Nurses love alphabet soup.

Maybe it’s a sign of aging, but I don’t know what most of those letters behind a nurse’s name mean anymore. Yes, I know they indicate what academic and certification credentials someone has earned, but there are so many new ones now, I’m getting confused.

I know I’m going to stir up a hornet’s nest by bringing this subject up. Nurses are passionate about our profession’s alphabet soup. To those nurses who have worked hard to earn degrees and professional credentials, I say well done, take a bow. You’ve earned it. However, I’m not the only nurse who is confused by the alphabet soup, and if nurses are confused, how can we expect the public to understand what all those letters mean.

Sometimes, I think nurses get a little crazy about collecting letters behind their name. There are six basic types of credentials nurses may possess and use after their names.

Degree: These credentials are based on the completion of an educational program. Examples: BSN, MSN, PhD, EdD, JD.

Licensure: These credentials are based on the successful passing of a national licensure exam. Examples: RN, LPN

State designation or requirement: These credentials are similar to licensure, but go beyond the basics, designating authority and recognition to practice at a more advanced level in a state. Examples: APN, APRN, NP

(OK, so far I understand what’s going on, but now it starts getting murky.)

National certifications: These credentials are awarded by a nationally recognized certifying body, such as the American Nurses Association’s Credentialing Center, and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners’ Certifying Board. Over the years, they have developed all kinds of “add on” letters including RN-C, RN-BC, and NP-C. These organizations have invented so many different credentials, few people know what they mean anymore. One reason for this explosion in credentialing could revolve round the revenue it generates for these organizations. You know they don’t give these credentials away. Nurses buy study guides, pay to take the tests, and must keep their credentials up-to-date by acquiring CEUs. Oh yes, developing CEUs also generate income for those organizations. Interesting isn’t it.

Awards of honors: Two examples of awards of honors are FAAN (Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing), and FCCM (Fellow of Critical Care Medicine). Those credentials are for members only, and are awarded for outstanding service or accomplishments. I doubt that many people outside of our profession know what those awards are, or what they mean.

Other certifications: Like nursing, other fields have alphabet soup. Some nurses venture outside of the nursing profession to glean additional letters behind their name.

I’ve met nurses who wear credentials like kids wear designer jeans. It’s all about the label. When I graduated from nursing school a bizillion years ago, you got an RN, period! Please, stop the insanity and lay off the alphabet soup.

Things are getting too complicated for old nurses like me.