What You Should Know, But Haven’t Asked, about Patient Advocate Certification (And what does Goldilocks have to do with it?)

There was big excitement last week as the launch for the first Patient Advocate Certification exam took place. From the massive email that went out on January 31 (1700+ people!) to the most-attended-ever APHA Expert Call-in called “Ask the PACB: Prep for the First Exam” – it’s clear there is huge interest in certification for our relatively new profession of health and patient advocacy.

And that’s for good reason!

As more and more people consider advocacy as a profession, it becomes imperative to identify, develop, and maintain the important standards and ethics required to keep the profession highly elevated and respected. One of the few ways we can do so is through development of a very rigorous expectation of standards and ethics, and then to make sure only the cream rises to the top through certification.

That’s what the Patient Advocate Certification Board (PACB) has done.

During registration for the Expert Call-in, registrants were invited to ask questions about the exam. During the call, every question they had posed was answered. (Find a link to the podcast, available to the public, below.)

But there were a few questions no one asked. Their answers might support your ability to pass the exam, to earn your BCPA (Board Certified Patient Advocate credential), and to effectively promote your newly achieved certification when you do.

I believe the reason they weren’t asked is because of some assumptions made that are untrue. Yes – we all know about assumptions!

So here are the questions, with their answers, in no particular order. You’d do well to review them as you consider sitting for the certification exam.

Unanswered Question (Assumption) #1:

Since I am a nurse (or doctor, or nurse practitioner, or some other type of provider) it will be easier for me to pass the exam.

Not true – not true at all. Not only will it not be easier, but clinical training could get in the way of your exam-passing success.

That’s because the exam is based on the standards and ethics of ADVOCACY, as defined by the PACB. For the same reason insurers get nervous about insuring advocates with a clinical background (the ‘fear’ that they will step over the line into practicing medicine), the PACB has been meticulous about excluding medical work from its standards and ethics.

If you have a clinical background, and will prepare to sit for the PACB exam, be highly cognizant of “the line.” Know where it is crossed; what is considered a standard of practice for advocates – vs – a clinical profession.

Unanswered Question #2:

Will it be harder or easier to pass the first exam? Should I wait for the second exam?

You’ll have to answer these questions for yourself, of course. However, here is some background information that might help you.

For each testing period (there are two in 2018, March and September), an analysis will be made of the entire body of test results once that period is complete. Examples (Note: These scenarios are made up. I’m just illustrating how reviews could take place.):

  • If everyone gets a specific question right, then the question may be determined to be too easy to be included in a future exam, or may be edited to make it tougher.
  • If too many people get a specific question wrong, it may be examined to possibly be edited for a future exam.
  • If everyone gets a specific question wrong – the results may not be included in the scoring and the question may be reviewed or removed before a future exam.
  • etc

So how does that help answer the question?

As time goes on, and the exam has been offered more times, the exam itself will become a more accurate and precise measurement of someone’s ability to be an effective advocate.

That piece of knowledge may help you decide whether to take it right away, or to wait for another testing cycle.

Unanswered Question #3:

Will I have to pass the exam to maintain my membership in APHA?

The answer for now is NO, although that will eventually change, pending APHA’s version of “grandfathering.” Read more on the myAPHA membership site. (Important to note, grandfathering used here refers to APHA, and not the PACB exam. There is no grandfathering for certification.)

Unanswered Question #4:

What’s the big deal with this certification? There are lots of colleges, universities, and organizations that offer certificates. What is so special about the PACB’s certification?

The difference is in the scope of recognition and respect.

That may seem somewhat simplistic, but it’s quite accurate. There are dozens of colleges, universities, and organizations that offer their own certificate, degree, or diploma programs. Once a student completes their program, they receive a diploma or certificate of completion for that program – recognized by that college, university, or organization. That’s not the same as being certified, though. (A metaphor: a teacher earns her college degree, but then must still sit for the National Teachers Exam to be certified to teach.)

The PACB’s credential was built by hundreds of practicing advocates, and representatives of colleges, universities, and organizations from across the United States (soon to include Canada) – together. It is the only nationally (and soon to be internationally) developed, respected, and recognized certification.

That does not disparage the certificate programs offered by other organizations in any way. Many offer excellent programs, and the best among them will not only confer their own certificates, they will prepare and encourage their students to earn their BCPA as well.

As time goes on, this national certification, BCPA, will become the defining attribute patients and their caregivers will look for when determining which advocate they wish to work with. If you don’t have those initials after your name, they may not hire you, and your practice may not succeed.

Unanswered Question #5:

How challenging is the exam? Did the PACB build it so people will pass it? Or fail it?

Goldilocks! Citation: from Flickr / Hiro Sheridan

There’s a simple answer to this question: Goldilocks! The exam is not too hard. It’s not too easy. The exam is just challenging enough.

As the exam was being built, the testing company offered guidance to the test developers to determine whether an acceptable candidate (someone believed to be a quality patient advocate) would be able to answer it correctly.

If the questions were too easy, then they were thrown out. If they were too hard, they were thrown out. If they could only have been answered by someone who is clinical, they were thrown out.

So the answer is: Goldilocks would approve. The exam is definitely rigorous. You’ll need to study the materials in the list the PACB provides very well. But it is not too hard, and not too easy. The exam is just right.

What other questions can you think of now that you should have asked?

Helpful links:


2 thoughts on “What You Should Know, But Haven’t Asked, about Patient Advocate Certification (And what does Goldilocks have to do with it?)”

  1. Leslie Reynolds

    How do you obtain the materials to study for, and pass the test, and how much does that cost?

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