contact hours. Specific clinical emergency education is also offered to all staff with contact hours. Since many ED nurses are ENA members, many take advantage of the free educational offerings that ENA has for their members and receive contact hours. One seasoned nurse was so impressed with the offerings that he made a point to tell his colleagues and spread the news.


Recently, a nurse who had started as a new graduate two years ago passed the CEN exam. Upon learning this, the nurse's big smile revealed the pride in the accomplishment. Ironically, this particular RN initially struggled with the transition from student nurse to staff nurse in a very busy ED. Eventually, the nurse adapted well, continued to grow professionally and is highly respected in the ED. 


One nurse commented aloud, while holding up their passing score, "I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it," which I think definitely gave that nurse the boost that was needed. Perhaps, this statement reflects the sentiment of many of our staff nurses, as their confidence increases when they bring in their passing scores. This confidence seems to carry over to other professional behaviors: they join committees, they ask to precept and they seek the continuation of their learning with great enthusiasm.