If you're researching healthcare degrees, you've probably seen schools list credentials like CCNE accreditation, CEPH accreditation, and ACEN accreditation on their program pages. Choosing a program with the right healthcare accreditation can significantly impact your chosen career.
Dozens of healthcare accreditors approve programs in nursing, allied health, dentistry, public health, and more. In many healthcare fields, you may not get a job without the right accreditation. This is why you must understand healthcare accreditation before you start the application process.
What Is Accreditation in Healthcare?
Accreditation in healthcare refers to the official review process that allows programs to demonstrate their ability to meet regulatory requirements and standards for training quality healthcare professionals.
Healthcare accreditation agencies evaluate programs to ensure they use the best practices for educating nurses, dental hygienists, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals. These agencies also ensure that programs prepare graduates for professional licensure.
Without the right accreditation, many healthcare professionals can't apply for a license or legally work in their field. That's because state licensure often requires accreditation from a specific accreditor.
In addition, many employers only hire graduates from accredited programs.
Accredited healthcare programs meet evidence-based standards for preparing healthcare professionals. For example, nursing accreditors evaluate NCLEX-RN pass rates to ensure programs effectively prepare graduates.
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Healthcare Accreditation vs. Licensure vs. Certification
They may all sound alike, but accreditation, licensure, and certification mean vastly different things in healthcare.
- Healthcare Accreditation: A voluntary process in which independent agencies evaluate education programs. To earn accreditation in healthcare, a program must meet high standards and undergo a rigorous review process.
- Healthcare Licensure: Allows graduates to work in their field. State licensing boards grant licenses to those who meet clinical and educational requirements. Many licensing boards also require passing scores on a national licensing exam. In most healthcare fields, you'll need an accredited degree to earn your license.
- Healthcare Certification: Recognizes professionals who meet certain educational and experience requirements. For example, certified medical assistants and certified nursing assistants can use the credential to demonstrate their knowledge and skills. In most healthcare fields, certification is optional.
Major Healthcare Accreditation Agencies
Most healthcare professions have a healthcare accreditation agency that evaluates programs to ensure they produce consistent quality graduates prepared to practice in their chosen field. In many healthcare fields, you must attend a program accredited by a specific accreditor to work in that field.
These healthcare accreditors develop industry-specific standards to train students and regularly evaluate programs. When assessing programs, these agencies look at factors like graduation rates, faculty qualifications, and licensure pass rates to ensure they deliver on their promises to students.
As you research potential healthcare programs, be sure to look for one of the following healthcare accreditors.
If you're interested in a career in nursing, you'll need to attend an accredited program. Only graduates from accredited nursing schools can earn a nursing license.
Two major accreditors evaluate nursing diploma, certificate, and degree programs:
- Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
- Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
ACEN accreditation covers all degree levels, while CCNE accreditation covers only BSN and graduate nursing programs.
In addition to ACEN and CCNE accreditation, advanced practice nursing programs can hold accreditation from more specialized accreditors. For example, the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs accredits nurse anesthetist programs, while the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education accredits nurse-midwife programs.
Many allied health fields, such as respiratory therapy and radiation technology, require you to attend an accredited program for state licensure.
Several healthcare accreditation agencies evaluate allied health programs. The major accreditors include:
- Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND)
- Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)
- Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC)
- Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
- Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT)
Before enrolling in an allied health program, check the licensure requirements in your field and state.
Several accreditors review medical education programs.
For example, the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) accredits medical schools that award MD degrees. Most states require LCME accreditation for licensure as a physician.
The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) accredits physician assistant programs. Physician assistants (PAs) must graduate from an accredited PA program to be able to take the national certifying exam.
Dentists and dental hygienists must attend an accredited program to practice. Many dental assistants also benefit from accreditation.
The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), which is part of the American Dental Association, accredits undergraduate and graduate dentistry programs. That includes doctor of medicine in dentistry, dental hygiene, and dental assisting programs.
CODA accreditation meets the requirements for licensure as a dentist or other allied dental professional.
Public health accreditation ensures that undergraduate public health and master of public health (MPH) programs meet high standards.
The Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) accredits public health schools, MPH programs, and bachelor's in public health programs.
Public health careers typically don't require licensure; however, graduating from a program with CEPH accreditation can help you stand out when applying for jobs.
Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians should choose an accredited program for their degree.
The Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) accredits pharmacist programs and jointly reviews pharmacy technician programs with the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.
Pharmacists must graduate from a program with ACPE accreditation to earn a state license. In most states, pharmacy technicians also need an accredited degree.
