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Types of Healthcare Certifications?
There are many healthcare certifications to consider when entering the field. It’s important to research the options carefully as you will need to match the credentials you earn with the career path you have chosen.
In some cases, healthcare certification generally refers to certification by third-party, non-governmental agencies, which verify that certain professional standards have been met. These agencies set eligibility requirements and require candidates to pass assessments in order to become certified. In additional to medical services, there are also specialty certifications available in information technology (IT) and healthcare administration. These often demonstrate expertise in working with privacy laws, electronic record keeping, compliance, and/or risk management.
Healthcare professionals may also choose to pursue academic certificates offered by accredited colleges and universities. While they are similar to degrees and require a varying amount of coursework, these programs often stand alone and take less time to complete than a full degree. Those enrolled can expect to gain skills and knowledge related to a particular aspect of the profession. Most certificate programs consist of graduate-level classes, but some options are available at the associate and bachelor’s levels.
As you consider your career path and the many credentialing options available, it’s important to realize that certifications are different from licensure. Healthcare licensing processes are overseen by government-associated agencies. These agencies require candidates to meet certain eligibility requirements and assessment thresholds prior to practicing particular occupations. This applies most to those working as doctors and nurses, as well as other tightly regulated professions that involve individual proficiency and public safety regulations.
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Who Needs Healthcare Certifications?
Healthcare certifications may be necessary and/or preferred by employers in order to obtain many jobs, but this ultimately depends on your intended profession. Many healthcare professionals pursue these credentials to demonstrate mastery over the knowledge, skills, and frameworks needed to provide specific services, as well as to boost competency and prove proficiency to employers. This can be particularly important at the start of a career when there is little-to-no work experience to confirm ability.
For those already working in the field, earning certifications further expands and validates expertise. Once achieved, professionals can take their new credentials to employers as evidence that they are qualified for certain healthcare professions. This can then lead to promotions within the organization, as well as higher pay and prestige.
For aspiring healthcare workers and seasoned professionals alike, obtaining credentials has the potential to improve resumes, which can drastically increase the likelihood that employers request job interviews. As a result, healthcare certifications are often worth the time, money, and effort to attain.
Many professions in healthcare require certifications and/or special training via certificate programs prior to employment.
If you plan to pursue any of the following, you will need to identify and obtain any corresponding credentials:
- Medical Assistant
- Nursing Assistant
- Pharmacy Technician
- EKG/ECG Technician
- Patient Care Technician
- Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT)
- Cardiac Sonographer
- Telemetry Nurse Specialist
- Cath Lab Technician
- Vascular Technician
- Respiratory Therapist
- Radiologic Technician
- Medical Coding Specialist
- Psychiatric Technician
- Dental Assistant
- Surgical Technologist
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Why a Business Might Need a Professional with Healthcare Certifications
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in healthcare occupations are projected to grow 16% from 2020 to 2030, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. This increase is expected to add about 2.6 million new jobs, more than any other occupation group in the nation. Much of this projected growth is due to an aging population that requires more healthcare services. Regardless of the reason, however, it’s evident that businesses and organizations in every state will need to hire a significant number of qualified healthcare workers over the coming years.
Healthcare is a vital component of society today, with millions of people depending on the life-saving skills and expertise of medical professionals every day. When delivering advice and services, there is often very little room for error. As a result, the companies and organizations that hire healthcare workers must adhere to a wide range of laws and regulations. They also rely heavily on regulating bodies that oversee certification processes to help them select professionals who demonstrate reliable proficiency and knowledge in the field.
Where to Find Healthcare Certifications
As previously mentioned, healthcare certifications are generally overseen and administered by third-party, non-governmental agencies. These are typically well-established organizations that can vouch for the skills and competencies of credentialed professionals. A good example is the National Healthcareer Association (NHA), which offers eight well-known healthcare certifications. NHA is the largest allied health credentialing agency in the United State and has awarded over one million nationally-recognized certifications that are accepted by employers nationwide.
NHA, as well as other certifying agencies, evaluate candidate knowledge and skill using a variety of methods, including formal assessments. Many of these bodies also require certified individuals to maintain a certain level of education in order to maintain their credential. Others necessitate recertification and reassessment periodically to verify competency.
