The Value of Maintaining Certification

Along with holidays and festive celebrations, the end of the calendar year often marks the deadline to complete any recertification requirements in order to maintain your professional credentials.  I recently completed my OCT-C (Optical Coherence Tomographer-Certified) recertification in December, and just received my updated certificate in the mail. That will hold me for another three years. At the end of 2017, my other professional credential, the Certified Retinal Angiographer, will be up for recertification. It will mark my 30th year of proudly holding the CRA.

I’m not alone when it comes to maintaining these voluntary certifications. Johnny Justice Jr. continues to set an example by maintaining the CRA credential that he originally obtained in 1979 (the first time it was offered). That’s amazing to me.  Several others from that inaugural group of CRA recipients, including Peter Hay, Phil Chin, Tom Egnatz, and Chuck Etienne, also maintain their CRA after all these years.  None of them have anything to prove at this point in their careers, especially Johnny. He is a pioneer in the profession and was the driving force and founding member of the Ophthalmic Photographers’ Society. He is a well-known author and lecturer, and is universally considered the “Father” of our profession. He certainly doesn’t need the CRA to gain employment, or practice in his chosen profession. He proudly maintains his CRA out of respect for the credential, and what it means to the profession that he helped to create. It clearly has value to him after all these years and all his accomplishments.

In a highly technical field such as ophthalmic imaging it may seem surprising there are no licensure or certification requirements. Certification is strictly voluntary to perform in these roles. It is estimated that less than half the people working as ophthalmic photographers, assistants, or technicians are certified. It’s not easy to obtain certification, and it shouldn’t be. After all it’s meant to identify individuals who have demonstrated a designated level of competence in their field. It takes knowledge, skill, and experience to successfully complete the examination process for certification. Anyone who has completed this process knows the significant effort that is required.

So why get certified if it isn’t required, universally recognized, and takes significant effort? It’s about value. The benefits of certification are often tangible: increased job satisfaction, enhanced job mobility, increased earning power, and a competitive advantage for advancement or the best employment opportunities. But the benefits don’t stop with the certified individual. They also extend to the employer, ophthalmologists, insurers, and most importantly, our patients and their families. All of these groups benefit from knowing they are dealing with a recognized professional.

Certification also helps establish a professional identity and recognition by your peers. It certainly did that for me. In fact, I worked in the field for nearly ten years before initially pursuing certification. I decided it was time to move on in my career and needed certification to gain access to the best jobs. It worked, as my next employer required the CRA as a condition of employment. But I was pleasantly surprised by the additional benefits that certification provided. Although I was very skilled in the technical aspects of photography and had worked at one of the most prestigious institutions in the world, no one outside my place of employment knew my name. That all changed when I obtained my CRA. I suddenly had the respect of my peers and began receiving invitations to play a role in professional activities in the OPS and beyond.  Certification seemed to be “the price of admission” to important networking opportunities that lead to leadership roles in the OPS and JCAHPO. From there came many opportunities to share my knowledge through lectures and publication. And it all started with certification.

But the process doesn’t end when you first receive your credentials. Certification is much more than a one-time achievement. It is a dynamic, career-long commitment to continued education, assessment, and professional development. There is incredible value in attaining, and also maintaining, your certification.

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