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Frequently Asked Questions

Certification in General

Applying for Initial Certification

Maintaining Your Certification

Renewing Your Certification

Fees and Financial Support

Certification in General

What is certification?
CNA certification is a nationally recognized credential for registered nurses. Certified RNs have an advanced standard of professional competence and a comprehensive understanding in a nursing specialty or area of nursing practice which they are able to demonstrate to patients, colleagues and employers.

Getting your initial certification credential requires that you pass a written exam. Once certified, you can maintain your credential by renewing (every five years) in one of two ways:

  • Accumulate experience and continuous learning hours
  • Rewrite the exam

Am I eligible to become certified?
You’re eligible if you’re an RN with at least two years’ experience in one of the 20 specialty areas. RNs from all domains of nursing practice — clinical, education, administration, research and policy — are welcome.

Who do I contact if I have questions?
For all inquiries, contact the CNA Certification Program team at 1-800-361-8404 or certification@cna-aiic.ca.

I lost my certification pin. Can I get a replacement?
Once you’ve earned your credential, you should wear your CNA certification pin with pride. If you lost it, we’ll gladly send you a replacement at no cost. Simply complete the Request for Replacement Pin form or e-mail us at certification@cna-aiic.ca.

Applying for Initial Certification

How do I apply for the initial certification exam?
Apply by completing the online application process during the application period each year. The 2016 exam application period is April 11 to August 8.

How do I calculate my hours of experience?
To qualify, the hours you calculate must be RN experience in your chosen nursing specialty.

Your specialty experience can be in any of the five nursing domains:

  • direct patient care
  • education
  • research
  • policy
  • administration

Hours of RN experience in your nursing specialty earned outside Canada may also be accepted.

For most employers, one full-time year equals 1,950 hours (on average).

If only a portion of your experience is in your nursing specialty, indicate the percentage of work hours related to that specialty. For example, if you work full time on a medical-surgical unit and 30 per cent of the patients receive gastroenterology care, calculate 1,950 × 0.3 = 585 hours per year.

What is a post-basic course?
A post-basic course is taken after you complete your basic entry-to-practice education to become a registered nurse. To contribute to your eligibility for certification, your course (or program) must be in your nursing specialty or area of nursing practice. It must also be at least 300 hours in length and be taken over the past 10 years through an accredited institution, such as a university or college. A document verifying your completion will be required.

What happens after I apply?
CNA will ask your supervisor/consultant to verify the following information:

  • That you have a current licence to practise as an RN in Canada.
  • That you have the required number of hours of experience as an RN (practice, education, research, policy or administration) in your identified specialty.

Once CNA receives your supervisor’s endorsement, we can finalize our review of your application. If you meet the eligibility criteria and your application is complete, we’ll send you a confirmation letter (in most cases, within three weeks of receiving your complete application). If you haven’t see your confirmation after five weeks, please contact the certification team at certification@cna-aiic.ca.

If you’re not yet eligible to write the exam because of insufficient practice hours, we’ll also let you know.

What’s the best way for me to prepare for initial certification?
By visiting our Exam Preparation page.

Once we confirm your eligibility, you’ll have access to all CNA online certification exam prep resources related to your speciality or area of nursing practice. If you haven’t received confirmation in 10 weeks, please contact the certification team at certification@cna-aiic.ca.

Sections of our resources are created by the same nursing experts who develop the certification exams. These resources include

  • a list of competencies for the specialty or area of nursing practice
  • the blueprint for the exam
  • an online practice test, including answers with rationales
  • information on study groups, CNA mentors, webinars and resources from national specialty organizations
  • a bibliography and other background information on the exam.

Our certification webinars give you further information on the program and how to prepare for the exam.

What is the exam like?
CNA uses a paperless, practice-based certification exam. It is designed to test the knowledge and skills expected of a nurse with at least two years of full-time experience in a given specialty.

Each of the exam’s multiple-choice questions presents a situation or problem you could encounter in your daily nursing practice.

Each situation has an introductory section (the case), followed by questions with four possible answers. Each question has only one correct or clearly best answer. You’ll have 4 hours to answer 160-165 questions.

