The Simple Explanation Behind the Alphabet Soup of Nursing Titles

Ever wondered what all of those letters on someone's badge or white coat mean?

When writing nursing credentials, the generally accepted and preferred method is to follow this format: 

First Name, Last Name, Degree, License, Specialty Certifications

For example, my credentials would be written as Elisabeth Collins, DNP, APRN-NP (AGACNP-BC, FNP-BC) 

DNP = degree

APRN-NP = license

AGACNP-BC, FNP-BC = specialty certifications

I choose to put my specialty certifications in parentheses, but you may also just list them. 

For instance, in the example Sarah Smith, BSN, RN, CCRN - the CCRN is a specialty certification for critical care nursing, and it is simply listed after the nurse's license (RN). 

Simple, right? 

Degree. License. Certifications. 

Side note - Some advanced practice providers choose to simply write "APRN" following their name. APRN stands for Advanced Practice Registered Nurse. Again, this is referring to a license. Since there are multiple types of APRNs (Nurse Practitioners, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists, Certified Nurse Midwifes, etc.), I choose to include the "NP" after "APRN" to distinguish that my advanced practice role is nurse practitioner (ie: APRN-NP). 

Now that we understand the order in which credentials are typically written, let's better understand what those letters actually mean. 

Below I have broken down the steps for nursing education pathways and licensure. Remember that you must have a degree before you can obtain licensure (except CNA/CMA-see below). 

Educational Path: ADN/ASN* ➡️ BSN/ABSN ➡️ MSN/MEPN ➡️ DNP/PhD/EdD

*not required, can do direct entry BSN/ABSN

Licensure Path:
CNA/CMA (no degree required) ➡️ LPN (requires practical nursing diploma) ➡️ RN (minimum ADN/ASN degree) ➡️ APRN (minimum MSN/MEPN degree).

Again, APRN stands for advanced practice registered nurse which includes but is not limited to NP. 

Keep in mind...

1. You must have a degree before obtaining a nursing license. 

2. After finishing a nursing degree, you must pass a national board exam (NCLEX for LPN/RN and ANCC or AANP for NPs) before obtaining a license. 

3. Nursing licenses are granted at the state level. 

4. You must have an RN license before sitting for APRN board certification.

5. If you have a previous degree, an accelerated nursing program may be an option for you. Keep in mind that many experienced APRNs recommend obtaining RN clinical experience before becoming an advanced practice provider. Though the roles are different (RN & NP), I agree that previous nursing experience is valuable to draw from as an advanced practice provider.

If you are considering an accelerated nursing program, here is an article that explains the ABSN and MEPN pathways pretty well.

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Categories: Nursing 101