Why We Should Avoid Using the Title “Certified Patient Advocate”

It’s a big question among patient and health advocates – whether or not someone is considered “certified” as a patient advocate. Last week I answered a question that came from an advocate about why someone would bother taking a course or finishing a program if they wouldn’t be considered “certified” at the end….

But there are even bigger considerations – some food for thought for those who disagree with my stand about claiming certification.

I believe the use of “Certified Patient Advocate,” in these early stages of the profession’s development has the potential of hurting both you, as an individual advocate, and the potential of hurting the profession, too.

Here’s why that “certified” title hurts both the profession and you, too:

1. No consistency: The existing patient and health advocacy programs run the gamut from webinars, to weekends to months, even years of education. Their admission policies are totally different: some are open to anyone, others are open only to chose with a clinical or social work degrees or backgrounds, some require an existing bachelors degree or enrollment as a medical student.

Further, the educational program offered by each is very different: some offer disease management courses or internships, many do not. Some offer business management courses, most do not.

A student who attends a weekend “intro” program and gets a certificate at the end does not have equal preparation, an equal education, or an equal certificate, to someone who attends a year-long, multiple course, many faceted program.

Yet, today, “graduates” of all these programs are calling themselves “Certified Patient Advocate.” I believe that using that label in the face of this lack of consistency and standards, dilutes what the title means for everyone. In the long run, that can be damaging to the profession.

2. Some of the existing programs promote their ability to provide “health advocacy certification.” But we have to ask – certified by whom? There is no existing agreed-upon standard, no list of expectations or competencies that define that certification. Making such a claim is a major conflict-of-interest, as if that specific group has some standing by itself to determine what the standards should be.

Beyond the fact that it’s more than a little presumptuous that one specific person or group could define national or international standards without any input or agreement from other stakeholders, and knowing that more than one group makes that claim, creates confusion among the public as to what they can expect. Confusion among those who will ever hire an advocate only leads to an erosion of the excellence we all want to achieve.

Here’s a metaphor: Think used car salesmen, or the early days of real estate sales. With no agreement about the ethics or standards with which any of them should do their work, those two professions were ill-regarded for decades. Used car salesmen have yet to pull themselves out of that pit, because there is no larger, standardizing body that has ever pulled together to define standards of excellence, or to “certify” them.

On the other hand, decades ago, real estate brokers and salespeople finally came together, developed standards, expectations, licensing and educational programs that focus on those standards of excellence. Today we don’t regard real estate salesmen with the same negative attitudes that label drew back in the 1950s and 60s. But it took them decades to clean up their reputations.

It could be disastrous to start this new profession of health and patient advocacy or navigation on such a negative path. But that’s what we do by claiming that so many different programs with no agreement on standards or ethics create certified patient or health advocates. By allowing that to happen, we damage our reputations before we are barely started.

3. As an individual, it may actually create problems for you to claim you are a certified patient or health advocate. If you call yourself “certified,” you claim yourself equal to every other person who also claims they are “certified.” So what do you do when someone else calling herself certified actually sullies the profession’s reputation because they don’t have the skills and capabilities you do? What if they hurt a client or gets sued and the media reports them to be certified? In the eyes of potential clients, you are still equal.

4. Someday we will have nationally recognized, agreed upon standards, and at that time, we will begin certifying patient and health advocates.* Of course, today we don’t know what form those standards will take. But when we do, you will have to take a test, or do an internship, or produce testimonials – you’ll be expected to do something to prove you are worthy.

At that point, certification will be something to celebrate, to broadcast, to promote. Assuming you actually pass muster, that new title “Certified Patient Advocate” will actually mean you have met those agreed-upon standards. If you’ve been calling yourself that all along, it will be a non-opportunity for you. And if, for some reason you don’t pass muster, you will be forced to subtract that title from all your materials and client outreach. How embarrassing.

5. Recent conversations about this topic with many advocates produced an attitude that took me by surprise, and it may surprise you, too. Many of the most active, well-established and respected working private advocates actually look down their noses at those who claim to be “certified patient advocates.” Their reasons are combinations of what I’ve written above.

