The Healthcare Ethics Consultant-Certified (HEC-C) program is a national standard that recognizes a consultant’s proficiency in identifying, counseling, and resolving ethical issues.

The program’s content is based on a role delineation study conducted by the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH) in 2017. “It is not based on any institution’s process, course of study, or program,” explains Felicia Cohn, PhD, bioethics director for Kaiser Permanente, Orange County, CA.

Institutions are using the HEC-C program in these ways:

  • to recognize the consultant’s specialized knowledge;
  • as part of a clinical ladder;
  • to set a desired minimum standard.

“To date, we have received 225 applications and have certified 209 [healthcare ethics consultants]. We anticipate this number will continue to grow,” says Cohn chair of the HCEC Certification Commission. Candidates were asked to complete a survey after the examination. Seventy percent said the examination met their expectations, 29% believed the exam was more difficult than expected, and only 1% believed the exam was easier than expected.

There were a few reasons candidates gave for taking the exam, including:

  • to contribute to the professionalization of clinical ethics consultation;
  • to validate their experience;
  • to earn a credential that would help them market themselves.

As for how the credential may affect their careers, candidates expected more validation from peers and supervisors and more trust from patients and families. “The commission has already accomplished a great deal,” Cohn says.

Recently, the group contracted with a testing company, Scantron, which led to additional progress. Volunteers were enlisted to develop “psychometrically sound, reliable, and defensible test questions,” Cohn reports. Multiple exam types and renewal requirements were developed, and a passing point was established based on testing industry best practices.

“Behind the scenes, the commission has been busy establishing a governance structure to codify its work and provide oversight to every step of the process,” Cohn says.