It’s worth noting that some skills may be certified by multiple, and sometimes competing, organizations. Professionals must weigh the differences between these agencies prior to beginning the credentialing process. Employers may also give preference to certain certifying bodies over others, making it essential to become familiar with the expectations of your intended profession.
Unlike certifications, academic certificates are generally offered by colleges and universities, although some other facilities may offer programs, as well. Traditional institutions may be public or private, with funding sources at the state, local, and federal levels. As online learning becomes increasingly popular, students will need to choose between in-person and remote instruction programs. While online courses make it easy to attend classes and complete coursework from anywhere with reliable internet access, some healthcare professions benefit from or require academic residencies. It’s also vital that prospective students verify the accreditation status of academic institutions prior to enrollment.
Top Healthcare Certifications
Earning healthcare certifications and/or academic certificates can be extremely beneficial for professionals in the field. As these credentials typically signify mastery over certain topics and services, they frequently lead to more varied employment opportunities and promotions into advanced positions. This can be especially relevant to workers seeking positions in leadership or who want to transition to different healthcare specialties.
- Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) provide hands-on healthcare to patients in medical settings but do so under the direct supervision of a Registered Nurse (RN) or Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). While these professionals are not required to hold a college degree, they do need special training that typically results in a postsecondary non-degree certificate or diploma. Certification guidelines vary by state, making it important to ensure that CNA programs are properly accredited prior to enrolling. Most colleges and universities seek accreditation via the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Additionally, many certifying boards expect candidates to fulfill training/clinical hours and background checks, as well as sit for a state CNA certification examination. Once earned, the credential usually lasts for two years before renewal is necessary.
Those who receive these types of certificates of completion will have more career opportunities in hospitals, nursing care facilities, and assisted living facilities, especially for geriatric patients. Graduates typically work as CNAs, performing a variety of basic duties. Some of the most common responsibilities include taking vital signs, answering patient calls, documenting patient health issues, cleaning rooms, dressing wounds, gathering supplies, and preparing rooms for admissions.
- Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA)
The Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CMMA) credential is administered by the National Healthcareer Association (NHA). This is a widely recognized certification for medical assistants (MAs), who are crucial members of healthcare teams in most healthcare settings. According to NHA, 89% of organizations encourage or require medical assistants to be certified. This credential demonstrates professionalism and critical thinking skills, attributes most prospective employers are looking for when hiring.
CCMA candidates will need to register for and pass the CCMA examination. Applicants must possess a high school diploma or high school equivalency. Additionally, they will need to complete a medical assistant training or education program within five years of applying or have one year of supervised work experience in the medical assisting field within three years of applying.
- Certified Patient Care Technician/Assistant (CPCT/A)
The Certified Patient Care Technician/Assistant (CPCT/A) credential is administered by the National Healthcareer Association (NHA). This is a widely recognized certification for patient care technicians, who assist with the critical day-to-day care some patients require. According to NHA, 78% of organizations encourage or require patient care technicians to be certified. These professionals are in higher demand than ever before, and this credential ensures they are better prepared to tackle increasing responsibilities in their role. Other job titles with scopes that CPCT/A certification can fulfill or exceed include home health aide, certified nursing assistant, patient care associate, and home health assistant.
CPCT/A candidates will need to register for and pass the CPCT/A examination. Applicants must possess a high school diploma or high school equivalency. Additionally, they will need to complete a patient care technician training or education program within five years of applying or have one year of supervised work experience in the patient care technician field within three years of applying.
- Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Certification
Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification is overseen by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians. These professionals function as part of a comprehensive emergency medical services (EMS) system, providing out of hospital emergency medical care and transportation for critical and emergent patients.
Those who have completed or are currently enrolled in a full EMT education program may apply for EMT certification. Candidates must successfully complete a state-approved EMT course that meets or exceeds the National Emergency Medical Services Education Standards for the Emergency Medical Technician within the past two years. This course must be verified by the program director via the National Registry website. Additionally, applicants must have a current CPR-BLS or equivalent credential, as well as a passing score on the National Registry EMT cognitive (knowledge) examination and a state-approved psychomotor (skills) examination.
- Certified Phlebotomy Technician (CPT)
The Certified Phlebotomy Technician (CPT) credential is administered by the National Healthcareer Association (NHA). This is a widely recognized certification for phlebotomy technicians, who are critical team members in hospitals, diagnostic laboratories, and blood donor centers. According to NHA, 93% of organizations encourage or require phlebotomy technicians to be certified. These professionals are in high demand, as new types of tests are being developed and laboratory tech positions are growing.
