Lifelong Learning

Whatever Your Motivation, Continuing Education is the New Normal.


Although a laundry list of RN certifications exist for a variety of specialties, here’s a closer look at three:

AIDS Certified Registered Nurse (ACRN)

Have an interest and background in working with HIV/AIDS patients? The HIV/AIDS Nursing Certification Board (HANCB) offers this certification, as well as the Advanced AIDS Certification Registered Nurse. The certification proves a nurse has knowledge of the HIV/AIDS specialized practice, spanning both the physical and psychosocial aspects, on par with the national standard.

Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN)

Since 1989, the Pediatric Nursing Board has been offering this specialized certification with its focus on pediatric care. The organization strives to make sure its exams reflect current practice. To date, more than 23,000 nurses hold the CPN certification.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

This advance practice nurse certification requires a master’s degree from an accredited nurse anesthesia educational program. It allows the recipient to administer anesthesia, as well as give pre- and postoperative assessments of the patient.


Which doctorate should I choose?

Those looking for a terminal degree in nursing strive for a doctorate. But selecting the appropriate doctorate depends entirely upon a nurse’s specific career direction. While both types of nursing doctorates certainly enhance credibility with colleagues and patients, they each fit their own concentrations.


This type of nursing doctorate is research-based and zeroes in on the creation of new science. Leaders of nursing research departments, nurse researchers and nursing professors are among those best fit for a nursing PhD.


The doctorate of nursing practice primarily focuses on actual evidence-based practice. Nurses working in evidence-based practice departments or those who want to work as providers —similar to a nurse practitioner, but on a doctorate level— should consider a DNP.

Continuing Education Nursing Story

By Jon Waterhouse

With your RN license fresh off the press, slipping into a pair of nursing scrubs may have never felt as satisfying. Yet ask any seasoned nurse and she’ll tell you your education has just begun. You’ll soon learn that professional evolution and soaking up knowledge like an operating room sponge should be – and had better be — a career-spanning experience.

Continuing education, from advanced degrees to specific certifications, remains a key component in the nursing field. According to “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health,” a 2010 report published by the Institute of Medicine, by 2020 the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission should work to make sure that at least 10 percent of all baccalaureate graduates pursue a master’s or doctoral program within five years of graduation.

Navigating your continuing nursing education comes with questions. Who should dive into a master’s degree? How does chipping away at a doctorate benefit a nursing career? What about certifications?

To get some perspectives from the field, we spoke to a trio of professionals who expanded their nursing careers in their own, distinctive ways.

Gail Klein, M.Ed., BSN, RN-BC

Vice President, Nursing at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

Background: After nearly 20 years as an adult healthcare bedside nurse in various settings and hospitals, Klein found herself at Children’s in 1996. Her interest in education eventually landed her in the Clinical Learning department. Klein became a clinical educator in the unit, helping nurses embrace new skills and competencies. Later she moved into the Children’s centralized clinical staff development learning department and became a director. After receiving her certification in Nursing Professional Development in 2007, Klein began pursuing a Master in Education at the University of Georgia, where she graduated in 2009. Today she serves as Children’s Vice President of Nursing, part of a leadership team spearheading practice decisions and ways to strengthen patient care, hospital quality and the nursing work environment.

On her master’s:

“I decided I wanted more background in adult learning theory and organizational development. So I completed a master’s degree in education with a focus on human resources and organizational development. It’s not a nursing master’s degree, but I found it very useful, as it was directly related to my career focus at the time. I went back into the clinical arena, and now I’m an administrative nursing leader. That knowledge about how organizations work and how people work as teams really helps me every day in what I do… . There are many nurse leaders that have non-nursing master’s degrees. 10 or 15 years ago, many nurse leaders pursued an MBA or masters in healthcare administration. But now universities are offering more advanced nursing degrees in leadership and healthcare administration for nurses who want to go into nursing leadership.”

