October 5, 2020

Certificate vs Certification



There’s a difference between receiving a certificate and receiving a certification.

But what’s the difference? Why does it matter?

A key difference between the two is experience. While a certificate is usually for newcomers and experienced professionals, certifications typically requires some professional experience or knowledge in the field. There are several other ways why the two contrast:

  • How the two are awarded and by whom
  • One-and-done process vs. continuing education
  • Appearing after one’s name upon completion

So, what is the difference?

This is probably the No. 1 question I receive in continuing education for healthcare professionals. Believe it or not, in rooms full of healthcare education professionals, the difference can become a controversial topic quickly and become the subject of ongoing debate.

Pharmacy post-graduate continuing education programs are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmaceutical Education (ACPE), and I’m the former head of two different programs accredited by ACPE. However, the ACPE guidelines do not directly address the differences between a certificate and a certification. Therefore, we need to look to the Council on Credentialing in Pharmacy (CCP) to establish how they define a certificate vs. a certification.


Certification is a voluntary process by which a non-governmental agency or an association grants recognition to an individual who has met certain predetermined qualifications specified by that organization. This formal recognition is granted to designate to the public that this individual has attained the requisite level of knowledge, skill, and/or experience in a well-defined, often specialized, area of the total discipline. Certification usually requires initial assessment and periodic reassessments of the individual’s knowledge, skills, and/or experience. Certification is to be differentiated from the term “certificate,” which is a document issued to an individual upon successful completion of the predetermined level of performance of a certificate program or of a pharmacy residency or fellowship.”

                                                                                – Council on Credentialing in Pharmacy (CCP)


Still, this definition isn’t my favorite because the definition of certificate is not well-defined, and this hasn’t been updated since 2006. However, a number of other sources list their own definitions, and can be summarized below:

Certification chart


Why is this important?

Why do we at Apex Benefits care about the differences between the two?

Recently, several of our employees received re-certification as Certified Pharmacy Benefits Specialists (CPBS), which took more than 20 hours of study and hands-on practice. While I joined the CPBS group this fall for the first time myself, I’m glad the CPBS requires re-certification, because certifications must have the ongoing element of education. You can’t get that requirement with a certificate program alone.

Apex’s CPBS team that earned re-certification is now the first group in the country to go through re-certification. According to my colleagues who went through the re-certification process, the material in the curriculum didn’t change dramatically, but it’s important they are keeping up with the sweeping changes in pharmacy like: specialty drug management, medical drugs (J code drugs), orphan drugs and gene therapies.

I’m grateful to have gone through the certification with my colleagues, and that Apex embraces continuing education. We strive to be the leaders in the pharmacy benefits field, so please, don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about your pharmacy benefits.

Erin L. Albert

Authored By

Erin L. Albert, MBA, PharmD, JD, PAHM

Kinetiq Health Pharmacy Benefit Practice Leader
Meet Erin L.