Certification and licensing

What is certification?

Certification usually means a one-time approval by a non-government credentialing organization after someone meets educational requirements and passes an exam.

What is registration?

Registration is the annual renewal of that certification.

What is licensing?

Licensing is the state government's permission to practice in that state.


Continuing education

What is continuing education? Why is it important?

In every line of work, it's important to keep your skills and knowledge fresh and up to date. For healthcare professions, it's vital. Healthcare technology and practices are constantly evolving, so continual learning and skill building are important for providing the best care. In addition, employers can be held liable if a staff member whose education and licensing credentials are not current is involved in a patient case where something goes wrong.

How does one earn continuing education credits?

Classes and activities that qualify for CE credits often include lecture or instruction as well as hands-on practice that relates directly to the professional's day-to-day work. As a healthcare professional working in a high-demand field, it is your responsibility to take courses that enhance your skills and move your career in the direction of your choice.

Who regulates continuing education credits?

For many of the health professions that are in highest demand - nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, respiratory therapy, speech therapy, physician assistants, radiologic technology and medical laboratory technology - continuing education (CE) requirements are regulated and monitored by a variety of national certification organizations. There may be more than one such organization for a given profession. State licenses generally are renewed every two years and often mirror national certification requirements. License renewals require CE credits that are equivalent to a specified number of contact hours.

It's also up to you to keep track of and submit your CE credits on time to the appropriate licensing board or certification organization. Be sure to hang on to your CE records for two years after your license is renewed in case you are selected for a random audit. Information that's typically required: Course title and brief description, sponsor, presenter, dates, location and number of hours.


Continuing education requirements can be complex, but there are plenty of resources to turn to for help. First, be sure to check with your employer. Most healthcare employers have clinical education or continuing education departments, staff and class resources to help you navigate the requirements of your field. Professional associations - such as the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) for physical therapists - are also a great resource for education, as well as for networking with your peers and finding mentors. Association websites and staff can help you determine areas in which you need to build your skills, as well as provide information about qualifying classes, conferences and tracking tools.