5 Most Popular Health Coaching Certifications

Certified health coach with nursing background teaching her client healthy eating habits.

Health coaching is a relatively new occupational field and one that is growing in popularity. As people are starting to become more health conscious and/or requiring health interventions, an integrated approach is needed to best achieve overall health in patients/clients. The health coach role has arrived as a long overdue solution.

Intro to Health Coaching

Health coaches provide guidance and management in the major components of health, including diet, physical activity and wellness. They help people identify their ideal health goals, define a customized plan and guide them in putting the plan into action. This basically involves determining what areas of their clients’ lifestyle need to be changed for the better and making sure those changes are implemented.

Given the multiple components of health and well-being you must be versed in to perform this job effectively, having a background in fitness or health care is a must. One way to show that you have taken the proper steps towards being more qualified is by becoming certified as a health coach. If not already a requirement, certification can definitely increase your hiring potential when applying for health coaching jobs.

Here are five of the most popular health coach certifications, including how you can get them and other important details on each program:

1. NSHC – National Society of Health Coaches

Website: http://www.nshcoa.com/site/

Details of certification

The NSHC offers a Health Coach Certification, which is the NSHC’s Certified Health Coach, CHC. This certification is only open to licensed and credentialed healthcare professionals. Individuals working as any of the following may take this program: physician, physician assistant– certified, licensed clinical counselor, doctor of chiropractic/podiatry, nurse practitioner/clinical nurse specialist, RN/LPN/LVN, therapists and assistants– physical/occupational/speech pathology / respiratory, dentist/licensed dental hygienist, registered dietician/CDR dietetic technician, CBNS certified nutrition specialist, psychologist, certified diabetic educator, pharmacist, NATA certified athletic trainer, ACSM certified exercise physiologist/ACSM certified exercise specialist, licensed acupuncturist.

Purchase of this guided self-study program gives access to all program materials, which also includes the online skills practice, skills competency and testing. An exclusive NSHC member email Listserv is used for professional networking. The average length of time to complete the program is 70 hours. Once the program has been completed, the online certification exam can be taken free within 12 months of the purchase date of the program; thereafter it is $50 to re-test. If the complimentary period to initially test has expired, it is $50 to test and a $50 membership renewal fee.

Those interested in the program, but not licensed or credentialed in any healthcare profession, may receive a ‘certificate of completion’ in lieu of the certification. The program material is the same for both the certification and the certificate of completion.

Location and requirements

Both the Certification and the Certificate of Completion program are offered in a hard-copy binder, with Skills Competency and tests conducted online. The re-certification, which must be done every 5 years, is also completed through an online examination. The link to their website is listed above.

In order to take the NSHC Certified Health Coach (CHC) program you must be a licensed or credentialed healthcare professional.

Recertification must be completed prior to the certification’s expiration date and the person seeking recertification must be a current member of the NSHC. When you purchase the program, you become a member for one year free and the annual renewal fee is $50.

Overall perspective on the certification

The NSHC program is a highly respected program and they have a unique evidence-based health coaching approach. A certification from this program will likely give any healthcare provider a nod of approval from their peers. For those not in healthcare, completing the program for the ‘certificate of completion’ shows willingness to go the extra mile and learn from one of the top programs in the nation.

2. American Council on Exercise (ACE)

Website: ACE Accredited Health Coach Program

Details of certification

Geared towards both healthcare providers and fitness professionals, ACE’s Health Coach certification is designed to help qualify and expand career opportunities for those looking to integrate additional health strategies into the lives of their clients/patients.

For this certification, you have the option of purchasing the exam as part of one of two self-study packages. The “Standard” package includes ACE Academy which consists of weekly email courses reminding you to keep your studies on track, including an online practice exam. The “Premium” package includes ACE Academy Select, which implements an online video lecture-based curriculum, two practice exams, ability to retake the certification exam if needed, and other resources not included with the “Standard” package.

Location and requirements

As an independent study, you can prepare for the ACE Health Coach certification exam at home and at your own convenience. The exam itself is all computer-based and can be conveniently taken at one of over 500 testing locations.

In order to sit for the ACE Health Coach certification exam you must be 18 years or older, have a current CPR/AED certificate along with either a current NCCA-accredited certification, or an associate’s degree or higher. Comparable work experience in healthcare, fitness, nutrition or related fields is also considered and may take place of the degree or certification requirements.

Overall perspective on the certification

The American Council on Exercise is a non-profit organization that, for the last 30 years, has been dedicated to improving our nation’s fitness and subsequent health through the credentialing of qualified fitness and healthcare professionals. It is the only organization whose health coach certification is accredited by the National Council on Certifying Agencies (NCCA). This distinction means the certification has been officially recognized by the Institute for Credentialing Excellence as a credential whose holders are competent professionals in the field of health coaching.