In every state, physical therapists and physical therapist assistants need an accredited degree to get a license.
The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) accredits over 250 doctoral programs for physical therapists and over 350 undergraduate physical therapist assistant programs.
After graduating from a program with CAPTE accreditation, physical therapists and physical therapist assistants can take the National Physical Therapy Examination and apply for a state license or certification.
Veterinarians, veterinary technologists, and veterinary technicians should attend an accredited program. The American Veterinary Medical Association Council on Education (AVMA) accredits programs for veterinarians and vet techs.
AVMA-accredited vet schools meet the licensure requirements for veterinary medicine careers.
The agency evaluates two- and four-year veterinary tech programs and doctor of veterinary medicine programs.
What Healthcare Fields Require Programmatic Accreditation?
Healthcare professionals should always attend an accredited institution. Institutional accreditation reviews the overall quality and mission of the school.
In contrast, programmatic accreditation evaluates specific programs. Many healthcare fields require programmatic accreditation for professional licensure.
That said, not every healthcare path requires a license. So when is programmatic accreditation required — and when is it voluntary?
In fields like nursing, dentistry, and pharmacy, you'll need programmatic accreditation to take licensure exams and apply for a state license. That's also true for many allied health fields.
Healthcare Fields That Require Accreditation for Licensure
- Nursing (RNs, LPNs/LVNs, APRNs)
- Dentistry (dentists, dental hygienists)
- Pharmacy (pharmacists, pharmacy techs)
- Medicine (physicians, surgeons, physician assistants)
- Many allied health fields, including respiratory care and radiation therapy
Healthcare Fields That Do NOT Require Accreditation for Licensure
- Healthcare management and administration
- Public health and epidemiology
- Medical assisting
- Medical billing and coding
- Some allied health fields, depending on the job title and state
In some fields, programmatic accreditation is optional. For careers in healthcare management and public health, for example, it's a good idea to choose an accredited program if you can — but it's not necessary for licensure purposes.
Similarly, certain states don't require licensure for some allied health careers. Take medical assistants, for instance. In many states, medical assistants do not need to attend a program accredited by CAAHES or ABHES.
Even so, choosing an accredited program could mean a higher-quality education and more job opportunities.
Keep in mind that many employers prefer to hire candidates with an accredited healthcare degree. And many voluntary certifications, such as the registered dietitian credential, require an accredited degree.
Overall, it's a good idea for healthcare students to attend an accredited program.
The Importance of Accreditation in Healthcare
Make sure you understand accreditation in healthcare before applying to any programs. The risks of choosing the wrong program can be severe. The wrong accreditation — or no accreditation at all — can negatively affect your education and career.
You may not qualify for professional licensure or certification if you earn a certificate or degree from an unaccredited healthcare program. Before applying to any healthcare programs, make sure the program's accreditation meets state licensure requirements for your chosen profession.
For example, a degree from an unaccredited nursing school may not meet state requirements for a nursing license. Most employers also prioritize hiring candidates from reliable, high-quality programs — in other words, accredited programs.
What happens if your program loses accreditation? If you've already graduated and received a professional license, your credentials won't be affected. That said, students currently enrolled in healthcare programs that lose accreditation may need to transfer to an accredited program.
When researching programs, be sure to check for programmatic accreditation. Reputable programs will list accreditations on their websites.
After identifying the accreditor, check that the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and/or the U.S. Department of Education recognize the agency. Then, check your state's licensure requirements to ensure the program qualifies.
Choosing a program with the right healthcare accreditation is a smart investment, both for your education and your career.
Frequently Asked Questions About Healthcare Accreditation
What is healthcare accreditation?
Accreditation is a process that evaluates schools' academic quality and student learning outcomes. In healthcare, independent accrediting agencies evaluate programs that train nurses, physicians, and other healthcare professionals.
Accreditation ensures that healthcare programs follow the best practices for educating students. In many fields, graduates need an accredited healthcare degree to qualify for jobs and professional licensure.
What are the accreditation standards in healthcare?
Each healthcare accreditation agency sets its own standards based on the field. For example, CCNE accreditation requires at least an 80% pass rate on licensure exams and a 70% employment rate for graduates.
Accreditors also evaluate faculty qualifications and set standards for clinical experience. Healthcare accreditation agencies regularly evaluate and update their accreditation standards based on industry best practices.
Why is accreditation important in healthcare?
Healthcare accreditation tells students that their program effectively prepares them for careers in the field.
Accreditation also signals to state licensure boards and employers that candidates received a high-quality education. As a result, the licensure requirements for many healthcare fields include a degree from an accredited program.