7 Reasons to Become a Progressive Care Certified Nurse
By Robbie Gould on 09/19/2023
In the ever-evolving world of healthcare, being armed with the right skills and knowledge can make all the difference when it comes to your career opportunities and patient outcomes. Enter the Progressive Care Certified Nurse (PCCN®) certification, a beacon of excellence for active nurses across the healthcare landscape.
In this article, we unravel the significance of the progressive nurse certification, why it holds the key to unlocking exciting career opportunities and delivering exceptional patient care, as well as how to obtain certification and essential information about the certified nurse PCCN exam.
Whether you are a nursing student eager to stand out or an experienced nurse seeking professional growth or a leadership role, join us as we explore how this certification empowers nurses to navigate the complex realm of progressive care with confidence and expertise.
What is the PCCN certificate?
PCCN stands for Progressive Care Certified Nurse. It is a specialized certification offered by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN®) for registered nurses (RNs) who demonstrate advanced knowledge and skills in providing direct care for acutely ill adult patients in progressive care or telemetry units.
The PCCN certificate validates a nurse's proficiency in providing comprehensive care to patients who require intermediate-level monitoring and interventions. In other words, it is like a special badge that nurses can earn to show they're qualified and competent at taking care of patients who need more than basic care, but not as much as those who are very sick.
Why is the PCCN certificate important?
The progressive care nurse certificate is important because it signifies specialized expertise, enhances patient care, offers career advancement opportunities, validates professional competence, instills trust in patients and fosters professional growth and a sense of community among RNs.
Obtaining a PCCN certificate holds great significance for both RNs and the adult patients they care for. Here are some specific reasons behind why a PCCN certificate matters:
1. Enhanced skills and aptitude
The certification signifies that a nurse has attained the education and mastered the skills to provide comprehensive care to acutely ill patients in intermediate conditions.
With this certification, RNs develop a deep understanding of cardiac and respiratory disorders, postoperative care and multi-system failures. They gain expertise in interpreting complex monitoring data and identifying subtle changes in a patient's condition.
A progressive care certified nurse also acquires advanced skills in administering and managing medications specific to a patient's needs, ensuring safe and effective treatment.
2. Improved patient outcomes
A progressive care certified nurse develops enhanced critical thinking skills that enable them to make informed decisions, prevent complications and optimize treatment plans.
These RNs are well-versed in recognizing early warning signs and implementing appropriate interventions, leading to faster recovery, reduced complications and overall improved patient outcomes.
3. Career advancement opportunities
With this specialized credential, progressive care nurses can pursue leadership positions within progressive care units or other healthcare settings. They can become eligible for specialized roles, such as a clinical nurse specialist, clinical supervisor or nurse educator, where they can contribute their expertise and help shape the future of progressive care nursing.
These certified RNs are also more competitive candidates for higher-paying positions and have increased opportunities for professional development.1
4. Recognition and professional credibility
The certification for progressive care nurses is widely recognized and respected in the healthcare industry. It establishes the nurse's credibility as an expert and sets them apart from their peers. It also demonstrates their commitment to maintaining high standards of patient care and professionalism.
5. Personal and professional growth
Pursuing and achieving a progressive care nurse certification requires dedication, continuous learning and self-improvement. It fosters personal and professional growth, expands knowledge and enhances critical thinking and decision-making abilities.
The certificate could provide a sense of accomplishment and pride in your expertise and abilities as a care provider.
6. Recognition and trust
Patients and healthcare employers recognize the value of PCCN-certified RNs. The certification instills confidence in patients and their families, knowing they are receiving care from an expert nurse. Employers also trust these advanced RNs to deliver high-quality care and may prioritize hiring or promoting RNs with this certification.1
Leadership and the progressive care nurse certification go hand in hand, as the certification equips RNs with the expertise and confidence to guide and advocate for patients in their care.
7. Professional community
The PCCN certificate connects RNs with a broader community of like-minded professionals. They can network, share tips and collaborate with fellow PCCN RNs, creating opportunities for continued learning and professional support.
How to obtain PCCN certification
After completing your nursing education, you will gain hands-on experience in progressive care settings, honing your skills and comprehension. Then, you will embark on a dedicated study regimen to prepare for the certified nurse PCCN test.
These are the five steps toward PCCN certification:
- Enroll in and graduate from a nursing program with a bachelor's degree (BSN) or an associate's (ADN)
- Pass the NCLEX-RN® exam and meet state requirements for RN licensure
- Complete clinical practice hour requirements
- Apply for and pass the PCCN exam
- If you pass the PCCN exam, then you will be certified as a progressive care nurse!
What's the PCCN exam like?
The PCCN exam is computer-based, although you can choose to take a conventional paper-and-pencil exam by scheduling ahead of time (at least 4 months ahead of time). The certification exam is administered by the AACN. It assesses a nurse's clinical judgment and proficiency in progressive care nursing.
The exam consists of multiple-choice questions that cover various topics, including cardiovascular, pulmonary, endocrine, neurology, gastrointestinal, renal and multisystem disorders.