In a profession that requires commanding respect, and which will grow based on networking with its other professionals, it makes little sense to shoot oneself in the foot by making a claim that the most well-respected professionals disdain.

If you are a graduate of a program that provided you with a certificate of completion, here is a suggestion: You would be better off starting out on the right foot, and being transparent about what you have achieved. If you have completed a program that provides you with a certificate at the end, you most definitely want potential clients to know that – it’s important!

Simply be more concise about the certificate you earned. “Certified through the ______ program,” or “Completed certificate program through _____,” or “Graduate of ______ health advocacy certificate program” – you can use any form of this type of statement that explains that you have earned a certificate by explaining where it came from. If you feature it online (your website, Linked In profile, blog or wherever else) you can link to the description of the certificate granting program. If you add it to printed materials, and have the space to do so, you can provide the web address of that program.**

By completing a program, and earning a certificate, you have also earned the right to proudly show off what you have achieved. You just don’t want to oversell its value.

Education, learning best practices, key skills, and ethics – they are all important for patient and health advocates. But claiming you are, or have something that no one agrees is a standard can hurt you and the profession.

Learn more:


*Stay up to date on the development of patient advocacy certification.

**Are you the developer or an administrator of one of the patient or health advocacy programs> You may want to direct your students to take this approach.

6 thoughts on “Why We Should Avoid Using the Title “Certified Patient Advocate””

  1. Very well stated. I personally am challenged by credentialing as I am not and RN nor a MSW, not to mention, I never completed my college degree. However, I have a wealth of experience and education that makes me a leader in my work as an advocate. I am highly respected in my geographical area by Physicians, Elderlaw and Probate Attorney’s, Financial Planners etc. as being an expert in providing Care Management services as well as Patient Advocate services to the Geriatric community.
    I recently attended a PPAI conference in FL. There is are huge variations in what different people are calling PA.
    I just hope that a program is created to set a standard. I also hope the program is open to all with the “Certification” being granted based upon passing a final exam and NOT bias to what cridentials you came to the program with. Carol Ann Deneke, EMT-P, CSA, CDP

    1. Carol, you have succeeded in capturing my biggest frustration with pursuing patient advocacy: 1) I am neither a nurse nor a social worker and yet I am leading advocacy efforts at my church/in my underserved community and 2) the different definitions for patient advocate mean different things to different people. Very frustrating to folks like me who want work in this credibly and very frustrating to those seeking such services, as the article has noted. Ironically I was speaking to a “Hospital Patient Advocate” and they worked admissions! So this is a much needed clarification for all involved.

  2. I am equally frustrated by seeing others who graduated from the same patient advocate certificate program I did, and list themselves as a certified patient advocate. I feel this is just simply wrong.

    1. Cathy – I am just curious as to what program you graduated from? There are not many. I have started one (PPAI) and am looking for one with more substance (I guess that’s the word I’m looking for).
      Carol Ann

  3. Thank you all for your great input. I am a doctor of chiropractic who owned 2 practices for a combination of 16 years direct patient care. I also have an MPH from UCLA in Health Education. Can anyone suggest a PA program assuming one has years of experience and a clinical degree? Would Johns Hopkins or a place like this be a way to go? I was evaluating UCLA whose program is a year over 4 quarters, 2 classes each, total of 8 courses. I also saw one run by a nurse and it was 8 courses 45 minutes each. Both of these are online which is not what I seek due to wanting to network and be face to face with my colleagues for a more enriching experience..thanks for any guidance or recommendations.

    I will say that law and nursing appear to be requirements for the top positions that pay well. Sitting next to a young new graduate with no work experience is not at all what I want. I need equal clout with dialogue…I am honestly not sure about others having a degree as experience is always more important. But I do possess the clinical, admin and also marketing, case/care management sides.

    Looking forward to some great dialogue. Dr. Lynn Kerew – drlynn@lynnkerew.com

  4. Lynn – welcome to the world of private advocacy.

    You can find a list of all known educational programs for advocates here:


    I also invite you to join AdvoConnection, https://advoconnection.com/ – soon to be renamed The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates — to connect with hundreds of other advocates to learn more about establishing an advocacy practice, and the differences from your previous ventures.

    Trisha Torrey

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