Healthcare and Accreditation

As an aspiring healthcare professional, it is important that you attend a school that is approved by a recognized board of accreditation. Accreditation is important in all fields, but it is especially so in healthcare because you will be working closely with people. The quality of care you give will determine the wellbeing of your patients.

The following articles are designed to shed some light on healthcare accreditation. Before making a decision on a school, make sure you've researched your school's accreditation status.

The Importance of Healthcare Accreditation

Academic accreditation is important in any field of study, but it is especially important in the field of healthcare. Schools may present healthcare material differently, but they must adhere to a standard of quality in order to assure students that the education received will adequately prepare graduates for professional careers. Because of the high level of competition and growth in healthcare, schools must compete for top educational credentials.

Healthcare professions demand high competency and qualification and success or failure is determined by how well a student has been prepared for his or her field. Success or failure impacts the health of others and leaves a minimal margin for error. A natural standard develops from the high demand and each individual program is accountable for preparing healthcare graduates to meet and maintain that standard.

An accrediting agency or accreditation standard serves to ensure successful academic development, but also to allow program flexibility. Curricula are naturally tailored to promote a particular style or methodology and because the standards are met with accreditation, the focus is on the specific pedagogy involved in academic training.

Accrediting agencies for healthcare include regional, state, and federal associations as well as individual program accreditations (i.e. pharmacy education). While many agencies like the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME) are large and recognized by the Department of Education and the Council on Higher Education Accreditation, some smaller accrediting agencies are subject to skepticism and should be researched prior to enrollment.

Top Accrediting Agencies for Healthcare Programs

  1. Doctors : Medical schools are accredited by the American Medical Association's Liaison Committee on Medical Education.
  2. Nurses : Accrediting agencies for nursing programs include the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission, and the American College of Nurse-Midwives Accreditation Commission.
  3. Pharmacy : The Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education evaluates professional degree programs in pharmacy up to the doctorate level.
  4. Medical Assistants and Allied Health : The Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools accredits allied health programs, including medical assistant and lab technician programs.
  5. Many programs in professional healthcare (such as those for emergency medical technicians, anesthesiologist assistants, medical assistants, and respiratory therapists, to name just a few) are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.
  6. Physical Therapists : The American Physical Therapy Association accredits physical therapist programs.
  7. Healthcare Management : The Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management covers graduate programs in healthcare management.
  8. Diet and Nutrition : Dieticians and nutritionists come under the umbrella of the American Dietetic Association .

Accreditation should be a critical part of every student's decision about higher education. Unaccredited programs can leave students with degrees that are worthless for future careers, credits that will not transfer to other institutions, and an inability to obtain the proper state licensure in their fields. Furthermore, students who choose to attend unaccredited institutions are not eligible for federal financial aid.

In healthcare-related professions, accreditation is particularly crucial, since state licensure and additional training inevitably require that students complete accredited programs. Educational quality is an important consideration for students in any program of study, but this is particularly true in healthcare, where students may literally encounter life-or-death decision making as a regular part of their careers. Students should be sure that their program and school of choice carries the right accreditation for their career.

Since accreditation requirements can vary greatly by school, program, field of study, and state, every student should answer the following questions when it comes to determining their chosen program's accreditation status:

  • What accrediting agency evaluates my program? My school?
  • What does the U.S. Department of Education's database have to say about my school's accreditation status and accrediting agencies?
  • Is the accrediting agency (and therefore the program or school) recognized as a standard of quality by the appropriate licensing bodies? (For example, state health departments.)
  • Does my field require that my program be accredited by a specialized accrediting agency, such as a professional organization?

When in doubt, licensed professionals in your chosen field (who practice in the state where you wish to practice) may be good sources of information when it comes to navigating the thicket of choices in higher education. However, always crosscheck information as much as possible, since programs can lose their accreditation or professional standards may shift.

Generally speaking, if your institution is accredited by one of the six regional agencies (New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement, Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities and Western Association of Schools and Colleges), it indicates certain standards of educational quality.

However, be warned that even if your school as a whole is accredited, your program may not be. In addition to the main regional accrediting bodies, there are specialty accrediting agencies for different branches of the healthcare field. Before committing to a program in your field, find out what kind of accreditation is required for professional programs, and make sure your program is accredited. Attending a program accredited by your profession's specialty organization is usually a requirement for building a thriving career.

The preceding agencies oversee accreditation for specific professional programs in healthcare. Note that the listing of organizations here is not a guarantee. Since licensure requirements vary by state and profession, always check to see which accrediting body should evaluate your program. It's also a good idea to crosscheck accreditation status, since it is possible that a program or school could claim accreditation falsely (this is typical behavior of diploma mills, some of which have even set up tandem false accreditation mills.) Always be sure you are dealing with the recognized accrediting bodies in your field before committing to a program.

For further information, check the U.S. Department of Education database and its list of specialized accrediting agencies, as well as information from the professional association affiliated with your area of interest.You can also read more about Healthcare Accrediting Agencies in our article on that topic.

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Find Accredited Healthcare Degrees

If you are looking to begin a career in the healthcare industry, you will want to first find a quality healthcare education program that is accredited by a reputable agency. Healthcare schools are held to similar standards for accreditation as educational programs in other areas, however are usually accredited by different, more specialized agencies.

Who Accredits Healthcare Schools?

The government does not regulate accreditation for educational institutions in the US, and therefore respected private agencies accredit the colleges, universities and vocational programs in this country. The most widely known accrediting agencies are the six regional accrediting bodies that mainly accredit the large and leading schools in their geographic area. However, these agencies are usually not the best contenders to accredit healthcare schools since they mostly work with generalized educational programs and the healthcare industry typically requires highly specialized training.

