NCC Certification Development Part 1
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The NCC Neonatal Neuro-Intensive Care Certification – PART 1 – The exam writing process and experience

I remember when I was a new NICU nurse, that becoming certified was one of the first professional goals I set for myself.

Recently, I was honored to take part in the development of a new subspecialty certification and wanted to share that experience with the Synapse community. 


Have you ever wondered what goes into creating a certification exam?

August 2019 marked a milestone for the NeuroNICU world as the National Certification Corporation (NCC) launched the Neonatal Neuro-Intensive Care subspecialty exam. 

 This certification exam began as an idea in 2016 as NeuroNICU’s were growing in popularity and was confirmed by the overwhelming attending at the first-ever ONE Conference in California to bring together nurses who were dedicated to this new NICU subspecialty.

The launch of the exam is truly the culmination of years of passion, planning, and painstakingly detailed work for Kathi, Shannon, and the exam content team you see below.

First Steps

In April of 2018, the content team, composed of NeuroNICU staff nurses, APRNs, and a neonatologist, met for the first time at NCC headquarters to complete a job analysis.

During that first meeting, we developed an exam content outline, defined the role and scope of an exam candidate, and conducted a pilot survey to validate proposed content. 

April 2018 NCC NeuroNICU Exam Team
The April 2018 Content Writing Team met in Chicago at the NCC offices to begin the planning of the Neuro-NICU Exam — Left to Right: (Back Row) Bresney Fanning, Jayne Solomen, Lauren Heimall, Kim Marsh, Jamie Limjoco, Charla Parkinson, Diane Wilson, Kathi Randall, Deb Marks, (Front Row) Rachelle Sey, Sarah Bakke, Maricel Maxey, (Not Pictured) Robin Bissinger.

Let the writing begin

Over the next year, the content team poured over journal articles and textbooks to develop the test questions utilizing the approved test grid that had been outlined by the job analysis and focused on the competency statements and knowledge domains required for a Neonatal Neuro-Critical Care professional to be certified. 

This chart shows the percentage distribution of questions on the Neonatal Neuro-Intensive Care exam across the major content categories covered on the examination.


In all, we needed to develop 300 evidence-based test questions to launch the exam.   CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE EXAM CANDIDATE GUIDE FROM NCC.

The domains for the certification exam include:

  • Neurologic development and evaluation of the fetus and newborn
  • Neuro-monitoring, neuro-imaging, and other diagnostic tools
  • Assessing and managing specific neuro-pathophysiologies and providing neuroprotective care
  • Providing psychosocial support to families and neuro-developmental care to babies
  • Preparing for discharge and follow up care for the neurologically impaired or at-risk neonate
  • Professional issues, including evidence-based practice, ethics, and safety

Time to Celebrate

After our last meeting in April 2019, we finalized our content for the first two versions of the exam, and registration opened in August 2019!  And as you can see from all of our smiles… we were ready to celebrate!

2019 Exam Content Team
April 2019 Content Team Celebrates!! Left to Right: Lauren Heimall, Charla Parkinson, Kim Marsh, Bresney Fanning, Robin Bissinger, Jayne Soloman, Sarah Bakke, Diane Wilson, Rachelle Sey, Deb Marks, Marcel Maxey, Jamie Jimjoco, Elizabeth Singh (not pictured).

 If you would like to register to take the exam, the testing window is open, just click here to learn more.

More Information

This year, at the 2020 ONE Conference, fellow content team member, and Johns Hopkins Children’s Center’s Neurosciences Intensive Care Nursery (NICN) Coordinator, Charla Parkinson shared our journey during the poster symposium. If you did not get a chance to view Charla’s poster in person at the 2020 ONE Conference, you can download the poster here: Download Now

Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog, as we share details about Kathi’s Neonatal Neuro-Intensive Care Exam Self-Study & Review course and we will also share some testimonials from recent participants. 

Specialty certifications are part of our professional development as nurses, and a requirement in many cases for clinical ladder and career advancement. Share on X

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