3. Dr. Sears Wellness Institute

Website: http://www.drsearswellnessinstitute.org/

Details of certification

The institute offers three different health coach certifications that are designed to get students certified within six weeks (longer if they take more than one program). Certification allows the individual to begin working as a health coach, teaching the tenets of Dr. Sears’ L.E.A.N. (Lifestyle, Exercise, Attitude, Nutrition) system. Furthermore, the program encourages those who have acquired certification to teach their programs through workshops and seminars – all with the Dr. Sears Institute providing the necessary marketing tools, materials, and strategies.

The six training programs (based on stages of life) available for certification are:

  • Family Coach – A certification whose curriculum is targeted towards coaching families, educating them towards healthy lifestyle choices and preventing/fighting childhood obesity.
  • Pregnant & Nursing Moms Coach – This certification has a targeted curriculum towards helping pregnant and nursing moms about how to stay healthy, reduce their stress, eat right, nutrition, and how to have their spouses involved for a positive pregnancy and post-pregnancy experience.
  • Adults & Seniors Coach – This certification has a targeted curriculum towards helping adults and the elderly how to stay healthy, reduce stress, prevent disease, and help improve cognitive functions and nutritional needs.
  • Families & Pregnancy Coach
  • Families & Adults/Seniors Coach
  • Families, Pregnancy & Adults/Seniors Coach

Pricing is $895 per certificate program, $1,245 for the Families specialty in combination with one of the other two programs, or $1,545 for the entire trio. Cost includes all study/reference literature, as well as online education and support.

Dr. Sears Wellness Institute also offers a Master health coach certification that takes between 24 – 30 weeks to complete depending on how many life stages you decide to receive training in. As an online-based course, the Master training program is designed to prepare you for the International Consortium for Health and Wellness Coaching (ICHWC) exam. Training includes a live online component (webcam-based) with all-inclusive cost ranging from $2,790 to $3,440.

Location and requirements

All the coaching programs are offered online making this program widely accessible to prospective health coaches. Although, it’s online – when you register there will be a start and end date that provides a precise timeline for when you’re expected to complete your studies and take the certification exam. This makes it a good option for those wanting to make a scheduled commitment.

There are no requirements for signing up for any of their programs. So, those without a formal healthcare or fitness background can take the program and receive the same certification that somebody who is already working in the field can earn.

Re-certification is on an annual basis and is done by mail, along with a $145 fee. As long as you keep your certifications current and continue to pay the annual fee as a member in good standing you will have access to their online products, materials, marketing materials, and are eligible to have potential clients in your area be referred to you as well as advanced notifications of new product, workshops and promotions.

Overall perspective on the certification

For people who are coming into this field without any medical background, this program is worth looking into. It has a comprehensive and easy to understand curriculum that is online with support available during and after certification. And for those who are going the self-employed route, once you are certified through the Dr. Sears Institute they will help you with promoting and marketing your services.

4. Duke Integrative Medicine

Website: Duke Integrative Health Coach Program

Details of certification

Certificate of Completion (Foundation Course)

This certificate is awarded after completing the foundation course at Duke Integrated Medicine. This program is broken up into various modules and allows the student to have a break between each module for the purpose of having time to practice the skills they have learned in a clinical setting. Each module consists of around 30 hours of classroom learning that will be combined with some distance learning via online presentations and conference calls. The majority of the program is on campus.

Certified Integrated Health Coach  (Certification Course)

Open only to those who have completed the foundation course, this distance-learning course includes online classes and teleconferencing. Students must provide documentation of having a minimum of four coaching clients and at least 100 hours of coaching and must pass both a written and an oral exam in order to be awarded the certification.

Location and requirements

In order to apply, individuals must have a bachelor’s degree or higher or must have 3-5 years of experience in any of the following fields: medicine, nursing, physical therapy, health education, exercise physiology, psychotherapy, or nutrition.

Certificate of Completion

The foundation course is only offered at the Duke University Campus in Durham, North Carolina. This course will take about four months to complete.

Certification Program

This program, which follows the foundation course, can be taken online and through teleconferencing. Only open to those who have received the Certificate of Completion from Duke University.

In order to be listed as a certified integrative health coach on the Duke University website, upon completion of the program its graduates must provide proof they carry their own professional insurance.

Overall perspective on the certification

Duke University is a highly respected university and the health coach professional training it offers is one of the more rigorous and formally structured programs. For those who are already in the medical or healthcare field this is an ideal program to supplement your previously established training in helping to improve positive, long-term health behaviors in your patients.

5. Wellcoaches School of Coaching

Website: http://www.wellcoachesschool.com

Details of the certification

The Wellcoaches Core Health Coach Training program takes 18 weeks to complete and culminates in an oral and written exam for the organization’s Health and Wellness Coach certification. This certification is required to enroll in the Wellcoaches Professional Health Coach training program, which consists of a 10-month curriculum.

Location and requirements

Wellcoaches program uses distance learning technology (“teleclass” format) where classes are interactive online as well as live workshops.

A bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science, Health Science, Nutrition or other health-related major is required OR a health professional license OR a bachelor’s degree in a field unrelated to health with a NCCA-accredited fitness certification OR an NCCA-accredited certification with at least 2,000 hours of work experience in health related field. Full details on requirements can be viewed here.

