Is Certification Necessary?

by Bonita Katz, BA RN ICCE ICBD IAT CLC

I have seen many opinions lately on the certification of birth workers. Some understand the reasons certification is required and others rebel against the notion. I will state the obvious: Certification does not make you good at what you do. A piece of paper cannot magically make you an outstanding childbirth educator or doula. So why certify?

You may be surprised to know that ICEA was not originally a certifying organization. When ICEA was founded in 1960 its purpose was to promote family-centered maternity care by educating parents. By the late 1970’s ICEA had grown to such a degree that it was necessary to train people how to teach. Simply dispensing information did not consistently result in meaningful learning. People began to ask, “How do I teach this effectively? How do I decide what should be included in my classes?” The shift in focus from parents to those who would educate the parents resulted in the first Teacher Certification Program in 1982.

Since then ICEA has certified thousands of educators. In 1997 we began certifying doulas. Certification is a means to verify that you have a basic level of knowledge. It does not guarantee compassion or skill. The same applies to any certification or degree. Public school teachers complete requirements so that they qualify to teach, but it does not guarantee that they will be gifted teachers. Nurses take courses and exams to qualify for practice, but that does not mean that they all have the same level of skill in starting an IV or performing other tasks.

Is it necessary to be certified in order to be a good childbirth educator or doula? No. Some places of employment require it. And for those that want to be reimbursed by third parties (insurance or government), certification is necessary. Third parties need a means to determine the level of knowledge and the most common way to do that is certification.

ICEA’s first two goals are to provide quality education and to set the standards for birth professionals. One important way to measure those standards is certification. What means so much more to the families we serve are the intangible qualities of birth workers: compassion, integrity, and humility. These qualities are much more difficult to assess… and perhaps are only accurately measured by those who are touched by our work.

It is not realistic to expect business or government entities to try to quantify and measure those more abstract qualities. Birth workers of all kinds – educators, doulas, nurses, midwives, physicians – must navigate an often conflicting dichotomy of reality: the tender realm of birth and the dispassionate world of business. Certification will never be able to measure compassion, but it can signify a level of knowledge necessary to help childbearing families.

ICEA has an excellent heritage of providing education and support for those who advocate for family-centered, evidence-based care. Our certification programs are regularly updated to ensure that they reflect the latest research. Explore your options for certification with ICEA as a childbirth educator, birth doula, or postpartum doula.

Thank you for choosing ICEA!