The 8 Best Health Coach Certification Programs of 2020

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Our Top Picks

Best for Integrative or Holistic Health: Institute for Integrative Nutrition

"IIN has grown into one of the larger and more popular health coaching certification programs, with more than 100,000 graduates to date."

Best for the Nutrition-Focused: Precision Nutrition Level 1

"Precision Nutrition claims to help students 'master the science of nutrition' and 'the art of coaching.'"

Best for Academics: Emory University

"Emory University has one of the few health coaching programs that offer the title of National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach."

Best for a Deep Dive at a University: Duke Integrative Medicine

"After graduating, you can sit for the certifying examination required for health & wellness coaches to become a health coach."

Best to Go Along with a Personal Training Certification: American Council on Exercise

"The ACE health coaching program is the only such program accredited by the NCCA, the gold standard for credentialing agencies."

Best for Business Support: Health Coach Institute

"The graduate course focuses entirely on building your health coaching business."

Best as an Accessory for Licenced Professionals: National Society of Health Coaches

"A rigorous program that prepares students for anything and everything in the health coaching industry."

Best with No Prerequisites: Dr. Sears Wellness Institute

"A well-rounded, information-rich program that requires no prerequisites to enroll."

Our Top Picks

Best for Integrative or Holistic Health: Institute for Integrative Nutrition

Institute for Integrative Nutrition

  Institute for Integrative Nutrition

The Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) is known for its, well, integrative approach to health coaching. Founded by the now-well-known Joshua Rosenthal in a tiny New York City kitchen, IIN has grown into one of the larger and more popular health coaching certification programs, with more than 100,000 graduates to date. 

The curriculum focuses largely on what IIN calls “primary food,” or aspects of life such as relationships, finances, stress, and social life. To IIN, actual food is secondary to all of those factors. You’ll learn about nutrition, physiology, and anatomy, but those lessons typically stick to the very basics (think: how carbs, protein, and fat affect the body differently). 

This program is for you if: You want to learn about non-nutrition components of health coaching and focus on lifestyle management. You should also have at least 10 hours per week to dedicate to this program. 

This program is not for you if: You want to spend less than six months on a certification; want to dive deeper into the nuances of nutrition; or don’t care for ancient/traditional medicine or IIN’s “primary food” concept.

Best for the Nutrition-Focused: Precision Nutrition Level 1

Precision Nutrition Level 1

Precision Nutrition Level 1

On the flip side, if you are very interested in the details of nutrition and how the body processes, responds to and utilizes food, the Precision Nutrition health coaching certification might be the one for you. Precision Nutrition claims to help students “master the science of nutrition” and “the art of coaching,” which is great — those are the two main skills you’ll need to succeed as a health coach. 

The Precision Nutrition program dives deep into nutrition science, so if you aren’t already somewhat familiar with human anatomy and physiology, expect to fumble a bit over the science-speak you’ll find in the program. Because Precision Nutrition is available to anyone — no prerequisites required — the course does attempt to put things in lay terms, but you can’t expect to entirely avoid medical terminology. 

This program is for you if: You want a completely online course developed by a credentialed expert in nutrition (John Berardi, PhD, is the founder) and you want to focus on nutrition only. 

This program is not for you if: You want any sort of hands-on learning or want to learn about more aspects of health coaching, other than just nutrition.

Best for Academics: Emory University

Emory University

Emory University 

Emory University’s Health Coach Certificate Program is approved by the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC) as a transition program, meaning it’s suitable for students who have already earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. Most students who partake in transition programs are looking for continuing education, but don’t want to commit to another entire degree program. 

The Emory University health coaching program begins and concludes with a full weekend of in-person classes in Atlanta, Ga., which sandwich 16 weeks of online coursework that you can complete from anywhere. Based on the course description, this program is tough and has a long list of learning objectives. When you pass the exam, you earn the title of National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC) — Emory University has one of the few health coaching programs that offer this title. It holds prestige because the NBHWC collaborated with the National Board of Medical Examiners to develop this program. 

This program is for you if: You love academia and want a challenging, university-level health coaching program, as well as a nationally recognized title. 

This program is not for you if: You haven’t earned a bachelor’s degree or higher and/or can’t attend the in-person weekend courses.  

Best for a Deep Dive at a University: Duke Integrative Medicine

Duke Integrative Medicine

Duke Integrative Medicine

Another university-based program, the Duke Integrative Health Coaching Program has two distinct portions: the foundation course and the certification course. All students are required to complete both. The foundation course is online or at Duke’s Durham, N.C. campus, while the certification course is taken online with the exception of the final written exam. 

Like the Emory University certification, the Duke health coaching program is NBHWC-approved as a transition program. After graduating, you can sit for the certifying examination required for health & wellness coaches to become National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coaches (NBC-HWC).

