The goal of the American College of Healthcare Architects (ACHA or "the College") is to transform health care through better built environments. To that end, ACHA provides board certification to architects in the United States and Canada who specialize in health care. The certification process is rigorous and overseen by an independent testing agency, in order to establish a professionally sound, legally defensible standard by which people can identify themselves as health care architects.
The tagline of the College is Experienced, Certified, Preferred, but what does that mean and how it that relevant to the C-Suite, the industry, and most importantly, the patients?
The College is comprised of certified healthcare architects with a deep knowledge of design and the impact on the healthcare community. According to a survey of its certificants in 2014, the College found:
- ACHA certified architects have 28.7 years of healthcare design experience.
- Nearly 90% of all ACHA certified architects focus primarily on healthcare design.
- ACHA certified architects have published an article or a book on a healthcare topic an average of 4.5 times.
- ACHA certified architects have presented a topic at a healthcare conference or similar event an average of 8.7 times.
The first step in certification is having that experience reviewed by an independent body of peers who carefully examine the portfolio submitted by a candidate. Once the level of required experience is confirmed, the candidate is approved to sit for the examination.
To preserve the integrity of the testing process, it continues to be overseen by an independent, third-party testing company. Questions are developed by the ACHA exam committee, which is chaired by an ACHA certified architect and appointed by the College's board of regents. These questions are reviewed for clarity and properly framed with input from the testing firm. This process ensures questions cover the needed material, are not ambiguously worded and conform to scientifically appropriate models for examining candidates. Because test takers must be licensed architects, the exam is geared towards topics related specifically to health care projects, as opposed to architectural domains already covered by architectural licensure organizations. Unlike many other certifications, the ACHA examination is based on experience and much of the content cannot be studied.
The certification exam is divided into four major sections with questions falling into the categories of analysis, application and recall. The first section covers the forces that drive the business of health care, including economics, regulation and reimbursement, health care models and technology. The second section is about pre-design, with questions regarding programming and master planning. The third section, on design, has questions about facility design, departmental design and detailed design, like coordinating equipment layouts, requirements and manufacturer specifications or developing room data to align with patient and staff safety, experience and privacy needs. The final section covers delivery and implementation, with questions about contracts; construction documents; reviewing owner-provided fixed medical equipment and technologies for coordination with contract documents; assisting the owner with approval, licensing and certificate of occupancy processes; and post-occupancy evaluation and research. Each item on the test is linked to a specific health care setting: general, acute care, post-acute care, outpatient care or behavioral and mental health care.
The entire certification process is designed to recognize the expertise of architects who have substantial experience in all aspects of health care architecture projects. Architects who earn the ACHA credential have had their health care experience and knowledge independently evaluated and approved through the application, portfolio and testing process. It's a stamp of approval that differentiates architects with specialized health care skills for their clients, employers and colleagues.
While there are many highly qualified and experienced healthcare architects in the industry, some discerning industry leaders are more comfortable going with an ACHA architect who has been through the rigorous certification process. The College encourages professionals with this specialty to do the same, whether emerging professionals or icons in the field.
Message from the President
It's not just another credential
If you browse LinkedIn, or glance at most incoming email signatures from professionals, you will undoubtedly discover a myriad of professional certifications. Here are some obscure ones I thought were interesting:
- Certified Construction Product Representative
- Certified 8-VSB Specialist
- Master Exercise Practitioner
- Certified Drafter
- Master Sommelier
- Retirement Plans Associate
- Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist
- Certified E-Discovery Specialist
- Qualified SWPPP Practitioner
- RETA Authorized Instructor
Of the hundreds of certifications vying for significance, what makes ACHA Board certification unique or even valuable? While a few recently certified healthcare architects have answered that question, "Well, certification IS the difference," can we probe that difference deeper?
Some of you can attest to the fact that there is no standard way of confirming that one certification is similar or different in stature or rigor than another. For example, you will have undoubtedly sat through a one-hour lunch seminar on roofing, casework, masonry, etc., and may have received a certificate of attendance. That presentation may have even qualified toward continuing education requirements - and, you did receive a certificate. Congratulations! But, you probably didn't display that certificate in a frame on your office wall, or even keep it in a file.
Another type requires a series of classes or a seminar and an exam at the end confirms your competence over the material discussed in the classes. This may be akin to a full-day project management seminar, resulting in the same prize – a certificate. Congratulations, again! A third type is like the second, but also taps into your experience. The application of this newly acquired knowledge is tested in real-life situations, and experience does help. The exam may be closed to references, so that you not only have to recall facts and how they are most appropriately applied.
The highest type confirms that an applicant has accumulated prescribed minimum experience requirements, and it assumes with that advanced learning accompanied it by the reviewed work product of that experience. The independent testimony of peers and clients corroborate the demonstration of that experience, along with demonstrations of personal influence over the architectural profession, finalized by a psychometrically-confirmed exam of your experience-based knowledge and demonstrated skills, and finally ratified by an independent board.
Which one means more to your clients? Checking emails over a sandwich while a salesman describes a product, or the weight of your experience to an independent board of the best in the profession?
From its inception, ACHA Board certification has always been the high-mark of our specialty and our profession. You do have something to be proud of. Congratulations!
William J. Hercules, FAIA, FACHA
President, American College of Healthcare Architects, 2018
Become a Certified Healthcare Architect
We appreciate your interest in the American College of Healthcare Architects. If you, or someone you know is qualified, the Regents invite submission of an application. Learn about the ACHA application process.