What is the Difference Between Certificates and Certification?

Do you want to further your education and expertise and gain advanced knowledge in order to become more marketable in your job search or to switch specialties? There are so many choices out there, but which one to choose. Your road will depend on many factors but one not to get confused by is the difference between a certificate course and certification. 


Certificate programs are educational courses that provide specific working knowledge on a particular topic. They are offered through educational institutions or organizations and have a designated curriculum. These training programs can be extremely helpful to healthcare providers that want to gain an edge and elevate themselves by attaining expertise in a certain area. It shows a willingness to learn new concepts and deepen their knowledge and grasp in additional areas of specialty.

The achieved certificate is the result of an educational activity and specifies completion of a course with a specific focus. They most often conclude with an examination that evaluates the participant’s understanding of the topic and the completion of a set curriculum.

These courses are for both newcomers to the industry as well as seasoned professionals and can be advantageous to either one of these groups. Those new to the healthcare field not only acquire valuable knowledge and grasp deeper concepts than they might have in their training thus far but can also benefit by gaining greater confidence and acclimate to their new role in clinical practice with procedural skills.

They can also be helpful in job searching – they can make you stand out from the crowd, and securing a certificate shows an employer a dedication to a long-term career in a medical specialty by investing in additional education. Having completed the course and earning the certificate demonstrates a commitment to make the topic an area of expertise. Sometimes employers will partially refund, or even cover the cost and send their staff to a certificate program to boost their skills and abilities and cut down on on-the-job training they may otherwise need to do with new hires. They know that by having highly trained providers in their practice treating patients, patient care will be improved, and office efficiencies will be optimized.

A certificate program does not precede directly to a professional certification, however. They can be very helpful in preparing you to become professionally certified in an area, so if you are pursuing the certification route be sure to check out any certificate programs that could help you prepare.

When looking at a certificate program there are some important thing to consider:

  • What new skills and abilities that I don’t have now will I gain from earning the certificate?
  • Is the course created and presented by industry professionals?
  • How will earning this certificate benefit me or my patients?
  • Will earning the certificate make me more marketable to employers?
  • How will my new knowledge be assessed in order to earn the certificate?


Certification on the other hand, is not an educational program, but a credential limited to highly experienced professionals in their field. Professional certification is a voluntary process of attesting that a specific standard has been attained or surpassed. A formal assessment process is used to recognize and acknowledge those who have met a predetermined and standardized set of criteria. These standards usually include a documented amount of work experience in the specific field, formal education and degree, and an examination in which their competency in the field is measured against a standard.

When an individual meets these standards, they receive a time-limited certification by the certifying agency. These agencies are typically a group of industry experts that have demonstrated compliance by having met recognized national standards for development, execution, and maintenance of a certification program.

Certification requires experience and is not available to newcomers in a field. It signifies a major commitment to make the certification topic area an expertise of the applicant. It results in a designation to use in their title and requires ongoing continuing education requirements to maintain in the form of CEUs.

Certification has many benefits, among them, increased earning potential, career advancement, and qualification for jobs that require the highest standards, all putting the holder ahead of the competition. More and more employers are requiring certification for certain industry roles.

Which is Best for You?

How to decide between a certificate program or going for certification lies in many factors. Time commitment differs greatly between the two, with many certificates requiring several months to a year of education, while certification takes much longer to be qualified for. Cost obviously will play a large factor for most. Probably the biggest indicator is where you are in your career and what your professional goals are. One thing for certain is that the rising prominence of both certificate programs and certification shows the growing demand for advanced skill sets and professional training.