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Boning Up on Specialties
Nurses’ Journal Club inspires extra effort toward recertification.

blank Nurses
  From left, nurses Rebecca Piotrowski Sajjad, Mei Ching Lee and Fe Estalita Bernardo.

Anticipating a day when she might be in a Hopkins Hospital bed instead of standing beside it, critical care nurse Rebecca Piotrowski Sajjad decided she wanted to make the extra effort to become specialty certified. It’s also why she believes her colleagues should seek specialty certification in their own fields and participate in the Department of Medicine’s new Journal Club.

“The biggest reason that I wanted to pursue specialty certification is that in addition to being a nurse and providing care to patients, I could become a patient here myself, as could my family members,” says Sajjad. “I feel that if I demand the most of myself and try to encourage colleagues to do the same, then we’ll provide the best patient care to everybody and also be the recipients of this care one day when we need it.”

Sajjad also believes it’s vital for all of Hopkins nurses to become specialty certified to maintain the Hospital’s status as the best of the best. She notes that last fall, the American Nursing Association’s National Database of Nursing Quality Indicators showed that 22 percent of nurses held board specialty certification in academic medical centers nationwide—but only 11.6 percent of all Hopkins’ nurses did. (In some areas, however, Hopkins nurses’ specialty certification exceeds the national average; in the critical care units, for example, 25.8 percent of nurses possessed specialty certification).

To foster nursing-wide self-improvement, Sajjad became the moving force behind the Department of Medicine’s new Journal Club. Participation in its monthly meetings to review and discuss professional journal articles provides 12 credit hours annually for recertification and offers a convenient way to help nurses gain additional knowledge to pass the specialty certification exams, she says.

The club held its first hour-long meetings in January—at 8 in the morning and again at 8 at night to accommodate all nursing staff—and drew 40 participants from throughout the department. The meetings are held on the second Tuesday of each month.

Sajjad notes that the medical intensive care unit previously had its own Journal Club, but when she and several other members realized the potential impact, they “decided to open it up to all 408 full-time nurses in the Department of Medicine, because specialty certification runs the gamut.”

In general, nurses need to be recertified every three to five years, with requirements ranging from approximately 50 to 100 contact hours of continuing education, Sajjad explains.

Time commitment and cost are the main obstacles to initial certification and recertification. Although the cost for initial certification is minimal, recertification can range from several hundred to up to $3,000, depending on the expenses for attending continuing education events.

Hopkins reimburses nurses for their initial certification. Additional funding provided at the unit-based level can be applied toward contact hours needed for recertification.

Each Journal Club meeting provides one contact hour.   “In theory,” says Sajjad, “up to 80 percent of the contact hours required for recertification can be obtained just by using these combined unit-based and hospital-wide benefits, markedly decreasing out-of-pocket expenses and minimizing personal time required outside of the hospital setting.”

To obtain specialty certification, nurses must pass a separate exam. “It basically shows that a nurse is self-motivated to demonstrate expertise in a specialty area and is familiar with the major highpoints and subtle care components needed to practice expertly in a clinical setting,” says Sajjad.

Sajjad, 31, began her Hopkins career 12 years ago as a volunteer in Labor and Delivery, then used Hopkins’ tuition remission program to obtain a chemistry degree at the College of Notre Dame and her nursing degree at Villa Julie College. She’s now working on a degree in Hopkins’ Business of Nursing Program.

“There really is no reason for nurses not to pursue specialty certification,” she says. “We owe it to our patients, and we owe it to ourselves.”

For more information, contact Sajjad at or 410-955-5570.

— Neil A. Grauer



Johns Hopkins Medicine

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