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National certification standards set for health and wellness coaches

Jun. 2, 2016, 9:15 AM

Credentialing criteria for health and wellness coaches have been established for the first time, setting the stage for health professionals to apply to take the certification exam next year.

The National Board of Medical Examiners and the National Consortium for Credentialing of Health & Wellness Coaches announced last week an agreement to launch the certification program.

Ruth Wolever, Ph.D.
Ruth Wolever, Ph.D.

The timing is in sync with a new health coaching certification program offered by Vanderbilt University School of Nursing. Ruth Wolever, Ph.D., was recruited last year to be director of health coaching at Vanderbilt.

“I’m delighted to be working at Vanderbilt, where we had the foresight to line up the development of our program so that it would qualify for the national standards, so the training program would be accredited and our students who graduate would be eligible for the national exam,” Wolever said.

The Vanderbilt Health Coaching Certificate Program is offered to physicians, registered nurses, physical therapists, counselors, social workers and other licensed health care professionals. It is designed as a one-year program, but students can take up to 18 months to complete it.

“While our medical establishment is fabulous at acute care, we have a long way to go in helping patients manage behavior factors that drive chronic care,” Wolever said. “This skill set in how to help people change behavior is what is taught through the health coach training program.”

Wolever, who serves on the executive board for the National Consortium for Credentialing of Health & Wellness Coaches, said the committee worked for six years to get the standards established.

“In order to assure both safety and effectiveness for clients, we needed to have a national standard,” she said. “But we also needed to move the research agenda forward because what was getting compared was apples to oranges, different interventions that were all being called coaching. Of course, studies were getting confusing, equivocal results.”

With no credentialing system having been established until now, people without degrees or experience in health fields have claimed to be health coaches. Also, people in health care who thought coaching meant “advising and educating” claimed to be health coaches. But coaching is a particular skill set.

The next step is working with states to set up licensing requirements for this health profession, Wolever said.

People who are interested in receiving no-cost coaching from trainees in the Vanderbilt program can email healthcoaching@vanderbilt.edu or call 615-343-8994 to request a coach-in-training.

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