The decision to achieve certification is certainly no small undertaking. It’s a long process, there’s an intensive exam involved, and it also requires a long-term commitment in the form of continuing education and professional development. The market for certifications and certificate programs has become more competitive in recent years, and the question may arise: which certification is right for me? Which will help my career the most?
For individuals with a degree in Health Education or in Public Health, there are two certifications on the market that are worth considering. At first glance, they may appear similar, but they are in fact very distinct certifications that address different aspects of an individual’s educational background. This article will help delineate the differences between the two certifications.
The National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc. (NCHEC) was founded in 1988 to address the industry-wide need to enhance the professional practice of Health Education through the promotion of a credentialed body of Health Education Specialists. NCHEC offers two certifications, Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES®) and Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES®); that of which establish national standards of practice, and verifies a health education specialist’s knowledge and skills through examination and continuing education.
Learn More about the CHES® and MCHES® Exams
The National Board of Public Health Examiners (NBPHE) was established in September 2005, as an independent organization, with the purpose to ensure that public health professionals have mastered the foundational knowledge and skills relevant to contemporary public health. This purpose is accomplished by administering a voluntary certification exam known as Certified in Public Health (CPH) and the maintenance of a certification program.
Core Areas of the CHES® and CPH Examinations
CHES® Areas of Responsibility
The CHES® exam is based on a comprehensive job/practice analysis study that is conducted every five years in order to determine the skills and competencies being utilized by health education professionals in the current marketplace. The CHES® credential focuses on the 7 Areas of Responsibility identified and defined by the current analysis. The seven core Areas of Responsibility for CHES® defined by latest practice analysis are:
- Needs Assessment in Health Education/Promotion
- Program Planning in Health Education/Promotion
- Health Education Program Implementation
- Research and Evaluation in Health Education/Promotion
- Administration and Management in Health Education/Promotion
- Resources for Health Education/Promotion
- Communication, Promotion and Advocacy for Health, Health Education/Promotion, and the Profession
CPH Core Areas
The current CPH exam is structured by the NBPHE board, and although the organization has conducted an analysis study in the past, the current exam is not currently aligned with this study. Plans to align the exam with a practice analysis study are currently underway. Although there may be some overlap with certain CHES® competencies, the core areas for the CPH exam are quite different. The CPH credential covers the large arena of general Public Health. Currently, the core areas for the CPH exam as determined by the NPBHE are:
- Environmental Health Sciences
- Health Policy and Management
- Social and Behavioral Sciences
Learn More about the Core Areas of Responsibility
One of the most important considerations when selecting a certification is the value and meaningfulness of that credential in a given professional industry. Accreditation of the certifying body by a regulatory organization gives an impartial, 3rd-party perspective and verifies that each credential is carefully aligned with rigorous national and/or international standards.
Accreditation provides a formal, independent assessment of competence, and publicly recognizes the quality of an organization’s certification(s), as well as its ongoing commitment to improvement of these certifications. NCHEC is recognized as the only accredited certification program for Health Education Specialists in the United States. Since 2008, the CHES® and MCHES® certification has been continuously accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). In 2015, NCHEC earned the significant achievement of accreditation as a Personnel Certification Body by the International Accreditation Service (IAS) to the ISO/IEC 17024 Conformity Assessment -General Requirements for Bodies Operating Certification of Persons.
Accreditation is a significant milestone for NCHEC, as it promotes confidence in the capabilities of practicing CHES® and MCHES®, and illustrates that our certifications meet the highest industry standards for quality and commitment.
Although governed by a board of professionals in the Public Health industry and academic field, the CPH certification has not undergone the accreditation process to date.
Learn More About the Value of Accreditation
Understanding eligibility requirements for each certification is a critical component during the decision-making process. Certification (unlike assessment-based certificate programs) is determined by an individual’s academic background, and often requires the completion of an undergraduate or graduate degree in a specific area or higher. The eligibility requirements for the CHES® and the CPH credentials are actually quite different.
- BS and above in Health Education; or a related degree plus 25 credits specifically in Health Education. Remember that the CHES® credential is a certification specific to health education and promotion.
An applicant’s academic transcript must reflect preparation for the elements of certification, and passing the exam then demonstrates competency in the field of health education and promotion. Eligibility for the CHES® certification will be determined on a case-by-case basis through a review of each individual course on an applicant’s academic transcript(s).
- Graduate level degree (or enrollment in a graduate level program with core content completed); or an alumni of a school or program of Public Health; or a bachelor’s degree with 5+ years of experience in the public health workforce.
Learn More About Eligibility Guidelines
In 2011, NCHEC responded to the profession’s need for an advanced-level certification through the creation of a Master’s-level credential: the Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES®). The current job analysis was expanded to include the competencies needed by experienced and academically prepared individuals practicing in the field. Eligibility for this certification is met through the completion of Master’s level academic preparation and five or more years of experience in health education and promotion. Another route to the advanced-level certification is through the successful completion of five years as a CHES®.
The MCHES certification focuses on advanced skills to demonstrate leadership roles. Specifically, the MCHES credential is hierarchical, meaning that MCHES are competent in all entry-level (CHES®) skills, in addition to more advanced-level skills.
It may be important to keep in mind, that when planning a career, the ability to achieve an advanced-level certification that demonstrates professional experience and competency may become important. For more information on MCHES® eligibility, visit www.nchec.org/mches.
Currently, the CPH certification provides only one level of certification.
Both CPH and CHES®/MCHES® certifications require the commitment of continuing education in order to maintain the credential. Continuing education verifies that an individual is remaining current in the core competencies of their chosen profession. Both certifications offer many opportunities for continuing education in varying formats. The CHES® certification requires 75 continuing education contact hours (CECH) over a five year period, and the CPH requires 50 credits every two years to remain current.
Making the Decision
Determining whether the CHES®/MCHES® or CPH certification is right for a career is an individual choice and should be based off of an individual’s professional goals and educational background. Some who are eligible for both examinations even chose to dual-certify, as the content for each exam covers different professional areas.
Factors to keep in mind are:
- Health Education versus Public Health. If an individual is specifically trained in health education and promotion, and wishes to highlight that expertise, the CHES® or MCHES® is a better fit.
- Recognition by Employers. With more than 29 years behind it, the CHES® and MCHES® certifications are recognized by thousands of employers across the country. Many are now preferring or required CHES® certification from job applicants. NCHEC is compiling a list of employers who recognize this credential and hire individuals who hold it.
- Accreditation. CHES® and MCHES® accreditations are the ONLY nationally and internationally accredited certifications in the public/community health education arena.
- Job/Practice Analysis Studies. The CHES® and MCHES® exams are periodically verified through these intensive studies to ensure that exam content meets the most current industry competencies across all job settings for health education and promotion.
I'm Ready to Take the CHES® or MCHES® Exam
For more information about NCHEC certification exams, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.nchec.org. Visit www.nbphe.org for information about the CPH exam.