Becoming a Certified Asthma Educator in the U.S.

Most professions have certification and licenses, and the world of asthma is no different. Take Certified Asthma Educators (AE-C).

Since becoming an AE-C is a voluntary certification in the U.S., those of us who are able to pass the VERY tough exam do it because we want to be known as an asthma expert.

The AE-C exam causes LOTS of heartburn and sleepless nights for those of us who have to study and take it. In fact, only 65% of people who take the exam actually pass it!1 And it’s not cheap, costing $350 and taking 3 hours to finish the exam. Did I mention that it’s not an easy test? It’s so hard, that there are only about 3,500 AE-C’s in the US.1 (Not nearly enough to help the 25 million people here that have asthma! )

To pass the AE-C exam, you have to master every section of the National Asthma Educator Certification Board (NAECB)‘s 34 page “Candidate Handbook”, as well as memorize the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (NAEPP) Expert Panel Report – 3 (EPR 3) guidelines (that’s 74 pages long.) But wait! There’s more! And you have to know every asthma medication that is available (brand name, generic name, and dosing) from Allergy & Asthma Network’s inhaler poster.

So, now you know how hard the exam is! If you still want to take , how do you qualify? The NAECB (National Asthma Educator Certification Board) says you are eligible IF:

1. You are a licensed or credentialed health care professionals OR

2. You provide professional direct patient asthma education and counseling with a minimum of 1,000 hours experience in these activities.

Option 1

Professionals who qualify under option #1 are listed by NAECB:

  • Physicians (MD, DO)
  • Physician Assistants (PA-C)
  • Nurse Practitioners (NP)
  • Nurses (RN, LPN)
  • Respiratory Therapists (RRT, CRT)
  • Pulmonary Function Technologists (CPFT, RPFT)
  • Pharmacists (RPh)
  • Social Workers (CSW)
  • Health Educators (CHES)
  • Physical Therapists (PT)
  • Occupational Therapists (OT)

I fit under category #1 because I am a Health Educator who is also a nationally Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES).  My rigorous course of study for my 4 year Bachelor of Science in Public Health requires classes in:

  • first aid
  • biology
  • anatomy and physiology
  • behavioral science
  • physical science
  • human diseases
  • epidemiology
  • medical terminology
  • ethics
  • environmental health
  • health and diversity
  • research methods
  • modifying health behavior
  • bio- statistics, etc.

Once you graduate in Public Health, you can sit for the CHES exam through NCHEC.  This exam also costs $300, takes 3 hours, and also has a low pass rate. (Are you seeing a pattern here?) IF you manage to pass the CHES, it shows you are top in the field of Public Health. But, you must maintain your CHES by re-certifying with 75 continuing education (CE) credit hours over a 5 year period. (I have to keep my CHES credential current to keep my AE-C credential current.) With the AE-C credential, you need 35 hours of CE credits over 5 years.

So – that’s 110 hours of CE credits…..every 5 years.

Option 2

You provide professional direct patient asthma education and counseling with a minimum of 1,000 hours experience in these activities. 

(This section will be covered by another AE-C here in the U.S. who had to log her 1,000 hours of asthma education and counseling.)

So, what does all this mean?

It means that anyone who takes the AE-C exam must have be a professional with at least a 4-year bachelor’s degree and some intense classes in hard science, health, and the medical field. And know enough about asthma to be able to read a spirometry test, know medications and doses, how the environment affects asthma, when the national guidelines recommend stepping up and stepping down medication, assess risk and impairment, etc, etc, etc.

But that’s just the beginning.

Once you pass the AE-C, you must stay up to date in the world of asthma by attending webinars from the EPA, CDC, state health departments, Allergy & Asthma Network, etc. We also attend the annual Association of Asthma Educators conference. This continuing education helps us know the new medications that are on the market, latest research, changes to the asthma guidelines, and much more.

AE-Cs are a very valuable part of the asthma management and care team and I will explain their role in detail in a subsequent post.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Asthma.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.
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