The content of the progressive care nurse exam aligns with the AACN Synergy Model for Patient Care, with a majority (80%) of the test emphasizing clinical judgment, while the remaining portion (20%) centers around professional caring and ethical practice.
The PCCN Test Plan, which can be found in the PCCN Exam Handbook, offers a detailed breakdown of the different content areas covered on the exam.
The test questions are designed to evaluate your understanding of clinical assessment, monitoring, interventions and pharmacological management related to progressive care nursing.
The PCCN examination costs $200 for AACN members or $305 for non-members. The computer-based exam is timed, and you will need to complete the test in 2.5 hours. The number of test questions is 125 – 25 of which are used to gather data.
How long does it take to become certified?
The timeline to obtain a progressive care nurse certification can range from a few weeks to a few months, depending on individual factors such as eligibility, exam preparation and exam scheduling availability.
Make sure to plan ahead, allocate sufficient time for preparation and consider any personal or professional commitments that may impact your exam study schedule.
Assuming you already have your RN license, here is a general outline of long it would take you to pass the exam and obtain a progressive care nurse certification:
Eligibility validation: A few days to a few weeks
During the online application process, this step involves verifying your current RN license and documenting the required hours of bedside care experience (direct care of acutely ill adult patients).
PCCN Exam preparation: Several weeks
This amount of exam prep time varies based on your prior knowledge and experience. Make sure to study the PCCN exam handbook – this will be your best, most essential study resource.
Scheduling the exam: Several weeks
When you feel prepared, you can schedule future exams at a testing center or through live remote proctoring.
Exam day: 2.5 hours
Nursing students will have 2.5 hours to complete the computer-based exam.
Once you pass the exam, you will receive a score report and an official certification confirmation from the AACN.
If you take the test on the computer, your results will be available immediately upon completion of the exam (same-day processing). But paper and pencil exams take longer to grade and return, in which case you can expect to have your results in 6 to 8 weeks.
Clinical practice hours requirement
To become a certified progressive care nurse, you will need to meet one of the following clinical practice hour eligibility requirements:
Two-year option: You must have an RN or APRN license and have actively practiced direct care for acutely ill adults during the previous two years for 1,750 hours and at least 875 of those hours accrued in the most recent year.2
Five-year option: You must have an RN or APRN license and actively practice direct care for acutely ill adults during the previous five years for 2,000 hours and at least 144 of those hours accrued in the most recent year.2
The certification for progressive care nurses is valid for three years. To maintain the certification, nurses must meet the renewal requirements, which typically includes continuing education and professional practice hours.
To renew your certificate, you have two options.
- Renew using synergy Continuing Education Recognition Points (CERPs). $150 for AACN members and $230 for nonmembers
- Renew by Exam. $140 for AACN members and $220 for nonmembers
What are the differences between Progressive Care Nurses and Critical Care Nurses?
Progressive care nurses are not specifically categorized as critical care nurses (CCNs). While both progressive care nurses and critical care nurses provide direct care for patients with complex medical conditions, there are some distinctions between the two roles.
Progressive care nurses focus on providing specialized care to adult patients in intermediate care, typically in progressive care or telemetry units. These units are designed for adults who require more monitoring and interventions than general medical-surgical units but do not require the level of care provided in intensive care units (ICUs).
On the other hand, critical care nurses work in intensive care units (ICUs) and provide specialized care to critically ill or unstable adults with an elevated risk, who require constant monitoring, advanced life support and interventions. Critical care nurses are trained to handle a wider range of critical conditions and often care for patients with severe respiratory, cardiac, neurological or multi-system disorders.
Is the PCCN certification exam accredited?
Yes! The progressive care nurse exam is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA®).2
Your future as a PCCN
For RNs and students aspiring to obtain the progressive care nurse certification, the journey holds tremendous potential.
Beyond the acquisition of specialized knowledge and skills and career advancement opportunities, the progressive care nurse certificate opens doors to leadership opportunities within the field.
With the progressive care certificate in hand, you can embark on a career path that not only ensures exceptional care but also empowers you to become a leader who drives positive change, influences best practices and inspires fellow RNs.
The progressive care nurse certificate will certainly position you in a leadership position. If you are interested in nurse leadership then check out this article to learn if a BSN is the key to unlocking leadership and management positions. Quick hint: it is.
PCCN® is a registered trademark of AACN Certification Corporation
AACN® is a registered trademark of AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF CRITICAL-CARE NURSES, INC.
NCCA® is a registered trademark of INSTITUTE FOR CREDENTIALING EXCELLENCE CORPORATION
NCLEX-RN® is a registered trademark of National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc.
1Relias. Impact of Nursing Certification on nurses, healthcare employers and patients. Date accessed: 6/1/23. https://aann.org/uploads/Meetings/2020/WhitePaper_ACU_Certification.pdf
2American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, PCCN (Adult,) [accessed 9/19/2023] https://www.aacn.org/certification/get-certified/pccn-adult