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Why National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC) credentials matter – and how to get them

The health coaching field is growing—fast. It’s now a $6 billion market in the United States and is projected to grow faster than average for careers in America. As more clients take notice and seek out qualified coaches—and more clinics and companies consider adding coaches to their staff—earning the field’s highest-level professional credential becomes even more important. For health coaches, that’s the National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC) credential. 

Woman talking to a patient

As a health coach, earning an NBC-HWC credential and becoming a board-certified coach sets you apart in the field and signals to your future clients and employers that you have the training and skills needed to be an effective health coach. It lets your clients know that you’ve mastered the core competencies that will best serve them in the coaching process.

It’s also a boost to your career. As the health coaching profession continues to evolve and become more integrated into our healthcare system, this national credential gives you a significant advantage. It may even become a requirement for employment and insurance coverage for health coaching sessions, once that becomes available.

Part of becoming a board-certified coach is attending an approved health coach training course, such as the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program. Graduating from our approved program means that in addition to earning an ADAPT-Certified Functional Health Coach (A-CFHC) credential, you have the option to pursue an NBC-HWC certification. Here’s a primer on the NBC-HWC credential and the steps you need to take in order to earn it.

What Is an NBC-HWC Certification?

The NBC-HWC credential is offered by the National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching, or NBHWC (this organization was previously known as ICHWC, or the International Consortium for NBC-HWC AccreditationHealth & Wellness Coaching.) Through its partnership with the National Board of Medical Examiners, the NBHWC establishes professional standards for health coaching and measures the competencies and skills coaches need to be effective.

The NBC-HWC credential signals to clients, collaborators, and employers that a health coach has the skills, training, and practice needed to be a professional coach. The core competencies needed to become a board-certified health coach are based on an extensive job task analysis and a survey of more than 1,000 practicing health coaches.

The NBC-HWC Credential and Insurance Reimbursement for Health Coaching

In 2019, the American Medical Association (AMA) created Category III Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes for health and well-being coaching that are effective January 1, 2020. CPT codes are used in the medical industry to report medical, surgical, and diagnostic procedures to entities like physicians, health insurance companies, and accreditation organizations. These codes are used in conjunction with diagnostic codes, and they’re required to get insurance reimbursement.

Importantly, the AMA noted that only health professionals certified by the NBHWC or the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc. (NCHEC) can use the new codes—essentially defining a health coach as someone who has been certified by the NBHWC or NCHEC.

Category III CPT codes are not subject to health insurance reimbursement, but this is a step in the right direction. It’s also another reason why it’s well worth it to pursue board certification as a health coach.

How to Earn an NBC-HWC Credential

To get your NBC-HWC credential, you’ll need to:

  • Earn an associate degree or higher in any field (or complete at least 4,000 hours of work experience);
  • Graduate from an NBHWC-approved training program;
  • Submit a log of your coaching sessions; and
  • Pass a certifying exam.

Here’s how to get through each of these steps and earn your certification.

Graduating from an Approved Health Coach Training Program

Your first step to becoming an NBC-HWC is meeting the exam eligibility criteria. Part of meeting those criteria means you need a certificate of completion from an NBHWC-approved training course—like the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program.

The NBHWC engages in a rigorous review process before approving a training program. Each approved program meets the standards for details like how course content is delivered to students, how students’ practical coaching skills are developed and evaluated, and the qualifications of the program’s faculty members.

Submitting Your Coaching Session Log

Before you can take the exam, you’ll need to meet another eligibility requirement: you must submit a log of your coaching sessions. The NBHWC requires that you submit a log of 50 coaching sessions as part of your application for the exam.

The NBC-HWC lists several other criteria your coaching log must meet, like:

  • Each session must be at least 20 minutes in length
  • Three-quarters—75 percent—of your sessions must be devoted to coaching, not education
  • Sessions can be paid or performed on a pro bono basis
  • Your sessions must be with clients, not friends, family, or classmates
  • You must facilitate each session—in person, over the phone, or via a web conference
  • You can include sessions from up to seven years prior to your test date
  • You must have passed a Practical Skills Assessment (PSA) through your training program prior to conducting your sessions

Passing the Exam

Becoming an NBC-HWC means applying for and successfully passing the Health & Wellness Coach Certifying Examination. This exam will test you on your health coaching knowledge, skills, and abilities. It focuses on four key concept areas:

  • Coaching structure, or how well you prepare for and manage each stage of your coaching sessions
  • Coaching process, meaning your ability to use core health coaching competencies with your clients
  • Health and wellness, or your knowledge of health behaviors, chronic disease, and related topics
  • Ethics and legal considerations of the profession, including your professional conduct

The test itself includes 150 multiple-choice questions broken into sections. The entire testing session (including a test tutorial and breaks) is four and a half hours long. It’s administered on specific dates and only at approved testing locations worldwide. The NBHWC provides more information on how to locate a testing center near you in this bulletin of information.

After you’ve passed the exam, you’ll earn your NBC-HWC credential. You’ll need to renew your certification every three years for it to remain valid.

Additional Resources for the Certifying Exam:

Become a Board-Certified Health Coach with the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program

The ADAPT Health Coach Training Program is an Approved Health and Wellness Coach Training & Education Program by NBHWC. That means that after our students graduate, pass their PSA, and compile their coaching log, they are eligible to sit for the Certifying Exam and can earn their NBC-HWC credential.

Our comprehensive curriculum was designed with the NBHWC core coaching competencies in mind and offers a strong foundation in the competencies that you’ll be tested on, like:

  • Being calm, present, and emotionally available
  • Showing empathy
  • Establishing rapport
  • Ensuring the client’s needs, agenda, preferences, and interests drive the coaching
  • Actively listening
  • Facilitating the process of self-discovery, learning, and insight with each client
  • Sharing information
  • And many, many more

Our program also:

  • Teaches you how to prepare for and run each session through every stage in the coaching process
  • Offers comprehensive information on ethics, scope of practice, and your professional duties
  • Includes a deep dive into health and chronic disease
  • Shows you how to build your health coaching career

Program graduates who have earned the ADAPT-Certified Functional Health Coach (A-CFHC) credential are not only well prepared for the NBC-HWC exam but, as ADAPT-trained coaches, are among a small number of health coaches with an education in Functional Medicine and ancestral health. Our program is one of the few to focus so strongly on this approach to health and wellness. It also includes a greater emphasis on practice and more hands-on guidance from seasoned coaches that any other health coaching program. All of this means that you will not only be well prepared for the NBC-HWC exam, but that you will also be prepared to be a successful, professional health coach.

Do you have questions about what the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program has to offer? Click here to schedule a call with one of our enrollment advisors. They can tell you more about the course and how it prepares you for the NBC-HWC Certifying Exam.