CNA’s online certification practice test, sent to eligible candidates, is an excellent way to prepare since it emulates questions you may find on the real exam.

Where will I write my exam?
Once we confirm your eligibility, Pearson VUE will e-mail you to set up the date and location of your exam. Your exam location will be one of their many writing centres across Canada. For more information, visit http://home.pearsonvue.com/test-taker.aspx.

What should I do if I can’t write the exam because of an emergency?
The certification program offers you a number of options if unforeseen circumstances prevent you from writing your exam. See our exam application policies and procedures for specific information.

If it’s an emergency, please contact the CNA certification team at 1-800-361-8404 or certification@cna-aiic.ca.

What kind of answering strategies should I use?
Each correct exam answer is worth one point. So, answer each question to the best of your ability and remember:

  • Give one answer only for each question. Double answers will be scored as incorrect.
  • If you’re not sure, take your best guess. You won’t lose points for wrong answers.

When can I expect my results?
We’ll mail your results (pass or unsuccessful) about four to six weeks after the exam.

Can I obtain my results electronically or verbally?
Results cannot be given over the phone or by e-mail to safeguard confidentiality. If you haven’t received your results six to eight weeks after writing the exam, please contact the certification team at 1-800-361-8404 or certification@cna-aiic.ca.

Why is there only a pass or unsuccessful result and not a numerical mark?
The exam’s purpose is to determine if certification standards were met rather than to rank candidates. The questions are designed specifically to classify the results into two categories: pass or unsuccessful.

The exam committee for each specialty sets the pass mark (using a modified Angoff method) by rating each question according to its difficulty and the expected success rate of nurses with at least two years of full-time experience in the specialty. As well, testing consultants use statistical information to ensure that the pass mark is fair and valid.

The exam determines how well a candidate has mastered the nursing competencies required for a particular specialty. A competency describes the integrated knowledge, skills, judgment and attributes required of a registered nurse to practise safely and ethically in a designated role and setting. (Attributes include, but are not limited to, attitudes, values and beliefs.)

How can I show my patients, colleagues and employer that I passed the certification exam?
Once you pass the exam, you immediately earn the privilege of using the CNA certification designation for your specialty over the next five years (till it’s time for you to renew).

In recognition of your achievement, you will also receive a graduate portfolio containing the official CNA certification pin for your specialty or area of nursing practice and an 8" × 10" certificate of achievement with a gold seal.

Once certified, you will be formally recognized in the published official list of certified nurses, sent to the provincial regulatory bodies. Your name will also be sent to your national specialty association and your employer (if you have agreed to this on the application form).

You are also eligible to participate in CNA exam development administration activities (e.g., item-writing sessions) and become a certification mentor.

Maintaining Your Certification

What continuous learning (CL) activities can I count toward my certification renewal?
You’ll need to complete 100 hours of CL activities over your five-year certification term that are related to the competencies in your nursing specialty or area of nursing practice. Your choice of CL activities should improve your specialty or area knowledge and skills and not be part of your primary responsibilities as defined in your job description. See the different kinds of CL activities and the number of hours you can claim for each.

What forms do I use to record my CL activities?
Coming soon: A way to record your CL activities directly through CNA’s website.

Until then, use the following printable forms:
Continuous Learning for Certification Renewal: Activities and Competencies [DOCX, 82.3 KB]
Verification of Continuous Learning [PDF, 46.4 KB] (when your attendance cannot be verified through certificates, receipts, transcripts, etc.)

Do I need to have earned all my CL hours before I apply?
You can count your CL activities right up to the last day of your certification term. It’s okay if you have to forecast a few CL hours when you apply. In that case, simply write “anticipated” or “forecast” beside any CL activities you are planning to take.

I returned to school to study for my baccalaureate degree in nursing. Can I count any of my courses as CL activities?
Yes. As long as the course content relates to your nursing specialty or area of nursing practice, university degree courses can count toward your certification renewal. While courses like English literature would not be eligible, courses in nursing leadership, ethics or research would be — provided you focus on your specialty or area of nursing practice. For example, if you take an ethics course you would have to centre your assignments on ethical issues in your specialty or area of nursing practice, say, emergency nursing. If you do so, be sure to list that information on your CL activities form.

