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Alphabet Soup: Nurse's Quick Guide to Listing Credentials and Degrees

It's interesting that as a healthcare professional, we understand what all (or most) of those little alphabets/letters after a person's name stands for. It's true if we work in the same field; but even then, there are times we have to look things up.

Can you imagine how much worse it is from the patient's perspective? To them, they most likely have no idea of what the letters mean. After all, the letters that make up our alphabet soup is insignificant to them. The fact that you're sitting there in front of them must mean that you're qualified...somehow.

To keep things less convoluted and more transparent between the patient and provider, it would be great to have a standardized format of listing our credentials and our degrees. I am hoping that sharing what I have learned through my many years working in healthcare as a registered nurse and the tips I received from my nursing professors while I was a nursing student will be helpful for all -- patients and other nurses and NPs-to-be alike.

Photo from Unsplash

The best way to list your credential is to start with the most permanent to the least permanent. This would mean earned degrees > licenses > certificates. And here's an example why. Your education is something that cannot be taken away, whereas a license or certificate can be revoked or left to expire (assuming you do not want to maintain the certificate anymore).

So now you're thinking, "Alright. Most permanent to least permanent. Degrees before licenses before certificates. Got it. But, I have like five degrees/licenses/certificates, so now what do I do?!"

The next key tip is to use the highest of each degree, license, or certificate. For example, if you have your bachelors and your masters degree in nursing, it would be redundant to list both your MSN and BSN after your name. You would just list your highest degree -- in this case, the MSN.

For the overachievers with multiple of their highest degrees (ie. multiple masters/doctorate degrees), this one's for you. You can keep them all if you want, but make sure to list them from the most recent/relevant to the least recent/relevant. For example, if you're hoping to work as a nurse practitioner and you have two masters degrees, make sure that the MSN comes first (if you decide to list both).

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) published a short PDF simply titled "How To Display Your Credentials" with some of their main points and suggestions on the topic of listing our credentials and degrees. They suggest this as the proper order:

  1. Highest earned degree
  2. Licensure
  3. State designations or requirements
  4. National certifications
  5. Awards and Honors
  6. Other recognitions

    *For more information on these, please refer to the link above.

A lot of the tips from the ANCC are similar to what my nursing professors (from my bachelors in nursing degree program) have taught me, and I think it's pretty neat that they are following the standard and not making things confusing.

Hope you found the information helpful! Have fun with your alphabet soup!

Nicole G.

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