The Source of Confusion: Nursing Certifications vs. Certificates

The terms nursing certificates and nursing certifications sound similar. Learn everything you need to know about the difference between the two.The terms nursing certificates and nursing certifications sound extremely similar, which causes a lot of confusion.

People often confuse the two and use them interchangeably, which is a big mistake.

Though they might sound similar and do, in fact, share a lot of commonalities, it is important to draw a clear distinction between them.

Let’s take a look at the difference in nursing certificates and certifications.


In order to truly understand the difference between having a nursing certificate and nursing certifications, it’s important to have a clear definition of what each is.

Here are the definitions as provided by Merriam-Webster.

  • Certificate: A document that is official proof that something has happened. A document that is official proof that you have finished school or a course of training.
  • Certification: The act of making something official. Official approval to do something professionally or legally.

Characteristics of a Certificate

  • Suitable for people new to the field with no prior experience in whatever the certificate is for
  • Suitable for seasoned professionals in the field looking to advance their careers
  • It is non-degree granting
  • Awarded by an educational program
  • Serves as a gateway for achieving a degree in the future
  • Narrow and specific content
  • Requires re-certification every given number of years to ensure candidates stay current and up-to-date in the field they earned their certificate in
  • Demonstrate knowledge of a specific area at the end of a period of time

Characteristics of a Certification

  • Requires some professional experience prior
  • Degree granting
  • Awarded by a third party organization that sets the standards
  • Indicates mastery or completion usually through an application or exam
  • Content is broader in scope
  • Allows candidates to put letters after their name (CPP, CCRN, CPA, etc.)

Choosing Between a Certification or Certificate

Nurse receives her certification

Both certificates and certifications are great tools to advance your education and career.

When researching how to advance your professional career, learning the difference between these two terms.

It will help you make the right choice for you, the choice that will best fit and benefit your life goals.

Read why this nurse decided to go back to school for her bachelor’s degree in nursing.