(Ruth) Joy Shiller | RN, BSN, MS, CAPA

My Certification Story

At age 59 my manager called me into her office and informed me that she had given me a promotion but that I had one year to obtain a certification in perianesthesia nursing. I informed her that I had no desire to be studying for anything at my age and would decline the promotion. After she insisted, I decided I would try to take the CAPA certification exam - but only once. My plan was to study every evening for three months and for six evenings a week.

The day of the exam I was given a booklet with the test questions. When I read the first four questions, I quickly decided I had studied for the wrong test. I broke out into a hot flash like I never had before and started to cry. Anyway, I completed the exam and left in tears with a stiff neck. When I got home I threw all my notes in the trash and canceled my plans to go out for dinner because I had no appetite. The results came in the mail a few weeks later but I did not open the envelope for several days. I only opened it after learning that others at our hospital had failed and I would not be the only one. I could not believe that I had passed it - it was one of the best moments of my life!

My Study Strategies

  • The best study strategy I used was the voice recorder. When I read something I did not know, I would record it and then listen to the material over and over again any time I was driving in the car.
  • I also put post-it notes on the bathroom mirror with all the drugs and dosages. Each day I would go through about 5 of them and review them any time I was in the bathroom.
  • As I went through the study material I also circled and put a star near any information I thought may be testable. Then I just went back to the books and looked at what I had circled.
  • Taking the practice exams was helpful. Two of us would take our breaks together and exchange questions from the tests.
  • I also gave myself one day a week completely off from studying and would do something fun and relaxing.

My Benefits

The main benefit is the sense of pride I have every time I write CAPA after my name. I always wear my graduation, Sigma theta Tau, and CAPA pins to work. When patients ask me what they mean, I always point to the CAPA pin and tell them that is the one for which I am most proud.

Shortly after taking the exam I went to a state conference where there was an ABPANC representative who encouraged me to write test questions. I found that I enjoyed writing questions that reflected my experience with patients. As I got feedback, my writing improved. Later that year, I received a phone call inviting me to attend an item writing meeting. I also went to ABPANC’s Item Writing workshop at the ASPAN conference, where I received additional in-depth training on writing questions. Both the Item Writing Meeting and the Item Writing Workshop really honed my writing skills, and motivated me to continue writing. Being involved in the exam development process as a member of the Exam Construction Committee and meeting nurses from across the country has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Writing and reviewing questions have kept me in the books and I continue to learn new information about best practices for patient care.

My Advice

It's easy to say but not easy to do and that is not to get discouraged or let it have any impact on your self-esteem or who you are as a nurse. Some of the finest nurses I have worked with have failed the exam but have passed on the second attempt. It's a good idea to ask those who once failed and then passed what their strategies were. It is also good to speak with someone who has been there and will share their feelings.