Certification for Healthcare Executives



In your opinion, what kind of certifications are most valuable to a healthcare executive and why?

Answers from David Finn:

Let me start by saying that certification is not something you jump into, do it once and then you are done.  Any of the credentials or certifications listed below represent ongoing commitments  and that is the true  value to employers and to your career. 

An Ongoing Process

It typically starts with a degree, requires some work experience and all of the certifications include some continuing education requirement to keep you up to date and current with the state of the industry, rules, standards, etc.  If you are going after credentials to have credentials, choose carefully or be prepared to lose a lot of time and money that you've invested down the road because if you don't keep up you will lose your certification.  The only thing worse than getting a credential the first time is having to get it back after you've let it lapse. On the upside, credentials can help you stand out among peers and help position you as a leader and role model in your field.  Certifications represent an investment in yourself and your long-term career.  


Some example certifications include: Certified Professional in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CPHIMS). CPHIMS is a professional certification program for healthcare information and management systems professionals.  It may seem a little more focused but after all, in healthcare today, isn't it all really about the information and the systems that use and manage that information?  At the end of last year, there were about 1,600 CPHIMS with around 44% of them in hospitals/hospital systems. CPHIMS is well recognized in the industry and is an international certification.  The CPHIMS demonstrates to employers that you have committed to facilitating the improvement of clinical and business practices using technology to support information management in and across healthcare settings.  It is not a technical certification but is something as valuable to a physician or nurse as to a systems engineer, implementers or an HIM employee. 


Another example is the Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE):  The American College of Healthcare Executives say that when you become board certified in healthcare management as an ACHE Fellow (FACHE), you'll have the knowledge, skills and confidence to succeed. This is not focused on information management or technology but healthcare administration.  This does require a post-baccalaureate degree so the starting point is already higher than most "certifications".  If your aspirations extend beyond IT, into operations, finance or even more senior leadership, however, this is probably a credential worth pursuing.  The ACHE and their Fellowship is recognized by leadership across all management within healthcare.


Another example is the Certified Healthcare CIO (CHCIO):  The CHCIO is probably the newest healthcare specific certification and is the first program exclusively for CIOs and IT executives in the healthcare industry. A CHCIO demonstrates the commitment, knowledge, and experience required to master the core skills inherent to successful CIOs and IT executives. 


Finally, while not a certification it is something that you may want to look into if you are trying to break into HIT - - the Health Information Technology Professional (HIT Pro).  The HIT Pro is actually a competency exam, rather than a certification and it offers professionals an opportunity to capitalize on new technologies, procedures and launch new careers.  There are six separate HIT Pro exams, each of which pertains to a specific HIT workforce role instrumental in the process of achieving meaningful use of Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems.  The six exams are:  1) Clinician/Practitioner Consultant; 2) Implementation Manger; 3) Implementation Support Specialist; 4) Practice Workflow & Information Management Redesign Specialist; 5) Technical/Software Support Staff; and 6) Trainer.  HIT Pro is the competency examination of the US Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Workforce Development program.  It is part of the federal government's effort to facilitate EHR.

General Certifications

It is not uncommon to see other, more general certifications that could be important to a healthcare executive.  This will depend on their roles or focus within the organization - - and even where they came from inside or outside our industry.  These may range from a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) to Certified in the Governance of Enterprise IT (CGEIT) from the Information Systems Audit and Control Association. Within the IT silo there are dozens of certifications from independent professional associations to certifications from manufacturers or software vendors in specific technologies.

Credentials are attained for both long-term and short-term goals.  You may be asked to get a specific credential for your current position but always look to how to build on that credential and think about what you want to be doing, not just what you are doing.  Getting credentials never hurts but with a little planning, it can really help you get where you want to go.

Answers from Pete Shelkin:

David made some great points, not the least of which is to keep current and not let your certification lapse.  After all, certification of any type really just shows that you knew enough to pass the exam on exam day. 

Not an End in Itself

Listing a certification on your resume or LinkedIn profile may get you past certain recruiting filters, but then it's your job to demonstrate that you have the knowledge to retain your credentials on an ongoing basis.  Fail to do so and you will likely be worse off than if you hadn't listed the certification in the first place.  The point is that people who might hire or promote you are looking for experience and knowledge – the credential is merely an indication that they might find what they are looking for if they take a close look at you.  Your job is then to convince them that they are looking in the right place.

Let Some Go

Also keep in mind that as you begin your journey into the ranks of IT leadership, despite what David and I just told you about keeping current, the day will come when you have to consider actually letting go of some of your more technical certifications.  You will find that you only have so much time to spend on training and certification, and if you intend to move into IT leadership roles then the certifications that David listed will be much more valuable than certifications for technology tools, databases, programming languages, and the like.  Once you have staff that perform the technical functions that you used to be responsible for, then you need to stop being the expert.  I can tell you from personal experience that letting go of those hands-on technical skills will likely be the most difficult thing that you do on the road to management, but it's also necessary.  You will need to trust your staff (and support their requests for technical certification) as you move into leadership roles. 

Where and when the point comes when you need to make that decision will depend on your own circumstances and the needs of your employer.  If you aim to be CIO of a 35 bed community hospital then you very well may need to keep that Cisco CCNP current as you add management-level certifications, but if you work for a 3,500 bed multi-hospital system then the decision to limit your focus will come much sooner.  If you are honest and realistic with yourself, and seek the counsel of trusted advisors as necessary, you're bound to make the right decision at the right time.