5 Most Popular Health Coaching Certifications

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

The role of a health coach is to help clients/patients achieve their integrated health care goals. Health can be defined in many different ways and can include diet changes, exercise, or lifestyle modification. If you are interested in becoming a health coach, knowing the best health coach certification for you largely depends on your current career path, interests, time available, and desired client base.

Intro to Health Coaching

People are becoming more health-conscious than ever before. Interest in preventative health is on the rise, with an increased focus on how diet and lifestyle changes can impact health. Because of this many are choosing careers in health coaching or other related fields. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare career opportunities are expected to increase by 14% from 2018 to 2028, much faster than other occupations. If you are looking for an enjoyable and stable career, where you can help others achieve their goals, health coaching is a great option.

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 to put the plan into action. This basically involves determining what areas of their clients’ lifestyle needs to be changed for the better and helping the client implement those changes.

Given the multiple components of health and well-being, to be a successful coach you must be well versed in different areas of health. A previous background in fitness or healthcare can put you on the path to success as a coach, although it is not required for every program. Many healthcare professionals choose to add a health coaching certification to their training, so they can help clients achieve increased success. If not already a requirement for your job role, earning a certification can definitely increase your hiring potential when applying for jobs that focus more on preventative lifestyle change.

If you are looking into becoming a health coach or adding a certification to your healthcare career, here are five of the best health coaching certifications – including how you can get them and other important details on each program:

1. NSHC – National Society of Health Coaches

Website: National Society of Health Coaches

Details of certification

The NSHC offers an evidenced-based certification called NSHC’s Certified Health Coach or CHC. Within the umbrella of their program, they offer two certificates- a Health Coach Certification for healthcare providers and a Certificate of Completion, for other allied healthcare workers. The purpose of the program is to give people who already have training in healthcare additional resources to coach patients. Its focus is geared more towards coaching people with chronic disease and other medical conditions.

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 dietitian/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.

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

Purchase of this guided self-study program gives you access to all materials, which also includes the online skills practice, skills competency, and testing. An exclusive NSHC member email Listserv is used for professional networking. You also get access to training webinars and a listing in the member database. The average length of time to complete the program is 85+ hours.

The cost of the program is $595. 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 test has expired, it is $50 to test and a $50 membership renewal fee.

Location and requirements

Both the CHC and the Certificate of Completion program are offered in a hard-copy binder, with skills competency and certification 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.

The only main requirement for the CHC program is that you must be a licensed or credentialed healthcare professional. But anyone can take the online post-test for the Certificate of Completion.

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 receive a free one-year membership. The annual renewal fee is $50.

Overall perspective on the certification

The NSHC program is a highly respected program with 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 and the ability to effectively coach patients towards better healthcare outcomes. 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 “Basic” package includes ACE University which consists of video lectures, three coaching sessions, and weekly emails reminding you to keep your studies on track. This option only includes one online practice exam. The price for the basic training is $349.

The “Plus” package includes ACE University, two practice exams, the ability to retake the certification exam if needed, and other resources not included with the “Standard” package. The price for the “plus” training is $449.

There are options to pay for the certification monthly as well.

Location and requirements

Designed for 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 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. For those who already have a degree in healthcare, the ACE certification is approved for continuing education units by many professional organizations.

Overall perspective on the certification

ACE is a non-profit organization that, for the last 30 years, has been dedicated to improving our nation’s fitness and 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), the gold standard in the health and fitness industry. 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. The approval of this certification by many other professional organizations, means that it is held to the highest standard.

3. Dr. Sears Wellness Institute

Website: Dr. Sears Wellness Institute

Details of certification

Dr. Sears is a well-respected pediatrician, health advocate, and the author of multiple books on family wellness. The Dr. Sears Wellness Institute offers four different holistic health coach certifications based on the four pillars of health that are the focus of Dr. Sears’ L.E.A.N. (Lifestyle, Exercise, Attitude, Nutrition) system.

The certification allows individuals to begin working as a health coach within 6 weeks, although it could take longer if you choose to take more than one program at a time. Furthermore, the program encourages those who have acquired certification to teach their programs through workshops and seminars to educate other providers – 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 targeted towards coaching families, educating them towards healthy lifestyle choices and preventing/fighting childhood obesity.
  • Pregnant & Nursing Moms Coach – This certification is targeted towards helping pregnant and nursing moms stay healthy during this significant life transition, reduce their stress, eat right, nourish themselves, and involve their spouses for a positive pregnancy and post-pregnancy experience.
  • Adults & Seniors Coach – This certification is targeted towards helping adults and seniors stay healthy, reduce stress, prevent disease, improve cognitive function, and meet their nutritional needs.
  • Master Health Coach – This certification teaches advanced techniques and provides training for experienced practitioners to qualify as a Master Certified Health Coach (MCHC).