Overall perspective on the certification

The Wellcoaches health coaching program incorporate the effectiveness of evidence-based coaching skills and learning innovation to develop health coaches that can provide long-term wellness and health improvements for their clients.

Established in 2000, the program tackles some of the most significant health obstacles facing our society including obesity, inactive lifestyles, depression, bad eating habits and stress.

Conclusion

This form of coaching is a collective and highly individualized service that concentrates on enhancing wellness and health. It is used to help develop a person’s ability to attain short-term and extended health objectives. Whether addressing a whole laundry list of problem areas or only a couple of issues, the main emphasis is always on improving the client’s quality of life.

If you have a sincere interest in helping others achieve true health, the growing field of health coaching is definitely worth considering for purposes of advancing or supplementing your career.


  • Snow White

    I’m shocked that the Wellcoach program isn’t listed. It’s endorsed by ACSM, its founders wrote the first textbook on health coaching, and its curriculum is based on empirically-supported practices.

  • exsciguide

    Thanks for your comment! We did originally consider the Wellcoach program for this list – however after receiving a few messages regarding its notability we’ll be adding it shortly.

  • MM

    Can you go into depth as to why IIN shouldn’t have been listed? I have been researching the program… thanks!

  • exsciguide

    Hi Mallory, thanks for your comment. A couple of the primary reasons IIN is not listed are due to lack of accreditation of both the organization and program as well as being more geared towards an entrepreneurial and business model. This may be ideal if you’re already a healthcare professional or plan to be one, in which case their program could complement your practice. The following article http://www.credentialwatch.org/reports/iin.shtml gives a physician’s perspective on the program.

  • MM

    Thanks so much. That is what I heard about the program as well. One more question. Do you have any opinion on the programs at Southwest Institute of Healing Arts?

  • exsciguide

    SWIHA is accredited by the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training, which is the organization that credentials non-collegiate career or vocational schools. If you’re interested in going into holistic or complementary medicine, they are a great option from what we hear. SWIHA offers a wide range of certificate, diploma and associate degree programs.

    What specific area are you interested in practicing?

  • MM

    I am most intersted in nutrition. SWIHA also has an urban farming program that interests me. I am struggling with finding the right program that will help me make a career out of it…
    Your feedback is very helpful – thank you!

  • exsciguide

    We’re always here to help! Actually we are currently working on an article outlining the difference between Nutritionist and Dietitian careers, as well as a Guide to Alternative Medicine Careers. They should be up by this time next week.

    A quick note – any health career that requires a license to practice, such as registered dietitian, physical therapy assistant, physician, tends to provide a lot more job security and stability. This is mainly because you can find employment in healthcare facilities. Careers such as personal trainer, health coach, nutritionist, you have to be prepared to market yourself and be more “business minded” as you’ll mainly be the one finding work (clients) for yourself, as opposed to healthcare facilities providing the people for you to work with.

    Also don’t be afraid to shoot for the stars. Certain health careers may take years to achieve, but that pales in comparison to the long term stability and compensation they can provide.

  • Emily

    MM-I am curious what program you decided to go with also!

  • missjessd123 .

    Curious as to which would best suit me since I am in the heath care field and am currently a certified pharmacy techician. Is IIN not the one I should invest in? Maybe chose one of the above programs instead? thanks

  • Kristin Gewanter

    Hello,
    Thank you for this article. I am very interested in becoming a health coach. I don’t have any formal education in the field of health, but over the last two years I have been on my own personal journey to health. With the help of a functional medicine doctor I have been able to work through and past three serious autoimmune conditions. I have learned so much it has been transformational. I am heartened to have learned how much control we have over our health. I would really like to help others make that journey. Initially I was consigdering the IIN, but after learning more about it and reading the reviews I’m concerned I won’t get much of an education on nutrition. I’m now considering the Dr. Sears program. Their nutrition education seems to be more intensive. Is that correct? Additionally, I believe alternative medicine should work hand in hand with traditional medicine. Is the Sears program open to that idea? And lastly, I would like to think at the end of the course I would be prepared to make a bit if a living helping people with what I’ve learned. Without additional instruction is that goal realistic?
    Thank you!

  • Angela Erickson

    What is your thought on Health Coach Institute? I have been looking into Dr Sears and this institute. Appreciate any feedback.

  • Cynthia Collin-Clausen

    I have a M.S. in biology and have been teaching for about 20 years. I have been teaching nutrition for 11 years and am now wishing to become certified as a health coach. I’m looking at the Health Coach Institute the the Dr. Sears Program. Any advice? I need the business training, which is why the HCI looks good, but I like the nutrition information that Dr. Sears seems to provide. Does Dr. Sears provide adequate business training for someone without that? And, I like that the HCI provides information on how to coach – how to help someone change their habits, beyond giving out nutrition information. Any thoughts on that? Thank you!

  • kdcisme

    Im really wanting to become a health coach , there are so many schools to choose from , the prices vary alot , how do i choose? Ive looked into the Institute of integrative nutrition & Trinity school of natural health one is way more expensive than the other , not sure which to go with course wise is the expensive one better? so confused any suggestions? thank you

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