coach certification

Why Become A National Board Certified Health And Wellness Coach?

May 12, 2023

Are You A Current Or Aspiring Health And Wellness Coach?

In your research, you’ve likely come upon the idea of certification, and you may be wondering if it’s necessary or the right option for you. Whether you’re a coach who’s just entering the field or who's already established, certification is worth considering when you take into account what health and wellness coaches do and what certification can offer you as a professional.


What Do Health And Wellness Coaches Do?

As defined by the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC), health and wellness coaches are “facilitators of the behavior change process” who rely on the “encouragement, exploration, the mobilization of internal strengths, the identification and utilization of external resources, and… the support and development of self-management strategies for executing sustainable, healthy lifestyle changes.”

Health and wellness coaches work with clients to assist them in achieving their health- and wellness-related goals, whether they wish to improve their overall health, lifestyle, and well-being or are actively working to navigate through health challenges or illnesses. 

However, health and wellness coaches do not give medical advice, diagnose, or offer counseling or treatment unless they hold other degrees, certifications, or licenses that allow them to do so. Rather, as explained by the NBHWC, they use their knowledge of key health and wellness topics to “partner with clients seeking self-directed, lasting changes, aligned with their values, which promote health and wellness and, thereby, enhance well-being.” Most importantly, coaches take a client-centered approach to health, allowing each person to drive their health and wellness journey.


Why Is The Role Of A Health And Wellness Coach So Important?

Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, mental health ailments, etc., kill approximately 41 million people per year, according to WHO. Millions of people around the globe suffer from chronic diseases or die prematurely each year due to factors such as insufficient physical activity, alcohol and tobacco use, and high sodium intake—disease-causing habits that could be remedied with lifestyle modifications and lifestyle medicine.

To make matters worse, there’s a distinct lack of lifestyle and nutrition education for medical professionals. According to a report by the Association of Medical Colleges, only 19 hours of the average medical curriculum are spent on nutrition. Instead of prioritizing health and wellness practices that could prevent NCDs in medical education, and in our healthcare system overall, conventional medical care focuses more on diagnosis and treatment, despite knowing that prevention is better than a cure. 

These issues have only been exacerbated by healthcare staffing shortages as a result of the pandemic, which has made seeing medical professionals and getting treatment less accessible than ever, especially for certain demographic groups. Additionally, when patients are given a treatment plan for their illnesses, it can often be difficult for them to implement. Without support, navigating the process and professional lingo can prevent patients from fulfilling their health goals, optimizing healing, and getting the treatment they need.

Health and wellness coaches help fill this gap in education and support the promotion of health and wellness by empowering individuals to make their own choices about their health. Rather than primarily attending to the physical manifestations of chronic diseases, health and wellness coaches enable clients to address these issues at their source by facilitating a space where they can discover the root cause and align their health and wellness goals with their values.

A growing body of research on the impact of health and wellness coaching suggests that these practices may benefit people with chronic diseases, especially those with cancer, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, obesity, and hypertension. 

Health and wellness coaching is slowly making its way into the mainstream healthcare system. Thanks to the increase in awareness and the efforts of the NBHWC, the American Medical Association granted Category III CPT codes for health and wellness coaches, which became effective in 2020. The NBHWC states that, “this milestone has resulted in greater awareness of health & wellness coaching, wider acceptance of the health & wellness coach onto healthcare teams, and job growth for the profession.”

The next phase of the NBHWC’s work involves applying for category I CPT codes to allow patients to receive insurance reimbursement for health and wellness coaching, which would be a huge step in making health and wellness coaching more accessible to anyone who may benefit from it. As health and wellness coaching becomes more affordable, available, and accepted in the health care community, coaches can step up to take the strain off other overburdened healthcare systems and provide patients with more control over and options for care.

In 2020, the NBHWC applied for a taxonomy code for health and wellness coaches, which became effective in April 2021. As described by the NBHWC, “a taxonomy code is used when applying for a National Provider Identifier, commonly referred to as NPI… Any healthcare provider, healthcare clearinghouse or healthcare organization that conducts transactions or uses health records that fall under HIPAA regulations is required to obtain an NPI.” 

According to the NBHWC, “National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coaches need an NPI number if they work for a healthcare organization or in partnership with a physician, and if they currently have the ability to bill for insurance.” 


Professional Avenues For Health And Wellness Coaches 

In 2018, the global wellness industry was already worth an estimated $4.2 trillion, and it’s only set to increase. Specifically, the health and wellness service market was estimated at around $7 billion in 2021, with around 125,000 health coaches and educators practicing in the United States.

There are several career paths within health and wellness coaching. While some go into clinical employment and work directly with health care professionals in medical facilities or health care organizations, others opt to create their own practice or go into corporate wellness and work within organizational settings. Depending on the sector and state, health and wellness coaches can earn anywhere from $40,000 to over $100,000.


Why Become A National Board Certified Health And Wellness Coach?

If you want to thrive in the health and wellness coaching industry, board certification is the way to go. Board-certified coaches are recognized for their credibility in the field of health and wellness coaching.

Board-certified coaches also have more employment options, especially considering that many employers require certification. If you’re looking to start your own practice, board certification  helps you to establish credibility and distinguish yourself. . When you receive certification through the NBCHW, you’ll be granted access to professional development and networking opportunities that will support you in your career.


How To Become A National Board Certified Health And Wellness Coach

There are several certification programs for health and wellness coaches. One of the most popular is the NBHWC exam. Since launching in 2019 in partnership with the National Board of Medical Examiners, the NBHWC exam has helped more than 8,000 coaches earn certification.

In order to take the NBHWC exam, you need to have an associates degree or 4,000 hours work experience (in any field), take an approved training course, and complete 50 coaching sessions. Once you’ve fulfilled these requirements, you’ll need to wait for examination enrollment to open, which occurs in the spring, summer, and fall each year. The test itself consists of 150 multiple choice questions and takes approximately 4.5 to complete. 

Because the NBHWC exam is so in-depth, many coaches choose to invest in exam prep to ensure they optimize their chances of passing. 


Learn More About Board-Certification

Health and wellness coaches serve an important role in the healthcare system. As awareness about the benefits of health and wellness coaching increases and the market continues to grow, demand for board-certified health and wellness coaches will also increase. Those looking to make the most of this boom and position themselves for success in the industry will do well to seek out certification through the NBHWC exam. 

For more information about the NBHWC exam, you can also visit the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching website.


By: Jessica Singh, MD, NBC-HWC, ACC
May 13, 2023


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