Accreditation, Certification, Licensure, Registration

November 22, 2011
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If you’re confused about all the credentials available to you and what they mean to your career or profession, you’re not alone. The “alphabet soup” of letters after healthcare and design professionals’ names has grown in recent years and the distinctions between one credential and another are often blurred and can be confusing.

To help you better understand the purpose of, differences between, and requirements for each of the credentials, The Center for Health Design (CHD) and the American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designers (AAHID) convened representatives from several credentialing organizations to discuss and agree upon definitions and organize information about the various programs.

Those represented included the American College of Healthcare Architects (ACHA), Evidence-based Design Accreditation and Certification (EDAC) from CHD, Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), International Facility Management Association (IFMA), National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), and the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ).

The group agreed that obtaining a professional credential is a credible way to demonstrate proficiency in a field. A credential identifies an individual who is committed to his/her profession and provides a tangible recognition of his/her knowledge and/or experience. Common terms and definitions are listed below.  


Credential: An umbrella term used for many types of programs such as licensure, certification, accreditation, and certificates. A credential is an attestation of qualification, competence, or authority issued to an individual by a third party with a relevant or de facto authority or assumed competence to do so. 


Credentialing: The process used to establish the qualifications of professionals, organizational members, or organizations and to assess their background and legitimacy to meet predetermined and standardized criteria. Individuals, organizations, processes, services, or products may be credentialed. 


Licensure: A process by which a governmental agency grants time-limited permission to an individual to engage in a given occupation after verifying that he or she has met predetermined and standardized criteria (usually education, experience, and examination). 

  • The goal of licensure is to ensure that the licensees have the minimal degree of competency necessary to ensure that public health, safety, and/or welfare are protected.
  • To become licensed, one usually has to meet eligibility requirements and pass an assessment that covers a broad range of knowledge and skills, usually at the entry level.
  • There are usually ongoing requirements that need to be met to maintain the license (CEUs, retests, physical exams, etc.).
  • Typically, they are granted at the state level; if the individual works in multiple jurisdictions, then they must be licensed in each jurisdiction. Licensing requirements vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
  • Professional associations do not grant licensure but can play a role in licensure activities, such as advocating for the license and collaborating with agencies responsible for the development and administration of licensing. 

In most cases, the terms “licensure” and “registration” are used interchangeably. An example of this credential would be a registered architect or licensed interior designer. 


Certification: A voluntary process by which a nongovernmental agency grants a time-limited recognition to an individual after verifying that he or she has met predetermined and standardized criteria. 

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