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How to Become a Board-Certified Health Coach

How to Become a Board-Certified Health Coach

Reading Time: 5 minutes 30 seconds


DATE: 2024-06-28

Health coaches perform many important functions. They educate clients about effective ways to improve health and wellness. They motivate these clients to make lasting (and hopefully permanent) lifestyle changes. They also serve as accountability partners. These are just a few of the things a health coach does.

Earning your health coach certification tells clients you’re prepared to perform all of these tasks. You’ve taken and passed a competency exam. So, this proves your skills. But earning your certification from a national board can send an even stronger message.

What Is a National Board-Certified Health Coach?

Think of a national board as the echelon of health coach certification. This type of organization doesn’t just assess people’s knowledge as a health coach. It also sets the guidelines that a certification program must follow when preparing professionals for this role. 

The national board says what topics must be covered in a health coach certification program. It also says how much time should be spent on each subject. Programs that follow this curriculum are approved by the national board. This entitles learners who complete the training to take the national board exam.

National certification tells potential clients and employers that you have the training and experience needed to meet these elevated guidelines. This can make you a sought-after health coach. Having a board certification can also open more employment doors. 

National certifications are well-known in the health coaching field. So, employers don’t have to do research to learn more about a certification you received from a lesser-known entity. They can simply trust in your skills because they know that the national board holds exam takers to a higher standard.

Health Coach Board Certification Options 

Several training programs provide health coaching certification. However, if you want to be a board-certified health coach, very few organizations offer this credential. One is the NSHC. 

NSHC stands for the National Society of Health Coaches. This board certification is solely for licensed, registered, or certified healthcare providers. That makes it a good option for people in registered nurse roles. If this is you, you can earn your Nurse Coach Board Certification (NC-BC) through the NSHC. 

What if you’re not a nurse? You can still become a board-certified health and wellness coach through the NBHWC. NBHWC stands for the National Board of Health & Wellness Coaching. This organization sets health coaching standards for all types of training programs, not just those geared toward healthcare professionals. 

Through the NBHWC, you can earn the NBC-HWC credential. This is short for National Board-Certified Health & Wellness Coach. The NBC-HWC designation was established in collaboration with the National Board of Medical Examiners.

NBHWC certification is recognized across the U.S. With this health and wellness coaching certificate, you can work for nearly any company that employs health coaches.

How to Become a Board-Certified Health Coach

If you’re interested in this type of certification, there are a few steps you must take to become a board-certified health and wellness coach. To earn your NBHWC certification, you will need to:

  • Complete an approved health coaching program. This ensures that you have the education required to meet NBHWC standards. In a coaching program, you learn about positive psychology, change readiness, and motivational interviewing. You gain knowledge of holistic and integrative health and what each means. You also learn how to work with clients who have chronic health conditions. Proof that you’ve completed a health coach certification course must be uploaded with your national board application.

  • Start performing coaching sessions. With each coaching session, you learn what works and what doesn’t. You get better at explaining health science and how to achieve optimal wellness. You gain a better understanding of when to speak and when to listen. Your coaching skills get sharper. The NBHWC requires that you submit a coaching log showing that you’ve led at least 50 client sessions. So, keep track of the sessions you provide. 

  • Apply for the board exam. Complete the exam application with all the required information. At this point, you must also sign a form stating that you have the required health coach training and experience. This is in addition to providing proof of your training and coaching session log. The NBHWC’s application fee is $100 (which is non-refundable). You must also pay a $400 exam fee.

  • Schedule your exam. If your application is accepted, you will receive an email stating that you’re eligible to take the national certification exam. Within five business days, you’ll receive a second email with the scheduling information. Exams are scheduled by Prometric and administered at one of their testing centers. Follow the directions provided and pick the time slot you want to take this test.

  • Take a practice exam. Nothing prepares you for the national board certification exam more than taking a practice test. This gives you an idea of what the true exam might be like. It also tells you if there are any areas where you need to study more. The NBHWC offers a practice exam. It’s only 50 questions and covers the same topic areas as the real exam. And if you get an answer wrong, it gives you the correct answer and the reasoning behind it. This practice test costs $65. But it can be priceless if it highlights the materials you need to take a closer look at from your health coach training, potentially improving your score on the national exam.

  • Take the national board exam. On the day and time you selected, show up and complete the certification exam. Try to get a good night’s sleep before and have a nutritious breakfast. This keeps you from struggling to remember what you know about health coaching due to being tired or hungry.

  • Wait for your score report. Your exam score is typically received within eight weeks. If you passed, you are now a certified health coach through the national board. If you don’t earn a passing score, you must retake the exam. This may require reapplying and paying an additional exam fee.

  • Start working as a national board-certified health coach! Update your website to explain that you are a certified health coach through the national board. Share the news on your social media pages. Add this credential to your LinkedIn profile. Let others know that you completed health coach training and passed the national board exam. Help them see that you’re qualified to get them closer to their health and wellness goals.

To keep your national board certification as a health coach through the NBHWC, you must pay a $75 fee every year. Every three years, you must also complete 36 continuing education credits.  The continuing education courses you choose must be approved by the NBHWC to count toward this requirement. You can search for these courses here: NBHWC-approved continuing education courses.

What to Look at When Choosing an NBHWC-Approved Training Program

Are you at step one and looking for an NBHWC-approved training program? You can search for one on the NBHWC website. Each ‘about’ page gives you a brief overview of that individual program. You can learn about the length of the training and its cost. The NBHWC also tells you whether there are any prerequisites for the program, such as those related to education or experience.

Once you get past these basic details, you can learn more about the health coach program. Information is provided about the curriculum and topics covered. You also learn whether it prepares you for any other certification options, such as a master health coach certification. For more information, click on that program’s website link that is included on this page.

Before making your final decision, consider:

  • Whether the health coach training is offered online or in person

  • Topics covered and tools provided

  • Whether you receive individual feedback and guidance

  • The education and skill set of the instructors

Are you looking for an online health coach training program that includes live, personal attention and feedback? Check out ISSA’s Pathway program. This program is approved for NBHWC certification and can help you learn the skills and knowledge needed for the national board certification exam.

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