Answering Your Questions About Certification

The members of the Patient Advocate Certification Board (PACB) recently learned of questions surrounding the launch of the first national certification for Patient Advocates.  We hope this clarification will help you better understand the rationale to become a Board Certified Patient Advocate (BCPA.)

• What is the difference between an education and a certification?

At the root of some of the questions is the difference between education and certification; the confusion between the completion of an education program (offered by a college, university, or other organization), and subsequent receipt of a certificate of completion – vs — having achieved certification.

Certification is a well-respected and highly regarded method of testing competencies, standards, and ethical principles of a practice (in this case patient advocacy).  Certifications such as the PACB’s, are developed through a rigorous process led by an independent and objective professional testing organization that specializes in certification testing and psychometric principles to ensure the examination is fair, balanced, and represents the practice.

In addition, at each step of the development process, questions and recommendations that impact the certification are taken to the professionals who make up the practice through a public commenting process. This ensures the examination meets the demands of the practice. 

That is precisely the approach the PACB took, guided by the Professional Testing Corporation, and through outreach to hundreds of your peer advocates for review.

This is a very different goal and process from that of an educational organization which exists solely to provide an education, then issues a certificate of completion.

The Patient Advocate Certification Board is a non-profit certification body, not an educational organization. We have developed universal competencies, standards, ethics, and a test that, when passed, will demonstrate how well someone understands them.

We anticipate the best among the advocate education colleges, universities, and organizations will begin to incorporate into their curricula the elements laid out by the PACB to build the practice and ensure patient-consumers a basis of standards and ethics among those who practice patient advocacy.  

• Are there more advocacy-related certifications than just the PACB Certification?

Yes. There are many. In fact, many patient advocates have already earned certifications that demonstrate their competency and ability to help patients and clients navigate the complex healthcare system.

You have experienced this when you see someone’s signature with established credentials behind their name.  Some of the more familiar advocacy-related certifications are CCM, LCSW, and others that reflect various practices throughout the healthcare industry. Note, however, that those certifications were not assigned because someone completed an educational course or program. They were earned from a certifying body like the PACB.

We hope and expect that if you already hold another certification, that you will consider adding “BCPA” (Board Certified Patient Advocate) to your professional credentials, too.

• Do you need to be clinical (medically trained or a MD, RN, LPN, counselor, social worker etc.) to earn PACB Certification?

No, you do not. 

The PACB believes that excellence in patient advocacy is not based on clinical skills; it is based on respect for the difference between clinical and non-clinical work, and knowing how to tap into the right resources at the right time, resources that will include clinical support when needed.

Hundreds of well-respected advocates have no clinical background whatsoever. They may be medical billing advocates, claims advocates, researchers, mediators, guardians, and others. It would be a disservice to deny them the right to be certified, suggesting that they are not capable of being effective, ethical, professional patient advocates.

The questions raised may stem from the fact that the PACB does not rely on individual statements of education or experience to accept or deny someone the right to achieve its certification. That decision was made due to lack of evidence to support the idea that specific education or experience is necessary to be an effective patient advocate. (You can learn more about PACB exam eligibility in our handbook.)

During the exam application process, the PACB collects education and experience data from applicants through a survey process. The data will be analyzed to identify any correlation(s) that may exist between education or experience, and passing the exam. Eligibility requirements may change in the future should we discover such correlation(s) exist.

• What about case studies? How can they be tested on a multiple choice test?

Case studies are a valuable tool for learning and understanding professional advocacy.

PACB exam writers spent time learning how to formulate questions to emulate the flow of a case study in order to write questions that would do so. To pass the exam, test takers must have a good working knowledge of the practice of patient advocacy to answer questions correctly using the principles that differentiate advocacy from direct medical care.

The answer choices are all plausible, but only one of them will be right. You’ll be expected to choose the answer that falls within the scope of professional patient advocacy standards and ethics.

In the coming weeks, we will be posting sample test questions, with explanations about why one answer is better than another. Be sure you are registered at right (or below) to receive email notices when they are published.


We hope this helps clarify and answer some of your questions.