In general, a university or college semester course (e.g., from September to December) equals 36 CL hours. You can also calculate one CL hour for every clock hour you spent attending the course (e.g., 3 hours per week × 12 weeks = 36 CL hours).

I attended a conference related to my certification specialty/area of nursing practice, but it offered medical education credits. Can I count the conference toward my renewal?
Yes. You can count this conference if it relates to your specialty or area of nursing practice. You can claim CL hours for the time you attended the conference (excluding breaks). Remember to keep some formal documentation to prove your attendance.

I am pursuing my studies in a post-RN program, and the university is granting me credits for my specialty certification. How can I obtain confirmation of my certification?
More than 20 universities are now granting credits for nursing specialty or area of nursing practice designations. To obtain a letter confirming your certification, complete the Notification of Certification for University Credits form.

You can also request a confirmation by e-mail at certification@cna-aiic.ca. Please provide all of the following information:

  • name
  • certification number
  • address
  • home telephone
  • work telephone
  • e-mail address
  • program you are enrolled in
  • name of registrar
  • university name
  • university mailing address
  • student number

Can I count my CNA certification exam and preparation toward L’Ordre des infirmières et infirmiers du Québec’s (OIIQ) continuing competency requirements for an RN licence?
Yes. Your CNA certification preparation and exam entitles you to 36 hours toward your OIIQ continuing competency requirements for an RN licence.

I have the chance to attend a nursing specialty/area of nursing practice conference. Do I need pre-approval from CNA to count my attendance at this conference toward my certification renewal?
No. Pre-approval of CL activities is not required. As long as your activity meets the guidelines, it counts. If you are ever unsure whether to count an activity, even after consulting the CL guidelines, feel free to contact the CNA certification team at certification@cna-aiic.ca. International conferences are accepted and encouraged. Just be sure to keep your formal proof of attendance.

I have accumulated many CL activities during my certification term, and I think I have more hours than required. Should I list all my CL activities with my application? If I am audited, how many hours do I have to prove?
It is best to list as many CL activities as possible. However, it is also important to refer to the Continuous Learning General Guidelines to make sure you are listing allowable activities. The reviewers who read and approve your application will apply these guidelines when they look at your 100 hours of CL.

Be sure to compile your list carefully, making certain that every CL activity meets the general guidelines. If you are audited, you will have to provide proof of 100 hours of CL related to your nursing specialty or area of nursing practice during your five-year certification term and align them with your chosen nursing specialty competencies.

Renewing Your Certification

When should I start getting ready to renew my certification?
Your certification credential is valid for five years. Six months before your renewal date, CNA will send you a reminder that your renewal date is approaching. To help the renewal process, please advise CNA of any changes to your e-mail or mailing address, either by completing our Update Your Information form or e-mailing us at certification@cna-aiic.ca.

Note: Knowing what is required to maintain your CNA certification is part of your professional responsibility.

I am due to renew my certification. How do I apply?
If you didn’t receive your renewal notice, please contact us at 1-800-361-8404 or certification@cna-aiic.ca to verify your contact information.

To apply for renewal, use our online application process during the next application period.

Can I complete my renewal at any time?
If you’re renewing through continuous learning, the 2016 application period is April 11 to November 30. If renewing by exam, it’s April 11 to July 1.

What happens after I complete my application for renewal?
If you meet the eligibility criteria and your application is complete, we’ll send you a confirmation letter (in most cases, within eight to ten weeks of receiving your application). If you haven’t received confirmation in 12 weeks, please contact the certification team at certification@cna-aiic.ca.

If you are not eligible for renewal, a nurse advisor will contact you, and you will also be sent a written explanation.

How do I register my continuous learning (CL) activities in the online form?
You can list your CL activities hours right up to the end of your five-year certification term. For any CL activities you want to participate in after you apply, insert “projected” before the activity name and add the date you plan to complete it.