CPT candidates will need to register for and pass the CPT examination. Applicants must possess a high school diploma or high school equivalency. Additionally, they will need to complete a phlebotomy technician training or education program within five years of applying or have one year of supervised work experience in the phlebotomy technician field within three years of applying.
- Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT)
The Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT) credential is administered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB). This certification demonstrates knowledge and commitment to medication safety, as well as effective patient care across pharmacy settings.
CPhT candidates must reside in the United States of America or its territories. They must also complete a PTCB-recognized education/training program or equivalent work experience. Full disclosure of all criminal and State Board of Pharmacy registration or licensure actions is also necessary. Additionally, those seeking this credential must receive a passing score on the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE).
Notably, the National Healthcareer Association (NHA) also offers the CPhT credential. Most states require pharmacy technicians to be certified by one of these two major bodies. It’s important, however, to verify the specific regulations prior to beginning the process.
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Healthcare IT Certifications
- Certified Health Data Analyst (CHDA)
The Certified Health Data Analyst (CHDA) credential is administered by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). This certification demonstrates expertise in health data analysis and is validation of mastery in this domain. It also provides practitioners with the knowledge to acquire, manage, analyze, interpret, and transform data into accurate, consistent, and timely information. Those with the CHDA credential exhibit broad organizational knowledge and the ability to communicate with individuals and groups at multiple levels.
CHDA candidates must meet one of the following eligibility requirements in order to sit for the CHDA examination: hold an RHIT or RHIA credential or have a healthcare bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited college or university. It’s also recommended that they have a minimum of three years of healthcare data experience, as well as familiarity with data analysis, data management, data interpretation, and data governance. The CHDA exam costs $329 ($259 with AHIMA membership) and had a first-time pass rate of 10% in 2020.
- Certified Outpatient Coder (COC)
The Certified Outpatient Coder (COC) credential is administered by the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC). AAPC is the world’s largest training and credentialing organization for the business of healthcare. Becoming a COC shows proficiency in assigning accurate medical codes for diagnoses, procedures, and services performed in the outpatient setting. This certification also demonstrates knowledge of coding rules and regulations, as well as an understanding of a wide range of healthcare services. Recipients go on to report outpatient services in a variety of settings including hospital emergency departments, outpatient clinics, outpatient therapy departments, and ambulatory surgery centers.
COC candidates will need to take and pass the COC examination. This test consists of 100 multiple choice questions that must be completed within four hours. It is open code book and assesses the test-takers knowledge of the correct application of CPT, HCPCS Level II procedure and supply codes and ICD-10-CM diagnosis codes used for coding and billing outpatient facility and freestanding ASC services to insurance companies.
Another certification requirement is maintaining AAPC membership. Additionally, COCs must submit proof of experience every two years, as well as completing 36 Continuing Education Units (CEUs) each re-certification period.
- Certified Professional Coder (CPC)
The Certified Professional Coder (CPC) credential is administered by the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC). Becoming a CPC demonstrates an unwavering reputation of excellence. Recipients have expertise in assigning accurate medical codes, knowledge of coding guidelines and regulations, proficiency across a wide range of services, and an understanding of how to integrate medical coding and payment policy changes into reimbursement processes.
CPC candidates will need to take and pass the CPC examination. This test consists of 100 multiple choice questions that must be completed within four hours. It is open code book and assesses the test-takers knowledge in 17 key areas. Another certification requirement is maintaining AAPC membership. Additionally, COCs must submit proof of experience every two years, as well as complete 36 Continuing Education Units (CEUs) each re-certification period.
- Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT)
The Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) credential is administered by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). This certification demonstrates the ability to ensure the quality of medical records, as well as use computer applications to assemble and analyze patient data in order to improve care and/or control costs. Those with the RHIT credential may be employed by any organization that uses patient data or health information.
RHIT candidates must meet one of the following eligibility requirements in order to sit for the RHIT examination: successfully complete an associate degree in Health Information Management (HIM) that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM) or graduate from an HIM program approved by a foreign association with which AHIMA has a reciprocity agreement. The RHIT exam costs $299 ($229 with AHIMA membership) and had a first-time pass rate of 78% in 2020.