This program is for you if: You have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in any field of study or you have three to five years of work experience in a health, wellness, or fitness field; you want the option of in-person coursework; and if you desire the NBC-HWC title.  

This program is not for you if: You don’t have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree; you don’t want to spend more than six months on a program; or you don’t want to take multiple exams.

Best to Go Along with a Personal Training Certification: American Council on Exercise

American Council on Exercise

American Council on Exercise

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) offers one of the best personal training certifications available and is known for its vast selection of specialization programs. One such program is the ACE Health Coach certification, which is a great accessory for those who are already personal trainers (particularly if you’re an ACE-certified personal trainer). You don’t necessarily have to be a certified personal trainer to get this credential, but you do need some sort of health credential or experience as a prerequisite. 

To enroll in the health coaching program, you must have one of the following: “a current NCCA-accredited certification in fitness, nutrition, healthcare, wellness, human resources or a related field; an associate degree or higher from an accredited college or university in fitness, exercise science, nutrition, healthcare, wellness or a related field; a completed health coach training and education program approved by the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaches (NBHWC); or a minimum of two years of documented work experience in coaching, leading, designing, implementing, or facilitating one or more of the following: behavior or lifestyle change, exercise, wellness, nutrition, or physical activity.”

The ACE health coaching program is the only such program accredited by the NCCA, the gold standard for credentialing agencies in the health and fitness industry.  

This program is for you if: You have or are working toward one of the necessary prerequisites, and plan on using your health coaching knowledge in addition to your current specialty (e.g., a certified personal trainer who can also provide nutrition coaching). 

This program is not for you if: You don’t have or don’t want to get a prerequisite health or fitness credential. 

Best for Business Support: Health Coach Institute

Health Coach Institute

Health Coach Institute

The Health Coach Institute (HCI) offers two programs: Become a Health Coach (base-level) and Holistic MBA Mastery. The health coach certification program focuses on many of the same objectives that other programs on this list cover: nutrition, behavior change, exercise, stress, lifestyle, etc. 

To take it one step further, however, the graduate course focuses entirely on building your health coaching business. It’s best for people who already have experience with health coaching and are looking to dig deeper, make a bigger difference, and discover new ways to scale their business. 

This program is for you if: You either want a health coach certification and a business coaching program to refine your health coaching career; or you already have a health coaching certification and want to better your business with the graduate-level program. 

This program is not for you if: You don’t have an interest in or need to learn business-building practices. 

Best as an Accessory for Licenced Professionals: National Society of Health Coaches

National Society of Health Coaches

National Society of Health Coaches

The National Society of Health Coaches (NSHC) spearheaded the first clinical, evidence-based health coaching program. It heavily utilizes motivational interviewing as a coaching tactic, and many large companies use the NSHC model to train healthcare personnel — it’s a rigorous program that prepares students for anything and everything in the health coaching industry. The caveat? The NSHC is only available to licensed healthcare professionals. 

Rather than a standalone health coaching program, the NSHC certification is designed to be used in conjunction with a medical license, such as a doctor of chiropractic, registered nurse, licensed dentist, or naturopathic doctor. Other health professionals not on the list of acceptable prerequisites — dubbed “allied healthcare providers” — can take the course for a “certificate of completion,” but they won’t earn the actual “health coach certification” credential.  

This program is for you if: You are a licensed health or medical professional and want to earn an additional credential or use this program as a continuing education opportunity. 

This program is not for you if: You do not have one of the accepted health or medical licenses to enroll and earn the NSHC certification.

Best with No Prerequisites: Dr. Sears Wellness Institute

Dr. Sears Wellness Institute

Dr. Sears Wellness Institute

If you are considering a change of career and want to pivot to health coaching, you may feel frustrated with the number of programs that require prerequisites — especially if you don’t have the means, financially or otherwise, to commit to a bachelor’s degree program. Dr. Sears Wellness Institute, founded by Dr. William Sears, makes health coaching accessible to everyone by offering programs that don’t require prerequisites.

The Dr. Sears programs are very well-rounded, following Dr. Sears’ personal philosophy that lifestyle, attitude, nutrition, and exercise are the four cornerstones of a healthy lifestyle. Not coincidentally, those are the four pillars of the health coaching coursework. Dr. Sears Wellness Institute is approved by more than 10 leading agencies in the health and fitness industry, including the NBHWC and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). 

This program is for you if: Want a well-rounded, information-rich program that requires no prerequisites to enroll; you want online-only learning; and you want a program you can complete in as little as six weeks (but up to 36 weeks, depending on the course you choose).

This program is not for you if: You don’t want mandatory live lectures (online); or you don’t want to choose one of the Dr. Sears coaching specializations (adults and seniors, pregnancy, or families) and would rather have an overarching certification. 

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