Document your CL activities (one-at-a time), indicating the CL sponsor/provider/institution and the activity length. Then link the activity with one competencies category in your nursing specialty.

If your CL activity is more closely related to general nursing than to your specialty (see the different kinds of CL activities and the number of hours you can claim for each), link it to Other general nursing competencies.

Registering shorter CL in-services
If you attended several shorter CL in-services over the same calendar year, group them under one CL entry per calendar year (rather than documenting them one at a time) and briefly describe the topics (e.g., oncology grand rounds, 1 hour per week; topics on pain management, X hours; new chemo treatment, X hours; review screening tools, etc.).

How do I demonstrate that I completed my CL hours?
CNA accepts any supporting documents for CL hours that are within reason, including:

  • Receipts
  • attendance certificate
  • Email CL confirmation
  • transcripts of marks
  • supervisor letters
  • copies of articles you wrote
  • lists of committee participants

If supporting documents were unavailable for your activity, use our Verification of Continuous Learning form [PDF, 46.4 KB].

How do I upload my supporting documents for CL hours?
Click the Choose button on the application form, select your scanned document and attach it. If you have more than one document, first put them all into one file (e.g., into a zip file).

What happens if I do not meet the continuous learning (CL) requirements for renewal?
Guidelines for CL hours are available to help you determine if you have earned a sufficient number. If you’re still unsure whether certain activities count toward CL hours, contact the CNA certification team at certification@cna-aiic.ca.

If you do not meet the requirements because of special circumstances, we recommend that you review the guidelines for inactive status and/or call the CNA certification team to discuss your situation at 1-800-361-8404.

If, after checking the CL guidelines and consulting with certification personnel, you are certain you do not have enough CL hours, you can either choose to renew by rewriting the certification exam or apply for inactive status.

If you do not apply for certification renewal in time, your credential will lapse. To earn the certification credential again, you will have to meet the current eligibility criteria, submit an application for initial certification and write the certification exam.

What happens if I do not meet the hours of specialty/area of nursing practice requirements for renewal?
You can count your hours of specialty experience right up to the last day of your certification term. If you do not meet the requirements because of special circumstances, we recommend that you review the guidelines for inactive status (you may be eligible) and/or contact the CNA certification team at 1-800-361-8404 to discuss your situation.

What if I cannot meet the renewal requirements?
If you cannot meet the renewal requirement in time, your credential will lapse. To earn the certification credential again, you will have to meet the current eligibility criteria, submit an application for initial certification and write the certification exam.

Note: CNA is considering the creation of an emeritus certified nurse status within the certification program for nurses who have changed their specialty or area of nursing practice in the past five years, have retired or are planning to retire. The new status will be for nurses who have had to let their credential lapse, but who still want to maintain a connection with the CNA Certification Program. Stay tuned for more information.

Fees and Financial Support

What is the fee to write the certification exam or renew my certification?
Certification fees, which include taxes, vary based on your CNA membership status and province or territory of residence. See our complete list of initial and renewal fees.

When will I get my receipt?
CNA will send your receipt with the letter confirming your eligibility (in most cases, within six to eight weeks of receiving your completed application).

Is my certification/renewal fee tax deductible?
Certification and renewal fees do not meet the requirements of the Income Tax Act and, therefore, do not qualify as a tax education tuition credit. CNA has appealed the decision with the Canada Revenue Agency but has been unsuccessful in reversing it. We will continue to monitor the situation.

Can I get financial assistance?
A number of financial assistance sources are worth investigating. Our Fees and Financial Support page offers information on a variety of options, including employers, governments and certification bursaries from the Canadian Nurses Foundation.

Can I get a replacement for a lost receipt, certificate or other document?
Requests for duplicate certification documents, such as receipts, certificates or letters, are subject to a $27 (+ applicable taxes) administration fee. Please include your eight-digit CNA certification number when making your request.

By mail
Please include a cheque with your request.

Canadian Nurses Association
50 Driveway
Ottawa, ON K2P 1E2

By e-mail

  1. Send your request to certification@cna-aiic.ca
  2. Call 1-800-361-8404 with your credit card information.