You want your wellness program to be effective and make a difference for your organization. Hiring Wellness Directors and Wellness Coordinators who are certified is one important factor because third-party certification holds wellness professionals to higher standards. The certification process also helps ensure consistency among practitioners in the field. Unfortunately, because of the significant growth in wellness-related certifications over the past 10 years, hiring managers find it challenging to easily identify a quality credential consistent with the competencies required to successfully promote wellness.
A professional certified in wellness promotion demonstrates that they are more driven toward quality practice, ethical standards and on-going learning in the field. Bridgette Stewart, Senior Lecturer at the University of West Georgia and Chair of the Council on Wellness Certification Excellence (CWCE), believes that hiring wellness professionals with the right certifications, “helps ensure that your employees understand their scope of practice and ethical standards. They also introduce your employees to a professional network so they can get involved with a diverse group of individuals to expand their skill-set and impact.”
The National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) defines the primary focus of a certification as demonstrating that an individual meets the standard competency requirements to perform in a certain professional role. A time-limited credential is awarded upon successful assessment of the individual and on-going continuing education is required for maintenance. The assessment process for a certification is independent of specific courses or training programs and the certifying agency is not the sole provider of any preparatory education/training. In contrast, assessment-based certificates are defined as the outcome of a class, course, or training program, where an individual passes an examination evaluating their mastery of specific learning objectives. Unfortunately, many of the so-called “certifications” in the wellness industry are actually more consistent with the standards for “assessment-based certificate” programs leading to certification confusion in the field.
According to Dr. Lana Saal, an independent wellness consultant, it is critical for wellness professionals to have a credential that validates their competencies in all areas of wellness because “one-off certifications that only assess one area of wellness like fitness or nutrition are too specific.” She believes that a national credential, which assesses multi-dimensional wellness competencies, is needed.
So, what should you do if are looking at the application from a wellness professional and you are unfamiliar with their credentials? Here are a few tips to help you vet the credential based on the defining qualities of certification from the NCCA:
- Primary focus of the program: Does the program provide an independent assessment of the competencies required for proficient performance in the professional role?
- Content of Program: Is the program based on competencies that were identified through a formal study (e.g., job/practice analysis, role delineation)?
- Program Oversight: Is there an independent governing body with representation from relevant stakeholders in charge of decision making and standard setting?
- Provider Role in Education and Training: Does the certification provider conduct the certification program independently of any educational/training programs?
- Education and Training Requirements and Prerequisites: Is the certification provider the SOLE provider of any preparatory education/training that may be necessary for certification?
- Assessment: Is successful completion of an assessment required to receive the certification?
- Validation of Assessment: Is the content of the assessment validated through a formal study and documentation of a link between study findings and the competencies represented in the assessment?
- Standard Setting: Does the certification program use a generally accepted method for standard setting?
- Evaluation of Assessments: Is the effectiveness of the assessment evaluated on a regular basis to ensure its ongoing utility for measuring the competency standards set by the governing body?
- Credential Maintenance: Is the certification time-limited? Is continuing education required for certification maintenance?
While a rigorous assessment process that evaluates the competencies required to effectively perform a wellness-promoting job is critical, Mark Mulray, VP of Operations for Health Promotion Solutions, believes that it all ties back to the reputation of the certifying organization and building a trusting relationship with them that their certification process consistently provides highly qualified wellness professionals.
Currently, a wellness certification that meets all of the standards for accreditation by the NCCA does not exist. In a world where anyone can call themselves a Wellness Practitioner, regardless of adequate training or experience, dialogue around the need for certification standards will become more and more important for the wellness industry and profession to advance their credibility.