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Becoming a nurse practitioner (NP), a type of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), requires significant education and training, as well as knowledge, skills and competencies. Aspiring NPs must be licensed registered nurses (RNs), hold a bachelor of science in nursing and complete a masters in nursing or a doctorate of nursing program graduate programs.
The last step on the long journey to becoming an NP is passing a national nursing certification exam in your specialization. Passing the right exam demonstrates your advanced clinical knowledge and skills and shows employers you can succeed as an NP in your specialty.
Two national organizations, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), offer nurse practitioner certifications. You must pass a board certification exam from either AANP or ANCC to become an NP.
NPs specializing in family or adult-gerontology primary care can take either an AANP exam or an ANCC exam. For other practice specialties, like psychiatric-mental health, only one organization offers the relevant exam and credential.
Learn more about AANP vs. ANCC nursing certifications, and figure out which path is right for you.
AANP vs. ANCC
AANP and ANCC both offer NP certifications and board certification exams. AANP is a membership organization representing more than 121,000 nurse practitioners across North America. Its credentialing arm is the AANP Certification Board (AANPCB), which only offers NP certifications.
ANCC is an offshoot of the American Nurses Association (ANA), a professional group with 4 million members in the United States. ANCC administers certifications to both NPs and registered nurses with an associates degree or bachelor’s degree in nursing.
If you’re pursuing NP certification in family or adult-gerontology primary care, you can do so through AANPCB or ANCC. Other NP specializations do not offer a choice; you must take the relevant certification exam from whichever organization offers it.
For example, aspiring emergency nurse practitioners can only pursue certification through AANPCB. NPs seeking to specialize in psychiatric mental health, on the other hand, must earn their credentials through ANCC.
What Is the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB)?
AANP created AANPCB, a nonprofit credentialing organization for nurse practitioners, to offer NP certifications in the following specialties:
- Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (A-GNP)
- Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
- Emergency Nurse Practitioner (ENP)
AANP members receive a $75 discount on AANPCB certification applications.
Certifications Offered by AANPCB
Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (A-GNP)
The A-GNP certification demonstrates clinical knowledge of adults from age 13 until advanced age and end-of-life. This certification qualifies you for NP licensure specializing in adult patients. A-GNPs have demonstrated expertise and competencies in health assessment, pathophysiology, pharmacology, treatment and management of acute and chronic conditions, and evidence-based practice.
The certification’s competency-based exam includes 150 questions, including 15 pre-test questions that do not count toward your score. The test covers assessment, diagnosis, plan and evaluation domains, including questions about all age parameters. Online applications cost $240 for AANP members and $315 for nonmembers. Prices may change over time and discounts may be available for members of specific nursing organizations. Members should check with their association membership offices to see if discounts are applicable.
A-GNP applicants must hold an active RN license. Other eligibility requirements include a minimum of 500 graduate level clinical practicum hours and successful completion of a graduate or postgraduate adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner program at an accredited school of nursing.
To find out more about earning RN licensure, review our guide on how to become an RN.
Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
The FNP certification qualifies holders to apply for a state license to practice as an FNP offering primary care across the life span, from prenatal patients to older adults.
The competency-based exam includes 150 questions (135 scored questions and 15 unscored pretest questions). The test assesses knowledge of various age and practice domains like assessment, evaluation, diagnosis and planning. It covers syllabus like cultural competence, crisis management, pain management and anatomy.
FNP applicants with AANP memberships pay $240 to apply online, while nonmembers pay $315. Eligibility requirements for the FNP include an active RN license, completion of a graduate or postgraduate family nurse practitioner program at an accredited school and at least 500 clinical hours.
To learn more, see our guide on how to become a family nurse practitioner.
What Is the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)?
As part of ANA, ANCC offers various certifications to help NPs and RNs advance their careers. ANCC’s NP certifications include:
- Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (AGACNP-BC®)
- Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (AGPCNP-BC®)
- Family Nurse Practitioner Certification (FNP-BC™)
- Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Across the Lifespan) Certification (PMHNP-BC™)
In addition to providing certifications, ANCC also accredits healthcare organizations that offer or approve continuing education for nurses. ANCC recognizes healthcare organizations that encourage safe and effective nursing practice as well. ANA members can save $100 on ANCC’s NP certification application fees.
NP Certifications Offered by ANCC
Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (AGPCNP-BC)
ANCC’s AGPCNP-BC credential qualifies you to practice as an entry-level adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner. To qualify for the AGPCNP-BC, you must hold RN licensure and pass a national certification exam.
To obtain this credential, you must earn an accredited AGPCNP master’s in nursing, a DNP or a postgraduate certificate including at least 500 supervised clinical hours. Applicants must complete three APRN core graduate courses in advanced physiology or pathophysiology, advanced health assessment and advanced pharmacology.
The Accreditation Board for Specialty Nursing Certification provides accreditation for this certification, which requires renewal every five years. For initial certification, ANA members pay $295, and nonmembers pay $395. AANP members, AANP student members and Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association (GAPNA) members also receive discounts.
The AGPCNP exam assesses competency in clinical knowledge and skills for this specialty. The competency-based test lasts 3.5 hours and includes 175 questions (150 scored and 25 unscored pretest questions). Questions cover the patient assessment process, plan of care and professional practice, spanning different age groups, body systems and drug agents.
You can take ANCC’s Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Readiness Test to assess your preparedness for the official exam. You can use ANCC’s study aids to prepare for the test.
Family Nurse Practitioner Certification (FNP-BC)
ANCC’s FNP-BC credential qualifies you to apply for state licensure to work as a family nurse practitioner. This certification requires renewal every five years.
To earn this credential, you must pass the competency-based FNP-BC exam to demonstrate that you have the clinical skills and knowledge necessary for FNP work. The 3.5-hour test includes 175 questions (150 scored questions and 25 unscored pretest questions). exam content covers assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation and evaluation with questions about different age groups, drug agents and body systems.
ANA members pay $295 for initial certification; nonmembers pay $395. AANP members, AANP student members and GAPNA members also receive discounts.
Eligibility requirements for the FNP-BC certification include a current RN license and an FNP master’s, postgraduate certificate or DNP from an accredited school. The FNP program must include 500 faculty-supervised clinical hours. Applicants must also complete three graduate-level APRN core courses covering advanced physiology or pathophysiology, advanced health assessment and advanced pharmacology.
You can take ANCC’s FNP readiness test to assess your exam readiness and to get a better idea of what to expect. ANCC also provides other study aids, including sample questions and a test content outline.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About AANP vs. ANCC
What is the difference between AANP and ANCC?
AANP and ANCC both offer national certification exams for nurse practitioners. AANP, a professional organization for nurse practitioners, only offers NP certifications. ANCC is a wing of ANA and offers certifications for RNs at various levels, including NPs.
What does certification for an NP mean?
NPs must earn certification to apply for a state license to practice their specialty. To obtain certification, you must pass a national board exam in your NP specialty area. You must also meet other requirements, including holding an RN license, earning a BSN degree and completing a graduate NP program with at least 500 clinical hours.