As a result of this there are many specialized accrediting agencies who accredit specific healthcare programs. These specialized healthcare accrediting agencies know exactly what standards need to be met in their field and how to hold schools to those standards.

For example, the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) focuses on accrediting medical assistant, medical laboratory technician and surgical technology programs. Even more specialized is the Council on Accreditation of (COA) Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs whose scope of accreditation solely includes institutions and programs of nurse anesthesia at the post master's certificate, master's or doctoral degree levels.

There are several other reputable healthcare accreditation agencies, here are just a few:

Is the Accreditation Reputable?

With all the specialized accrediting agencies for healthcare programs, it is important to make sure that you are health school is not only accredited but accredited by a reliable authority. As aforementioned, the US government does not regulate accreditation but the US Secretary of Education as well as the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) do recognize the best private accrediting agencies. You will want to make sure you are school is accredited by an agency recognized by the US Secretary of Education or CHEA. The easiest way to do this is to visit the US Department of Education's website as they have a complete list of these agencies.

If you are an international student or attending a distance education program that is based outside the US, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation also recognizes accrediting institutions throughout the world. CHEA is the international authority on accrediting agencies and also maintains a list of recognized agencies on its website.

Required Accreditation for Healthcare Programs

Students interested in health-related professions know that they should attend an accredited program, but accreditation requirements differ greatly within the healthcare field. Here is a quick guide to accreditation for some popular healthcare occupations.

Nursing : Nurses typically enter the profession following an associate or bachelor degree program. In some cases a specialized diploma program, and successful completion of a national licensing test. A bachelor or masters degree may be required for advancement, so it is important to take this into account when planning your nursing career. Several organizations accredit nursing programs:

  • National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists
  • American Association of Nurse Anesthetists
  • American College of Nurse-Midwives
  • American Academy of Nurse Practitioners
Accreditation requirements vary by specialty, so check with your state board of nursing for additional information.

Sonographer and X-ray Technicians: Sonography and x ray technology offer diverse career training paths to students. While training may take place at a vocational school, at a college or university, on the campus of a hospital, or in the Army, most employers give preference to sonographers who graduated from programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Allied Health Education Programs. Additional credentials are available through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography.

Phlebotomist: State requirements for phlebotomists and other laboratory technicians vary widely, so it is best to check with your state's licensing body for specific requirements. However, the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences accredits programs in this area, as does the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.

Radiology Technician: Training in this field ranges from 1-year certificate programs to 4-year degree programs, as well as masters degree programs. The Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology accredits over 600 such programs. In addition, the ARRT (American Registry of Radiologic Technologists) oversees professional certification programs in this area, and many states use ARRT exams as part of their licensure requirements.

Physical Therapist: Since careers in physical therapy require at least a masters degree, those who wish to pursue this occupation should make sure that their undergraduate institution is regionally accredited in order to be competitive for graduate school admissions. Physical therapy programs at the masters or doctoral level should be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. Additionally, in order to practice physical therapy, professionals in this field must pass state and national licensing exams.

This information is designed to help you begin to plan your career training program in healthcare; be sure to check with your state licensing agencies or employer for specific information about requirements for advancing in your field of choice.

When a Healthcare School Loses Accreditation

For students in medicine and allied health professions, attending an accredited school is even more significant than being eligible to receive financial aid or transfer credits easily from one institution to the next. Accreditation is intended to be a measure of educational quality, and in the healthcare professions, educational quality is quite literally a matter of life and death. Choosing a properly accredited school and program is not only a smart career move. It means that you will have the resources to learn what you need to learn so that your future patients can trust you with their very lives.

Students in healthcare, therefore, have even more reason than average to be careful about their school's accreditation status. While it is a simple matter to check the Department of Education database for accreditation status before choosing a school, it is not always as easy to know what to do if your school loses accreditation. Attending a school that has lost accreditation can mean that students are ineligible for financial aid and professional licenses, and may also have trouble transferring credits to a new institution.

Will I Be Informed of Changes in My Schools Status?

Students may be surprised to learn that they might not even be informed if their school loses accreditation; there have been cases of schools that continue to operate without notifying students of their change in status. If you have suspicions that your school may be on the verge of losing accreditation, you can check with the accrediting body to see if your school is on probation or warning status. Although not every school on probation ultimately loses accreditation, it can be a signal that allows you to investigate matters further and change schools if necessary.

Can I Get My Money Back?

Students who are left out in the cold when their school loses accreditation status may wonder if they can get their money back easily. Unfortunately, it is not so simple. As unfair as it is, you may not be able to receive any compensation for the time and trouble you took over classes that are ultimately worthless professionally. In some cases, students have brought lawsuits against their schools for deceiving them about accreditation status or program quality, but it can be difficult to win such cases. In other words, there is no guarantee that you will be able to recoup any financial or professional losses if your school loses accreditation.

How to Avoid the Situation

In order to avoid finding yourself in this situation, always check to make sure that your school is accredited by the proper institutional and specialty accrediting bodies for your field (such as the American Medical Association or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools). Check to make sure that your program of choice is not on probation, and be alert for signs of diminishing educational quality as you pursue your program. If you plan to transfer, review all credit transfer policies carefully.

Although having your school lose accreditation can set you back years in your career, it is fairly uncommon. Once you are aware of the issue, it is much easier to focus on other aspects of your education and your career.

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