The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) has held recognition with the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) for 60 years.  The USDE has recognized the ACEN as an accrediting agency for nursing education, nursing education programs and schools, both postsecondary and higher degree which offer a certificate, diploma, or a recognized professional degree including master’s, baccalaureate, associate, diploma, and practical nursing program in the United States and its territories.  In 2008, the USDE recognition also included the doctoral level.  With its original recognition by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), the ACEN has been recognized as an accrediting agency of nursing education programs that offer either a certificate, diploma, or recognized professional degree (master’s, baccalaureate, associate, diploma, and practical nursing) in the United States, its territories, and internationally.  Since 2011, the CHEA recognition of the ACEN has also included the clinical doctorate level.

The ACEN accredits clinical doctorate programs, as well as DNP Specialist Certificates, with all specialty areas such as nurse educator, nurse leader, as well as advanced practice roles. All DNP programs are required to have clinical focus; DNP programs must have a minimum of 500 practicum hours at the doctoral level.

The ACEN has been accrediting Post-Master’s Certificates (PMC) for decades.  Reviewing a PMC as a component of the options offered by an institution includes the PMC in the program’s accreditation which is critical for graduates of master’s programs with advanced practice roles (nurse practitioner, nurse anesthesia, nurse midwifery, and clinical nurse specialist).  National certification agencies require that individuals applying to take national certification examinations be graduates from an accredited nursing program, including PMCs.

In response to inquiries from accredited clinical doctorate programs, the ACEN has also verified with both the USDE in June 2017 and CHEA in May 2017, that the ACEN scope of recognition includes a DNP Specialist Certificate.  A DNP Specialist Certificate can be an option offered by ACEN-accredited clinical doctorate program that will enable students to obtain an additional specialty area as long as the option requirements maintain a clinical focus.  With a national impetus moving towards the DNP being the entry level, especially for advanced practice roles, programs that offer a BSN-to-DNP program need a mechanism to enable students to obtain a second specialty foci – hence the DNP Specialist Certificate.

As indicated a DNP Specialist Certificate is an option that provides an individual who already has a clinical doctorate to be able to complete the course requirements specific to a specialty area in either an advanced practice role or another area (e.g. new patient population foci for a nurse practitioner or a specialty in nursing education or nursing leadership or other nursing specialty area).  A DNP Specialist Certificate specific to an advanced practice role would need to have the requisite practicum hours to enable a student to be eligible to take the national certification examination as well as meeting the required 500 practicum hours needed at the doctoral level.

The ACEN has also been approached regarding the opportunity for nursing programs with stand-alone DNP Specialist Certificate or stand-alone PMCs to achieve accreditation of these options without having the overall degree program.  The ACEN’s scope of recognition with both the USDE and CHEA enables the ACEN to accredit stand-alone DNP Specialist Certificates as well as Post-Master’s Certificates.  The governing organization for the nursing program would need to have approval to confer a doctoral degree or master’s degree respective to the type of stand-alone option.  The nursing program could then offer a specialty certificate that would enable individuals with a conferred doctoral or master’s degree to attain another specialty.  The nursing program would not be required to offer the specialty area as a component of a degreed program.  For example, the nursing program may have a family nurse practitioner foci for its BSN-to-DNP program; the program then offers graduates an option to add a psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner focus or a nurse educator focus.  The Psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner focus or nurse educator focus is only available for those with a conferred DNP degree.  Another example is a nursing education unit having a BSN-to-DNP program as well as a master’s nursing program that has options in nursing education and nursing administration.  The nursing program could request to add a PMC with a family nurse practitioner focus.  This would enable either a master’s-prepared graduate or a DNP graduate to attain an additional advanced practice foci.  Each nursing program would determine the admission requirements for each program option; therefore, a program could determine that the PMC option as a FNP was only available to those individuals with a conferred DNP.

For nursing programs who already have an ACEN-accredited  doctoral or master’s program, a stand-alone program option can be added through the substantive change process as delineated in Policy #14 Reporting Substantive Changes  in the ACEN Accreditation Manual.  For a nursing program without ACEN accreditation, a stand-alone DNP Specialist Certificate or a stand-alone Post Master’s Certificate would need to come through the Candidacy process.  Information about candidacy can be located on the ACEN website:  http://www.acenursing.org/resources-for-nursing-programs/ .  Nursing programs with questions about either candidacy or substantive change can contact the ACEN at 404-975-5000.