The certifications can also be combined if desired:

  • Families & Pregnancy Coach
  • Families & Adults/Seniors Coach
  • Families, Pregnancy & Adults/Seniors Coach

Pricing is $945 per 6-week certification program, $1,345 for a 9-week two life-stage course, or $1,645 for the entire 12-week trio. The cost includes all study and reference literature, as well as online education and support. There are payment plans available for the courses, if necessary.

The Master Health Coach Certification takes between 30 and 36 weeks to complete depending on how many life stages you choose to focus on. As an online-based course, the master-level training program is designed to prepare you for the International Consortium for Health and Wellness Coaching (ICHWC) exam with over 135 competencies included in the program. The Master training includes a live online component (webcam-based) with all-inclusive cost ranging from $2,895 to $3,545.

Location and requirements

All the coaching programs are offered online making this program widely accessible to prospective health coaches. Although, the course is completely 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. The courses also include peer and instructor interactions in a virtual classroom. This program is a good option for those wanting to make a scheduled commitment or who need accountability in their learning.

There are no educational requirements for signing up for any of the Dr. Sears’ health coaching programs. So, those without a formal healthcare or fitness background can take the program and receive the same certification as someone already working in the field.

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, you will have access to all their online products, educational and marketing materials. You also will receive advanced notification of new products, workshops, and promotions. Maintaining your certification also provides referrals for potential clients in your area.

Overall perspective on the certification

For people who are coming into the field of health coaching without any medical background, this program is worth looking into. It has a comprehensive and easy to understand online curriculum with support available during and after certification. All programs offered by the Sears Wellness Institute give you a core foundation in health and nutrition before jumping into the specialized life stages. For those who are going the self-employed route, once you are certified they will help you with promoting and marketing your health coaching services.

4. Duke Integrative Medicine

Website: Duke Integrative Health Coach Program

Details of certification

The Duke Integrative Medicine Health Coaching Program offers two different options for those who want to pursue health coaching from an integrative medicine perspective. These include:

Certificate of Completion (Foundation Course)

This certificate is awarded after completing the Foundation Course at Duke Integrative Medicine. This program can be either in-person or online. The Foundation Course is structured differently depending on how you decide to complete the course. The in-person course is conducted over two 4-day trainings spaced 6-8 weeks apart with additional distance-learning modules. The online option takes 18 weeks and consists of 3-hour weekly live lectures and additional online training. Both options require a written examination upon completion.

Certified Integrated Health Coach (Certification Course)

The Certification Course is Duke’s advanced practice course, open only to those who have completed the Foundation Course. This distance-learning course includes mentoring sessions, web-based trainings, and teleconferencing. Before completing the final examination, students are strongly encouraged to have completed at least 50 professional coaching sessions.

Location and requirements

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

The cost of the Foundational course is $4440. The cost of the Certification course is $1440. There are discounts available for early registration or Duke Affiliates.

Upon completion of the course you will sit for a written and oral examination. You must get 80% of the questions correct and can take it as many times as needed. In order to be listed as a certified integrative health coach on the Duke University website, upon completion of the program, graduates must provide proof they carry their own professional insurance.

Overall perspective on the certification

Duke Integrative Medicine is a health coach program that is part of a highly respected university. 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 learn more about applying integrative health principles to your practice. It is an excellent supplement your previously established training in helping to improve positive, long-term health behaviors in your patients.

5. Wellcoaches School of Coaching

Website: Wellcoaches School of Coaching

Details of the certification

The Wellcoaches School offers multiple coaching tracks depending on your interest. Their Health and Wellness Coach Training program consists of three different modules. Module 1 can be completed in either 9 or 18 weeks virtually, depending on the hours you want to put into the program. Or the program is offered in-person as a 4-day session. Module 1 is required before you can proceed to modules 2 and 3, which deepen your understanding and culminate in an oral and written exam. This certification is required to enroll in the more advanced Wellcoaches Professional Health Coach training program, which consists of a 10-month curriculum.

Location and requirements

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 incorporates the effectiveness of evidence-based coaching skills and learning innovation to develop health coaches that can provide long-term wellness improvements for their clients. They offer more than just health coaching within their programs, which allows a practitioner to expand into other areas of practice as well.

Established in 2000, the program has trained over 12,000 coaches to tackle some of the most significant health obstacles facing our society including obesity, inactive lifestyles, depression, bad eating habits and stress.

Conclusion

Health coaching is a collective and highly individualized service that concentrates on enhancing a client’s wellness and health, through motivation techniques, counseling skills, and evidence-based practice. Coaching is used by practitioners 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.

Reviewed by Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD