Certifications in the healthcare industry run the gamut from nice-to-have to can’t-work-unless-you’re-certified. The variation has to do with the numbers of careers -- more than 200 in the allied health area alone, according to Explore Health Careers. In addition, each state regulates the practice of medicine, nursing and allied health. Certification does have meaning for many healthcare professionals, however, and can demonstrate knowledge as well as expertise.
Medicine is a profession where all players begin at the same point -- medical school -- but paths then diverge into a wide variety of specialties. The American Board of Medical Specialties recognizes more than 130 specialties and subspecialties. In some cases, subspecialties cross over. Anesthesiologists, family practice physicians and internists, for example, can all specialize in hospice and palliative medicine. Certifications are available in each major specialty and all subspecialties. Certification for physicians is a voluntary process, although some hospitals, insurance companies and managed-care organizations give preference to board-certified physicians.
Nurses can specialize just as physicians do, and certifications are available in many nursing specialties. Some employers give preference to certified registered nurses. In addition, there are four advanced practice nurse categories -- nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, certified nurse midwives and certified registered nurse anesthetists -- who have post-graduate training and a scope of practice equivalent to that of a physician. Although registered nurses in general are not required to be certified, some states do require that advanced practice nurses be both licensed and certified to practice. Certifications in nursing are available from the American Nurses Credentialing Center or from professional organizations.
Allied health professionals include occupations as diverse as respiratory therapy, dental assisting, medical technology and licensed practical nursing. Although certification is not usually required to practice, many employers prefer or require certification, particularly for fields in which on-the-job training is a legitimate entry point for the allied health worker. Medical assistants and dental assistants, for example, might be trained in an accredited program or on the job. Certification provides a means to determine the level of knowledge a worker possesses.
Other Healthcare Occupations
In addition to healthcare workers who provide direct care, many other occupations in the industry offer opportunities for certification. The National HealthCareer Association offers certifications for billing and coding specialists, as well as electronic health record specialists. Health information management -- once known as medical records management -- is another area in which workers can obtain certification. The American Health Information Management Association offers credentials such as registered health information administrator; registered health information technician; certified coding specialist; certified health data analyst; and certification in healthcare privacy and security. Although none of these certifications is required for practice, employers may prefer or require them.