Certificate vs Certification

Often the question is asked, "What's the difference between earning a certificate and certification?" To clarify the distinction between certificate and certification a comparison chart has been provided below.

Certificate Certification
Results from an educational process. Results from an assessment process.
For both newcomers and experienced professionals alike. Typically requires some amount of professional experience
Awarded by educational programs or institutions. Awarded by a third party, standard-setting organization.
Indicates completion of a course or series of courses with specific focus; is different than a degree granting program. Indicates mastery/competency as measured against a defensible set of standards, usually by application or exam.
Course content set a variety of ways (faculty committee; dean; instructor; occasionally through defensible analysis of topic area). Standards set through a defensible, industry-wide process (job analysis/role delineation that results in an outline of required knowledge and skills).
Usually listed on a resume detailing education; may issues a document to hang on the wall. Typically results in a designation to use after one's name (C.P.H., C.H.E.S.); may result in a document to hang or keep in a wallet.
Is the end result; demonstrates knowledge of course content at the end of a set period in time. Has on going requirements in order to maintain; holder must demonstrate he/she continues to meet requirements. C.E.U.'s are continuing education units. For example, RN's and other allied health professionals are required to complete annual C.E.U.'s to keep their licensure.
Provides the basis and gateway for achieving a degree. No relationship with attaining higher education or degree.

The terms certification and credentials and designation are also often confused or used incorrectly.

  • Credentials attest to someone's knowledge or authority. Credentials can be a degree earned, e.g., M.P.H. and/or a list of published papers.
  • Certification is a process that results in credentials.
  • A designation simply refers to the letters someone uses after their name (M.D., Ph.D., C.P.A.).
Examples of Certifications in Public Health
C.P.H. - Certification in Public Health. NEW: Certified in Public Health (CPH) Eligibility Requirements have changed so that earning the Certificate via the CFPH program may also make you eligible to earn Certification via the CPH exam if 1) you have a minimum of 5 years of public health experience, OR 2) You possess a relevant graduate degree. Please visit the National Board of Public Health Examiner’s website for more information.
C.C.H.P. - Certified Correctional Health Professional CEHT - Certified Environmental Health Technician
C.E.R.C. - Certified Emergency Response Coordinator D.A.B.T. - Diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology
C.I.C. - Certified Infection Control C.H.E.S. - Certified Health Education Specialist
C.P.H.A. - Certified Public Health Administrator C.H.O. - Chemical Hygiene Officer
R.S. - Registered Sanitarian R.E.H.S. - Registered Environmental Health Specialist