- Certified Professional in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CPHIMS)
The Certified Professional in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CPHIMS) credential is administered by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). This certification demonstrates that international standards of professional knowledge and competence in healthcare information and management systems have been met. It also shows commitment to continuing professional development.
CPHIMS candidates must take a pass the CPHIMS Exam. To sit for this examination, applicants must hold a baccalaureate degree from an accredited college or university and have five years of information and management systems experience (at least three of which were earned in a healthcare setting). Alternatively, candidates must hold a graduate degree or higher from an accredited institution and possess three years of information and management systems experience (at least two in a healthcare setting). Those with 10 years of professional experience in the field, eight of which are in a healthcare setting, may also register for the test.
- Epic Certification
Epic certification is managed by the Epic software company. This software is utilized in a variety of healthcare settings including community hospitals, academic medical centers, rehabilitation centers, and even patient homes. Many patients have their electronic records stored in Epic and, as a result, certification for healthcare IT professionals is highly coveted. This credential signifies that an individual is proficient in a relevant module. Recipients are also capable of assisting other facilities when implementing Epic software.
It's important to note that Epic certification must be awarded through a sponsorship. Only a healthcare system that is current implementing or planning to implement Epic can nominate a candidate. Once an individual has completed an in-depth training, as well as implementation, can sit for a proficiency test.
- Healthcare Information Security and Privacy Practitioner (HCISPP)
The Healthcare Information Security and Privacy Practitioner (HCISPP) credential is administered by (ISC)². This is the only certification that combines cyber security skills with privacy best practices and techniques. It demonstrates expertise in protecting patient health information, as well as navigating a complex regulatory environment. Recipients are also known to have the knowledge and ability to implement, manage, and assess security and privacy controls.
HCISPP candidates must take a pass the HCISPP exam, which evaluates expertise across seven domains. Instructor-led online and classroom training courses are available through (ISC)², but seminars, courseware, and self-study aids are recommended. Applicants must also have at least two years of cumulative, paid work experience in one or more of the seven domains. Additionally, candidates must complete the endorsement process and agree to the (ISC)² Code of Ethics.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are healthcare certifications better than an MBA?
Those interested in the business side of healthcare can choose to enroll in Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree programs. As one of the most popular degrees in the United States, MBAs often help students develop and hone skills in strategy, marketing, global business, and supply chain management. Some of these programs may even offer concentrations in healthcare administration. Graduates tend to have very good prospects. Not only do they often qualify for senior-level and management positions, but those with MBAs also tend to stand out during interviews and earn more money.
Earning an MBA is not better than healthcare certifications, however. These two options lead to drastically different outcomes. Whereas MBAs make it easier to obtain work in healthcare administration, certifications can lead to employment in a wide variety of medical and IT professions. Prospective professionals must determine the best course of action based on their personal career goals and aspirations.
What qualifications do I need to be a healthcare manager?
Most healthcare managers have bachelor’s degrees in related areas such as health administration, public health, business, or nursing. While this may be sufficient for some entry-level positions, many high-level opportunities require candidates to obtain master’s degrees in healthcare management or healthcare administration. It’s worth noting, however, that education expectations can vary drastically for professionals already in the field. Doctors, for example, seeking to transition to healthcare management may only need to complete a short academic certificate program. Additionally, certifications are rarely needed, although they can improve job prospects.
Will earning healthcare certifications allow me to find a new job?
Many healthcare certifications and academic certificates demonstrate proficiency and expertise. This can make you stand out among others in the field and can help you qualify for certain professional opportunities in the field. Whether these credentials lead to new jobs, however, will ultimately depend on your other qualifications and employer preferences. While certifications and certificates are often beneficial, obtaining them does not guarantee employment.
- Healthcare Occupations. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved on July 13, 2022 from:
- National Healthcareer Association
- Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Retrieved on July 13, 2022 from:
- Certified Patient Care Technician/Assistant (CPCT/A). National Healthcareer Association
- EMT Full Education Program Pathway. National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians
- Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT). Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB)
- Certified Health Data Analyst (CHDA). American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA)
- Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT). American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA)
- Certified Outpatient Coder (COC) Certification Exam. American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC)
- CPHIMS Certification. Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS)
- HCISPP – The HealthCare Security Certification. (ISC)²