Birth Professionals

Credentialing vs. Licensing

I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about credentialing and licensing – the reason for all the letters at the end of a name.  It isn’t always easy to understand how the whole process works, especially when you are just looking into midwifery as an option.

So, my full title (right now) is:  Jennifer Vanderlaan, MSN MPH RN CNM FNP

What does all that mean?

Educational Degree

To be licensed as a midwife you will need education.  What type of education you have may differ depending on what options are available where you live. Once you have an educational degree, you will always have it.  When you list all your credentials at the end of your name the educational degree will be first — but only list your highest degree in any field).

One of the most important things to consider with an educational degree is its portability, and the level of portability you will want for your practice. Some midwifery degrees are more easily recognized throughout the United States, and are more easily transferred throughout the world than others. If you intend to teach, or advance your education, you will want to consider midwifery degrees that allow you transfer credits to other types of schools.  Selecting your midwifery degree with your end goal in mind can save you time and money in the long run, even if it costs you an extra year or two at the beginning.

I knew I wanted to work internationally, and preferred the CNM credential because I knew in most of the world where I would work I would be expected to be a nurse (or at least have nursing skills) if I were a midwife. I chose an accelerated BSN program rather than an associates in nursing because I already had a BS degree, so could earn a BSN in the same time it would take me to earn an AD.  My midwifery degree is a Master’s in Nursing, which I earned in a dual program with a Master’s in Public Health because I knew I wanted to work internationally and address policy issues.


A license (or registration) is a recognition from the governmental authority that you have the legal right to practice in a discipline.  As a midwife, your licesure may be Registered Midwife, Licensed Midwife, or Advanced Practice Registered Nurse. Obtaining a license or registration generally involves demonstration of a minimum education and/or certification in your field, and an annual fee.  Unlike your educational credential, your licensure is only  valid as long as you keep it current (generally with annual renewal).

Right now, I only have a license as a registered nurse because I didn’t want to pay the additional fees to be licensed in family practice or midwifery, in which case I would be an APRN. This means my license is RN.


Certification is recognition by an established organization that you meet minimum standards for practice. This usually means you demonstration education, a certain amount of practice under a preceptor and pass a competency exam. Certifications last longer than licensure, but eventually require renewal through continuing education or re-testing.

I have two certifications – family practice nurse practitioner (FNP) and certified nurse midwife (CNM).  However, because I am pursuing research rather than practice I may have a hard time maintaining my FNP.

What this means for you

While each of these components are separate, they are all related. To practice legally, you will need to register as a midwife.  This means you will need to meet a certain level of education or certification to obtain that license/registration. Becoming certified will also have educational requirements. Understanding these requirements before you begin a program can save you money and time in the long run.


Jennifer Vanderlaan (Author)