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What is the Med-Surg Nurse Certification

Medical-surgical nurses are ubiquitous to hospitals, clinics, and other health care environments. As a med-surg nurse, you play an integral role in nearly every aspect of providing care and ensuring that all processes are running smoothly.

Medical-surgical nurses have several means of gaining further experience and boosting their pay. One of the most common methods is receiving a Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse (CMSRN) certification. Read on to learn more about the med-surg nursing certification.

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The Role of the Medical-Surgical Nurse 

Prior to the growth of specializations, nearly all registered nurses were designated as “medical-surgical nurses,” but today, that designation has grown into its own specialization that covers a vast array of functions. Medical-surgical nurses are the most common nursing specialty in the United States, and they are the most front-facing professional personnel in a health care setting.

As a med-surg nurse, you provide day-to-day care for multiple patients at once, administering any medications and informing family members while discharging patients and taking in new patients. Medical-surgical nurses have comprehensive knowledge of all the bodily systems and diseases, illnesses, and disorders.

Becoming a Medical Surgical Nurse 

Much like other career paths, the process of becoming a medical-surgical nurse starts with education. If you want to be a registered nurse of any kind, you have to at least get an Associate’s Degree in Nursing, or ADN. Most employers will accept an ADN without much hassle, but others may require a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing, or BSN, degree. BSN degrees are becoming increasingly preferred, though you may be able to pursue a BSN while you are employed. An associate’s program can last 18 to 24 months, while a bachelor’s program will require four years.

Once you have a degree, you must pass the National Council License Examination. By passing, you officially become a licensed registered nurse. This license is accepted in all states, though some employers may have extra licensing requirements.

Understanding the Med-Surg Nursing Certification 

Once you have your license, you are a registered nurse, but many medical-surgical nurses want to get an extra boost to their resume. This is where the Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse credentials come in. The certificate is completely optional and comprises an exam that is made available to registered medical-surgical nurses who have been employed for at least two years.

Benefits of the Med-Surg Nursing Certification

As with credentials in other careers, the med-surg nurse certification validates your expertise and knowledge, giving you greater credibility and confidence in your everyday operations. Having a certified nurse on staff also contributes to a better reputation for your hospital. Patients may also feel more comfortable knowing that they are being treated by a certified med-surg nurse with a high level of education.

More materially, getting certified naturally results in an increased med-surg nursing salary and boost your resume when out in the job market.

FailSafe Certification Program

The FailSafe Certification Program is a facility-based program that essentially makes the process easier for all parties involved. A healthcare facility manager agrees to enroll 10 nurses to take the CMSRN exam. If the nurses all pass, the facility is responsible for the fees. If the nurses do not pass, they have a second chance to take the exam before the end of the year. If the nurses pass with their second chance, the facility pays for their fees.

The FailSafe program takes away the stress and financial constraints of taking the certification tests. When the nurses pass, the facility pays off with an improved reputation. It’s a win for everyone.

Eligibility Criteria

In order to be eligible to take the exam for certification, you must meet three criteria:

  • Have a current and unencumbered registered nursing license in the United States or Canada
  • Have at least two full years of experience as a registered nurse in a medical-surgical work environment
  • Accrued at least 2,000 hours of practice (including clinical, management, or education) in the medical-surgical setting in the last three years 

You must also pay an application fee in order to take the exam:

  • $375 for non-members
  • $255 for AMSN members
  • No upfront application fee for FailSafe Certification program participants

Even if you are not applying through the FailSafe program, many employers will reimburse your application fee.

Med-Surg Certification Questions 

The Exam is designed to validate your personal proficiency as a medical-surgical nurse. It exists in a regular pencil-and-paper format as well as a computer-based testing format.  Both comprise 150 multiple choice questions (130 score and 20 unscored experimental questions) taken over a three-hour period. 

In order to pass, you must achieve a standard score of 95, which is equivalent to about 72 percent of the questions correct.

The Steps to Med-Surg Nursing Certification 

Now that you understand the exam and certification process, here are the steps to obtaining your CMSRN credentials.

1. Verify your eligibility.

Review the eligibility criteria to make sure that you can even take the certification exam.

2. Review the exam blueprint and Domains of Practice.

The exam blueprint essentially breaks down each section of the test to tell you exactly what the test will cover. This will come in handy as you prepare for the exam as well.

3.  Fill out the exam application. 

Submit your application, making sure all sections are filled out appropriately. Your name should match your government issued ID. After submitting your application, you should receive your exam permit in the mail and your email within three to five weeks. They may otherwise contact you for more information. For those taking the test in its pencil-and-paper format, your permit will come about two weeks before your exam date.

4. Study. 

It’s never too early to start your preparations. Study on your own, study with other nurses or talk to certified nurses who have already taken the test. There are a variety of resources out there to suit your specific learning style. Many of these are even free resources.

5. Schedule your examination.

Exam permits state a 90-day window during which you must take your exam along with instructions for scheduling your test. Doublecheck to make sure your name is correct and aim to schedule your test early in your window. The scheduling information is already selected if you are taking the test by paper and pencil.

General Tips for Taking the CMSRN Exam

You have done all the studying and taken countless practice tests. It’s time for the real thing. Some general tips for exam day:

  • If the exam is being administered in an unfamiliar place, research the location beforehand. If you can, drive to the exam site before the day of your test. Take into consideration traffic and any other circumstances. Remember that it’s always better to be early than late.
  • Get plenty of sleep the night before the exam.
  • Make sure everything you need is ready the day before, including your photo ID, all your materials, and a light sweater or jacket.
  • Eat something before you take the test, even if you don’t have much of an appetite. The last thing you should worry about is getting hungry midthrough.
  • Stay calm and do your best. You have studied and prepared as much as you can. The exam is your chance to demonstrate your knowledge and experience.

Recertifying Your CMSRN

Your CMSRN is good for five years, after which time you can recertify your credentials. While you can allow your credentials to expire, it’s encouraged that you maintain your certification. Getting recertified ensures that you keep your higher wages and provides peace of mind to your patients.

Eligibility criteria for recertification includes:

  • Holding a current med-surg nursing certification
  • Holding a current registered nursing license
  • Accruing 1,000 practice hours in a medical-surgical setting over the last five years
  • Earning 90 contact hours in the last five years

Recertification also costs an application fee of $275 for regular members and $175 for AMSN members. The AMSN does offer grants, and some employers may cover recertification fees.

Planning for Your Recertification

Once you get your initial CMSRN certification, start planning for your recertification. Know when your certification expires and determine whether you want to recertify by continuing education or taking the CMSRN exam again. All of the above eligibility requirements must be met by the time you apply.

  • Make sure of your contact hours – At least 68 of the 90 contact hours must specifically be medical-surgical.
  • Set a goal for contact hours – Knowing when your certification expires can help you plan for earning contact hours. An easy method is to divide 90 by the number of years left on your certification. If you’re four years out, you have to complete about 22.5 contact hours per year. Remember that you must also submit your application at least 30 days before your certificate expires in order to avoid a late fee.
  • Report your contact hours – Use the official CMSRN Tracker to self-report your contact hours throughout the five-year period. It can take up to 10 business days for self-reported hours to get verified.

Once you have met all of your eligibility criteria and submitted all 90 of your contact hours, you can apply for recertification. You can apply for recertification up to one year prior to your expiration date and one year after your expiration date, though the latter will incur a late fee of $75 on top of the regular application fee.

Obtaining a med-surg nursing certification could be an excellent boost for your personal career and put you on track for more growth and greater successes to come. For more med-surg nursing tips and information, please contact us today. 

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