Registered nurses are absolutely essential to quality health care. Twenty years of research care shows that RN care is linked to improved resident outcomes (e.g., reduced mortality, infections, pressure ulcers, falls) and creates more stable and positive work environments by reducing staff turnover and improving overall job satisfaction.
But it’s not just the amount of RN care that matters. An RN’s educational preparation in the clinical specialty area that he/she is practicing in is also important. We know when RNs receive specialty training beyond their basic education and become board certified RNs – the impact they have on quality is significant.
What is board certification in nursing? Board certification is the gold standard of excellence for many professions such as medicine and accounting. And so it is with nursing. Certification in nursing distinguishes those RNs who have met high standards of knowledge, competence, and practice in a specialty area.
For nurses employed in long term care, being certified as a Gerontological Nurse is the mark of distinction. It denotes a high level clinical care for older patients. The national board that confers the certification for Gerontological Nurse is the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). When RNs successfully pass the ANCC certification exam—a very rigorous test of knowledge and skills specific to clinical care of the elderly—then the RN earns an ANCC certification pin and the right to be identified on his/her name badge by the credentials: “RN-BC.”
The “RN-BCs” who display their credentials on a name badge do so with great pride. Seeing these credentials on a name badge is assurance to the public—patients and families--that their RN has met requirements for a high level practice and possesses advanced knowledge in the clinical area. It also means that the “RN-BC” is engaged in life-long learning to maintain board certification and is keeping current on evidence-based practices in the specialty. Long-term care facilities that support and encourage ANCC specialty certification for RNs are also sending a message to the public that they care about quality nursing care.
In 2009, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Northwest Health Foundation provided $250,000 in funding for a project designed to improve the quality of long term care nursing. This project, known as The Midwest Partners for Geriatric Nursing Quality Improvement was also composed of 15 business partners who were committed to the project’s goal of quality improvement. Together, these business partners pledged $250,000 of their own monies as a match to the RWJF/NWHF funds. The project’s two co-leads were the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Nursing and Vetter Health Services – a long term care provider themselves.
One of the project goals was to see that 125 RNs employed in LTC became ANCC board certified as Gerontological Nurses. In order to accomplish this, project leads developed a 10-week interactive course that prepared the RNs for the ANCC certification exam. The course was delivered using distance education technologies and at the end of the course, each nurse sat for the national certification exam. The result was that 96% of the RNs passed and became nationally certified.
How did RN board certification affect long term care quality and the facilities where these RNs were employed? Follow up surveys showed impressive outcomes – there were statistically significant improvements in RN retention, psychological empowerment, clinical competence, decision making, collaboration, leadership, and job satisfaction.
Facility owners said their “return on investment” for RN certification was enhanced work environment, enhanced public image for high quality care, and RN hiring advantages.
How Does My Facility Participate
The educational course that prepares RNs in long term care for certification as Gerontolgoical Nurses can now be accessed at GeroNursePrep.org. The course, Gero Nurse Prep, is sponsored by the American Health Care Association (AHCA) and maintained by the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) College of Nursing to ensure that the course maintains the latest evidence based practices, research knowledge, and competencies needed for care of the older client.
As the nation’s largest association of long term and post-acute care providers, AHCA advocates for quality care and services for frail, elderly, and disabled Americans. Members care for approximately one million individuals in 11,000 not-for-profit and proprietary member facilities.
Long known for its academic reputation, the UNMC College of Nursing in the past few years has made dramatic strides forward in facilities, faculty, curriculum, research programs, learning technologies, clinical practice initiatives and global educational partnerships.