The Value of Certification: The Difference Between Certification and Certificate Programs

By Suzanne S. Schneider, MS, CCC/SLP, NTMTC, CNT on behalf of the Neonatal Therapy Certification Board

There are many professional certification and certificate programs available these days. While they sound similar, the differences are important when choosing where to spend your time and money as well as when considering your goals of participation. Depending on where you are in your career and what your goals of participation are, understanding these distinctions (certification versus certificate programs) will help you decide which is right for you.

Certificate programs aim to develop and verify your skills on a specialized topic and most often have an educational component. They provide instruction and training with the goal being for participants to acquire specific knowledge, skills, or competencies. Certificate assessment programs include an assessment of the learner’s knowledge and skills, while education programs provide a certificate upon completion of a course or series of courses. While the certificate program may provide evidence that the person has knowledge in a specific area, it does not define that they have met minimum standards in that area of practice as would a certification program.

Many professions require a process that ensures you have met the minimum requirements and demonstrated key knowledge for practice. This ensures that those practicing are qualified to do so, and when you seek out a specific professional, you can be assured they have undergone a process of validation via certification and/or board examination. In the US, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology all require such a process to practice in that field. The use of such processes to validate requisite knowledge and skills of those practicing advanced each of these fields into professional practice.

Specialty certifications are available within these professions that define clinicians who have undergone another set of validation to engage in advanced practice, such as the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), pediatrics, and feeding/swallowing. While these certifications are often voluntary, their availability is a sign that the profession is advancing and is moving toward requirements to demonstrate skill and knowledge to ensure safe and evidence-based provision of therapy services in that setting. Specialty certification validates that the bearer of the certification has the core knowledge to practice in that field. There was a time when neonatology subspecialty certification for physicians did not exist. The Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine subspecialty certification was developed in 1974 by the American Board of Pediatrics due to the recognition that the practice of neonatology required specialized skills and training. As physicians began to achieve the certification, the field advanced and board certification became the expected standard for neonatologists. Likewise, neonatal nursing specialty certification was developed in 1976, due to a recognition of the advanced skills that nurses need to work effectively with high-risk neonates. Now, neonatal therapy aligns with our physician and nursing colleagues in understanding that a therapy generalist does not possess adequate knowledge and skills to practice in the NICU, and a certification process aids in validating the knowledge required to do so.

If you seek to expand your repertoire of skills and knowledge, then a certificate program may be appropriate for you. If you are looking to validate core knowledge required to practice, then a certification program may be the right fit for you. Certification results in credentials awarded by a standard-setting organization. Recertification acknowledges an ongoing process of validating education, knowledge, and/or experience in the setting as practice changes.

The neonatal therapy certification program validates the clinical experience and knowledge essential for effective delivery of neonatal therapy by occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech-language pathologists in the NICU. Through a formal credentialing process, the Neonatal Therapy Certification Board (NTCB) provides a vehicle by which knowledge, skills, and experience can drive the professional communities to respect and recognize the professional competence achieved when an individual is awarded the designation of Certified Neonatal Therapist (CNT). Further, we recognize the value of neonatal certificate programs, albeit different from certification, as useful vehicles in expanding knowledge prior to and/or after becoming a CNT.

It is important to differentiate between the programs that can transform your professional development portfolio. For example, the goal of becoming a CNT may start with the understanding gained through certificate programs geared toward NICU-specific content to support educational needs. However, neonatal therapy certification is the validation that you have met the minimum requirements to engage in safe, evidence-based practice in the NICU. The availability of a certification program as well as an expanding number of available certificate programs means better care for fragile infants in the NICU and their families.

For more information visit: Certification Requirements | NTCB

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