Why Pursue Professional Certifications

When I first started to practice nursing, about 35 years ago, some people believed the old adage: “a nurse is a nurse.”  Institutions, such as the one for which I worked at the time, implemented cross-training of the nursing staff so we could “float” to one unit or another and cover for short-staffing in a competent way. For instance, I worked in the intensive care nursery (ICN or NICU) and thus, I had to cross-train to the PICU or Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, or Emergency Room of our Children’s Hospital.  Let’s just say that I was never confident in floating to those units, despite any on the job training I might have received. I never put any faith in the statement, “a nurse, is a nurse, is a nurse.” Sure, we all have (or should have) a similar educational base, but our work environments also mold us and provide increasing degrees of training specific to the clientele for which we cared. No, a nurse is not just a nurse, nor can they provide competent care on any unit to which they are sent.

I do not know if this cross-training still takes place or the mentality has stayed the same for its been since the late 1980’s that I was a unit nurse. But, this memory got me thinking of how I have always worked to establish myself as an expert in the area in which I find myself working.  When I left the unit, I was in graduate school to become a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP) and eventually teach nursing at the university level.  I was required, by my employer at the time, to obtain national certification as a PNP. So, without question, I did so. I sat for that exam in Washington D.C. at Children’s National Hospital. It was the early 1990s.  I obtained that certification on my first sitting and held it for over fifteen years – much longer than I practiced as CPNP. When I look back on it now, I think that by repeatedly becoming recertified, I legitimized my knowledge in a professional world to which I no longer belonged (because I stopped working as a nurse practitioner when we moved to the midwest).

Other interests led me to obtain a certification as a Master Gardener Volunteer. I held this certification in an active, “good” standing for the last 15 years. Master Gardener training involves an initial semester worth of classes and annual continuing education, along with service hours after that. Becoming a master gardener volunteer allowed me to teach our youth and community members about horticultural and environmental issues. The certification again allowed me to prove to myself and others that I was a legitimate authority on the subjects on which I spoke.

The more I taught, the more I developed my own curriculum and lesson plans for the garden club which I founded and ran. I found the way to really know that material which I taught was to learn it first myself by developing the material that would fill a 45-minute topic exploration followed by a 45-minute hands-on project. After leading the garden club for 12 years, I decided to return to graduate school once again to legitimize my knowledge in environmental education. At the time, I was accepting speaking engagements for local groups including classrooms, service groups like the Lions Club, and gardening groups. Again, it became important to me to legitimize my knowledge base. Although, this time I pursued a second master’s degree, instead of certification.

Obviously, being a credible source and professional who is in possession of expertise in her subject area is important to me. This might not be the case for everyone. In fact, I am sure it is not. However, when it comes to teaching and learning, a person who has been trained to teach is just as important as having a nurse who is competent in his/her area of care. You see, there is more to teaching than just disseminating information or being a communicator. Thorough knowledge of human development, as well as a command of the subject matter and how (methods) to engage youth or our communities is extremely important. 

No – certifications and degrees do not guarantee you’ll get a passionate, dynamic speaker or teacher, but they might make it more likely. I am proud that I took steps to legitimize my knowledge. I believe it makes me a more credible source to other educators, community members, and those who will inherit the earth.

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