Types of Certifications

Certifications exist for almost every medical field career — from nurse practitioners to medical assistants. It's important one become certified in his or her field to demonstrate professional competency and dedication to the practice of medicine. Obtaining certification requires more study time and the passing of a national board exam, but doing so is well worth the effort. Certification can often mean increased earning potential and marketability. Let's take a look at the certification exams for the different job categories in the medical field.

  • Medical Assistants: Once you've graduated from an accredited medical assisting program, you must apply for examination through the American Association of Medical Assistants
  • Medical Coding Certification: Even the people who work in a physician's billing office can obtain certification. The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) provides certification for these individuals. According to their Web site, "The AAPC's gold standard CPC credential demonstrates a broad encompassing knowledge and expertise in reviewing and assigning the correct coding of physician services, procedures and diagnosis for medical claims. It rigorously validates an individual's ability to assign codes based on national coding guidelines and operative reports, comprehend medical terminology and human anatomy and apply billing reimbursement guidelines." Certified medical coders typically earn higher salaries than noncertified coders, and as with medical assistants, certified coders are an attractive choice to employers because they've proven their competence and expertise in medical coding. Having a certified coder in a medical practice's billing department means the physician can rest assured he or she will be reimbursed properly for services rendered.
  • Nurse Practitioners: The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) in conjunction with the Professional Examination Service provides national examinations for nurse practitioners in three disciplines: adult, family, and gerontologic nurse practitioners. These exams test nurses' knowledge of the nursing process (assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation, and evaluation), in addition to a long list of health and clinical situations. Lab tests and diagnostic data must be interpreted, and the ability to properly prescribed medications and treatment is evaluated on the exam. According to the AANP Web site, "The purpose of [the certification program] is to provide a valid and reliable program for entry-level nurse practitioners to recognize their education, knowledge and professional expertise". Once a nurse passes this exam, he or she will place the initials NP-C after his or her name.
  • Certified Nurse Midwives: The national certifying board for nurse midwives is the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB). Once a nurse graduates from an accredited midwifery program and completes an application for examination, she can sit for the 175-question computer-based exam. According to the AMCB Web site, a graduate degree is required for anyone wishing to sit for the certification exam. The board's mission statement clearly states why they feel professional certification is important: "AMCB is committed to using progressive, comprehensive educational and professional criteria to certify midwives." The midwife certification program is an entity separate from the professional midwifery organization and as such focuses its energies on maintaining strict standards and guidelines related to the certification process and any issues regarding professional discipline.
  • Physician Assistants: The National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) certifies physician assistants in the United States and is separate from the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), the national PA organization in this country. Their certification exams, the Physician Assistant National Certification Exam (PANCE) and the Physician Assistant National Recertification Exam (PANRE), are the national board exams for PAs. One must graduate from an accredited PA program prior to taking the PANCE, the initial certifying board exam. According to the NCCPA Web site, test material is divided into two categories:
    • Organ systems and the diseases, disorders, and medical assessments physician assistants encounter within those systems.
    • The knowledge and skills physician assistants should exhibit when confronted with those diseases, disorders, and assessments (2009).

Last Updated: 08/20/2013

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