What is the Difference Between Licensure, Registration, and Certification?


By Kortney Mims, BS, CPhT and Keona Owens, BA, CPhT

We probably have seen the terms licensure, registration, and certification before discovering our career pathways. If you’re unfamiliar with these terms, let’s use this opportunity to discover NEW words and their meanings. How does each term differ? How do employers recognize them? Let’s drive down the Word Bank Lane and discover the answers to these questions! And don’t worry, you won’t need any form of expertise to start this journey.

Let’s begin the process …

Licensure and Registration are interchangeable, which grants the authority/ability to practice a profession on a state level.[1] Being licensed in a profession is an indication that you have the minimum competencies required to perform tasks related to that profession.  This process is administered/monitored by a state-level authority and is required by law for regulatory purposes. The criteria for acquiring a license vary from state to state and typically do not authorize multi-state usage. Multi-state level practitioners must submit an application for each state based upon state-level regulations.

Side Note: having a license in Florida does not grant you the authority to practice in California *DING DING DING*. To practice in California, a practitioner must register in that state.

Registration is required after meeting profession-specific criteria,  completing the application process. Approval, pay fees, and as a result, the individual will be listed in a directory as an “active practitioner.” The criteria for professionals vary based upon state regulations and the “profession.” While submitting an application, you are required to provide proof of the completed coursework and/or degree program (i.e., transcripts and/or diploma/degree), completion of the practicum, successfully passing state board (varies by state statute/profession), and national examination, and committing to the professional specific standards.[2]  Registered professionals have achieved a level of mastery skills.

Side Note: Many professionals require the completion of state licensure/registration processes prior to granting the authority to practice/perform duties based upon the state-level regulation.

Benefits of Licensure/Registration: Prestige + Improved career prospects and employability +  Enhancement of stature + Authority + Flexibility + Higher earning potential + Demonstration of a professional attitude valued by employers and customers + Enhanced status leading to higher self-esteem + National recognition of competence and commitment + Evidence of expertise + Greater influence within the industry

Certification is the process of receiving official documentation after completing coursework, training in a specific field, and successfully passing an examination, signifying status and a level of achievement. Wow, talk about success! In other words, you took an accredited program and passed an exam that exemplifies your expertise, knowledge, and skillset/capabilities to perform. This ultimately means CHA-CHING or professionally defined as increased income and potential sustainability.  This process is typically administered by a non-governmental organization and is often recognized on a national level. That means, if you move out of state, your certification goes with you.

Side Note: Having a certification will position you for vast opportunities, career growth. It shows employers that you’re an expert in your field of practice. Oh, did I mention increased opportunities?! You get the picture ...

Benefits: Competitive advantage + Boost in efficiency + Higher earning potential + Increase in knowledge and skills + Professional credibility

While doing market research and determining your career pathways, it is crucial to consider these facts.

1. Knowing the difference between professional certification and a certificate program.  

Professional certification is the process by which a person proves their knowledge, skills, and experience to perform duties. Typically, you receive a glorious piece of paper in the mail - Congratulations! You did it!!!. This serves as proof that you have successfully passed the exams from an accredited organization or association (assessment-based approach). What’s even better is ... You can officially use designations after your name (e.g., CPhT, CSPT, CPhT-Adv, PMP)  to recognize your level of expertise. You are NOW the expert.

What if you have completed a certificate program? Isn’t that a professional certification? Although the terms are similar, they are not the same. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) website, there has been an increase in certificate programs.[3] A certificate program focuses on providing knowledge and skills on specialized topics. These courses tend to result from an educational process as opposed to an assessment process. Completion of this program awards a certificate to recognize mastery skills.

2. Is this a new field for you, or do you have relevant experiences?

Professional certification typically requires previous skills and experiences in the topic. At the same time, a certificate program is tailored for any level of experience and education with a minimum requirement of a high school diploma/GED. Professional registration can be a daunting task to complete and typically require some on-the-job experience.

3. What level of commitment are you most comfortable with?

Certifications require continuous education/training, known as continuing education units (CEUs) and/or on-the-job projects. This has to be completed within a designated timeframe.

4. Is the certificate program accredited, or is the certification nationally recognized?

Some programs are not nationally recognized. Side Note: Avoid spending time, effort, and resources completing coursework/examinations that hold ABSOLUTELY no weight in your career pathway. ASHA instructs us to do our due diligence, educate ourselves about programs of interest prior to committing, and be aware of certificate programs incorrectly labeled as certification programs.[4]

Now that we’ve traveled down the Word Bank Lane. Let’s shift gears and focus mainly on Pharmacy Technicians.

Community colleges, online institutions, and employers offer pharmacy technicians’ training. Organizations like the National Pharmacy Technician Association (NPTA) and the National Healthcareer Association (NHA) offer national professional certification.

A certified pharmacy technician is a competent-qualified individual who illustrates an exceptional level of expertise. During this voluntary process, a non-governmental entity grants recognition and credentials, verifying a standardized exam.

Final Thoughts

There are a vast array of educational/career options.  Whether or not your state requires licensure/registration and/or certification to practice, it is crucial to your career pathway to learn the difference and its benefits. Map out your career/educational objective and determine if these credentials are necessary on your journey.

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/licensure

[2] https://sciencecouncil.org/scientists-science-technicians/benefits-of-professional-registration/what-is-professional-registration/

[3] https://www.asha.org/ce/ceus/professional-certification-vs-certificate-program/

[4] https://www.asha.org/ce/ceus/professional-certification-vs-certificate-program/