What’s With All the Letters?


Post-nominal letters are not unique to the nursing profession, but perhaps the seemingly endless combinations of them are. Mary Smith, BSN, RN, CCRN; John Jones, MSN, ARNP, NP-C; Susan Supernurse, PhD, MSN, RN, ACNS-BC, CNE… you get the idea. It’s no wonder we confuse the non-nursing world – and even ourselves – with our smorgasbords of trailing initials. How do we make our credentials less confusing to our colleagues and to the public? We can start with consistency.

Let’s break down the different types of credentials. There are educational degrees, state licenses, national certifications, and awards or honors. And that’s the preferred order to list them, according to the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

Educational Degrees

Educational degrees are awarded by a college or university. Examples are: ADN, BSN, MSN, DNP, PhD, EdD, etc. Your highest educational degree should be listed first following your name. If you have a BSN and continue on to earn an MSN, you can drop the BSN credential from the list. Don’t worry, you can still keep that hard-earned bachelor’s diploma on the wall.

State Licenses

State licenses are issued by your state (or the state you apply to work). State licenses include: RN, LPN, APN or ARNP, to name a few. Your state license credential should be placed after your educational degree.

National Certifications

National certifications should be listed next. Certifications can be especially confusing since there are various boards, certifying bodies, and organizations that award these credentials. Examples of national certifications include NP-C (by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners [AANP]), FNP-BC (by the ANCC), and CNE (by the National League for Nursing [NLN]).

Awards and Honors

Other letter sequences you may acquire throughout your career include abbreviations for awards and honors. For example, a nurse who is a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing can list FAAN after the previously discussed credentials.

So now… check your resumes, LinkedIn profiles, email signatures, and name tags. Are you following the correct order of credentials? How about your coworkers, classmates, or students? Let’s educate each other and achieve consistency throughout the profession. And – while it’s not a credential, I’ve added one more (unofficial) nursing acronym to the list: ACT. Nurses achievecare, and teach. Thanks for reading!