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Sorting out medical/surgical nursing certifications

The Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board


Read our guide, then decide which certification is best for you.

PERHAPS YOU'RE considering becoming certified in the specialty of medical/surgical nursing so you'll have better job prospects, advancement possibilities, or salary. If so, you may be wondering which credentials you should try to earn. In this article, you'll learn about the options available and requirements for each, so you can make a wise choice.

Three certification exams in medical/surgical nursing are offered by two different organizations:

  1. The Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board (MSNCB), a partner organization with the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (AMSN), is the credentialing board for Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurses (CMSRN) certification. Any RN who passes the exam becomes a CMSRN. The CMSRN credential identifies a nurse as one who specializes in medical/surgical nursing. It's available to anyone who has a BSN, an associate degree (AD), or a nursing diploma.
  2. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) is a subsidiary of the American Nurses Association (ANA) and is the credentialing board for the ANA. The ANCC currently offers exams for medical/surgical nurses. You can be board certified (BC) if you're an RN with a bachelor's degree. You can be certified (C) if you're an RN with an AD or diploma in nursing. The credentials BC and C are also used for other specialty designations through the ANCC, such as geriatrics and vascular nursing.

These organizations—the MSNCB and the ANCC—are just 2 of about 40 boards or centers that offer certification exams in various nursing specialties. All of these boards offer nationally standardized exams that are prepared using accepted testing standards published jointly by the American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, and National Council on Measurement in Education.

Many nurses earn certification from boards other than the ANCC. Examples of these credentials include CCRN for critical care nursing, BCEN for emergency nursing, and OCN for oncology nursing. The AACN offers five exams that cover critical care.

Many of the certification boards are members of the American Board of Nursing Specialties (ABNS), the “board of boards” (similar to the National Board of Medical Examiners). The ABNS also accredits nursing certification boards. The MSNCB and the ANCC each produce exams that are psychometrically and legally sound. Although the ANCC has completed the process to have its medical/surgical nursing certification exams accredited through the ABNS, the MSNCB has only recently initiated the process. To apply to be accredited, an organization needs to have awarded at least 500 certificates or given three exams. The MSNCB gave its first exam in May 2003 and has awarded the credential CMSRN to over 1,500 nurses, thereby meeting the criteria to apply for ABNS accreditation.

Earning certification in your specialty validates your knowledge in the specialty, regardless of the exam's accreditation status. Seeking accreditation is a voluntary process that endorses the exam and the certification board.

The CMSRN exam came about because of requests from the membership of the AMSN. A diverse task force of AMSN members from across the country developed this exam with the leadership and guidance of the Center for Nursing Education and Testing (C-NET). This task force of professionals practicing in the specialty of medical/surgical nursing developed a comprehensive tool to measure expertise in medical/surgical nursing practice.

The MSNCB contracts with the C-NET to administer its test. The C-NET, which coordinates the development, maintenance, and administration of the CMSRN exam, has a long history as a qualified testing agency. Its many clients include the Orthopaedic Nursing Certification Board and Certification Board for Urologic Nurses and Associates.

As the specialty organization for medical/surgical nurses, the AMSN is the only professional organization dedicated to fostering excellence in medical/surgical nursing practice. The MSNCB is committed to achieving the highest level of clinical and professional functioning that ensures that the public will have the best and most cost-effective patient care, and the CMSRN certification is a declaration of this commitment. This exam is the only medical/surgical test endorsed by the AMSN.

Eligibility requirements for these exams are outlined in The ABCs of medical/surgical nursing certification requirements. All credentials are current for 5 years.

To learn more about the CMSRN exam and the exam exemption option, visit or call 1-866-877-2676.

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The ABCs of medical/surgical nursing certification requirements


Must hold a current, active RN license in the United States or its territories

Must have a minimum of 2 years' experience (during the last 5 years) as an RN in an adult medical/surgical clinical setting

Must have a BSN, associate degree (AD), or diploma

Must have a minimum of 3,000 hours of clinical practice as a staff nurse, clinical nurse specialist, clinical educator, faculty member, manager, or supervisor

No continuing education required before taking the exam

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ANCC Exams

Must hold a current, active RN license in the United States or its territories

Must have practiced the equivalent of 2 years full-time as an RN in the United States or its territories

For BC, must have a BSN; for C, must have an AD or diploma

Must have a minimum of 2,000 hours clinical practice within last 3 years (Faculty may apply 500 hours of faculty teaching or clinical supervision toward the clinical practice requirement. Students may apply up to 500 hours of time spent in academic program of nursing study toward clinical practice requirement.)

Must have 30 continuing education contact hours within the last 3 years

© 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.