On certifications:

“Certifications are a demonstration of proficiency in a specific nursing specialty or practice area. Because I no longer work in the learning arena, and I’m in nursing administration now, I’m getting ready to sit for the national certification for Nurse Executives. Most certifications are composed of three elements. First, you have to have experience in your specialty. Most of them require two years in your specialty to sit for an exam, but they vary based upon the certification. You also need professional development hours. Almost all of them require that you document a certain number of professional development hours in the last couple of years before you can sit for an exam. Third, there’s the actual exam where you have to prove your proficiency in that specialty. One you’ve obtained that certification, they all require that you re-certify over a certain period of time, some annually and some every two to five years. Most do not require a repeated exam for certification as long as you meet the continuing education requirements or other continuing requirements for that certification and pay the recertification fee.”

Patricia Keegan, DNP, NP-C

Nurse Practitioner, Emory Healthcare

Background: While working as a bedside nurse at Emory Healthcare, Keegan began assisting the team behind the hospital’s structural heart program, which began in 2007. Inspired by the team’s work, with a longing to learn more and to become part of the team, Keegan went after a Master of Science in Nursing from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. After graduating in 2010, the structural heart team hired Keegan as its first nurse practitioner. With a desire to take her work with her team to the next level, Keegan recently completed her Doctorate in Nursing Practice from the University of South Alabama.

On how getting her master’s advanced her career:

“I was able to take a job with the structural heart team and be the first nurse practitioner to work with the team here. So it was a little bit of a blank slate, because I really wasn’t sure how to be a nurse practitioner, and they really weren’t sure what to do with a nurse practitioner. So we established this role. And I think the really amazing thing about the structural heart team is that it is a part of what we call the heart team. We have a lot of different members who make up this team. We have surgeons, we have interventional cardiologists, we have echo techs, and I’m the nurse practitioner. It was really great to be the first advanced practice nursing presence on this team. It was big responsibility, for sure.”

On why she pursued a doctorate:

“The structural heart disease [field] is pretty new. It began in France in 2002, and it was then brought to the United States. Emory was actually the fourth site in the nation to do transcatheter heart valves. So a lot of what we’ve done and how we treat these patients has involved on-the-job training. In 2007, we were maybe one of 20 sites to have a program. Now we’re one of more than 400 sites to have a program. And I took it as a personal responsibility with the members of our team to ask after serving 1,500 patients, ‘What is the best practice? What have we learned?’ As a master’s-prepared nurse, I had a lot of information on technical aspects and how to care for patients, but I don’t think I knew enough to take it and translate it to what we do. The reason I wanted to go back and get my Doctorate in Nursing Practice is because it really addresses the skills needed to translate evidence-based care into practice. I wanted to help develop the right way to take care of these patients.”


Nurse Practitioner, Advanced Genetics Nurse

Cancer Genetics and Risk Assessment Program, Gwinnett Medical Center

Background: Snyder, who first came to work at Gwinnett Medical Center in 1985 as a staff nurse on the postpartum floor, calls herself “a prime example of lifelong learning.” Since receiving her original RN licensure in the early 1980s, Snyder has returned to school three times while at Gwinnett Medical in order to advance her career and education. In 1998, she completed her Bachelors of Science in Nursing at what was then the Medical College of Georgia; a decade later she attained a Master in Science, Nursing at Brenau University, and became a certified family nurse practitioner; and in 2011 she completed her Doctorate in Nursing Practice at Union University. Most recently, Snyder snagged the credential of Advanced Genetics Nurse, only one of a handful in the state to have this certification. She’s currently serving as the system’s Nurse Practitioner, Advanced Genetics Nurse for the Cancer Genetics and Risk Assessment Program.

On education widening her perspective:

“I can tell you that every single time I’ve returned to advance my education, I have in turn advanced my career. A lot of my motivation was to gain additional education and have a broader perspective regarding nursing. I recognize that if we stop learning then we stop providing the best care for patients. When you go back to school, it provides you with the opportunity to get out of the comfort zone you’ve been in, think outside the box and open up your perspective to more than what you’ve been used to. As I’ve advanced my education and my perspective has broadened, I realize there’s a lot we don’t know. So you need to always continue to look, drill down on things and ask those leading questions that cause you to want to learn more.”

On the benefits of holding advanced degrees and certifications:

“What I like best about my job is the ability to function autonomously as a healthcare provider. As a nurse practitioner in the state of Georgia, I can provide healthcare services within my scope of practice with a collaborating physician. That allows me to be autonomous. I see patients and give them a plan of care, and counsel them about aspects of risk and prevention.”