Active Voice: Q&A — The Exercise is Medicine® Credential

By Deborah Riebe, Ph.D., FACSM

Viewpoints presented in SMB commentaries reflect opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of ACSM.

Deborah Riebe is a professor and chair of the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Rhode Island. She currently serves as chair of ACSM’s Committee for Certification and Registry Board and also is the chair of of ACSM’s Committee on Certification and Registry Boards. Dr. Riebe is an associate editor of the upcoming 9th edition of ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription.

SMB: Why was the Exercise is Medicine (EIM) credential program created?

Physical activity plays an important role in the prevention and treatment of many chronic diseases. Physicians and other health care providers often don’t have the time to go beyond the simple recommendation of “exercise more” and many do not have the training necessary to develop an appropriate exercise prescription. Since there is no licensure in our field (except in Louisiana for clinical exercise specialists) and because there are more than 300 certifications available, it is often difficult for health care providers to identify exercise professionals with demonstrated competence to work with patient populations. The EIM credential helps physicians navigate this challenge and provides the opportunity for the medical community to work closely with exercise professionals.

SMB: How will EIM bridge the gap between health care professionals and fitness professionals?

The EIM credential will assist health care providers in identifying qualified exercise professionals to work with their patients. It clarifies which exercise professionals are qualified to work with individual patients taking into consideration the health status of the patient. This credential also provides exercise professionals more opportunities to promote themselves to health care providers. As the medical community: 1) becomes more aware of the role that regular exercise plays in the prevention and treatment of disease, and 2) more fully understands the different types of certifications in the field, there will be many more opportunities for certified clinical and health/fitness professionals.

SMB: What considerations were taken into account when creating the new EIM credential?

In developing a system to credential exercise professionals for the EIM designation, ACSM considered the professional preparation necessary to safely and effectively prescribe exercise to a patient population, the skill needed to work within the health care system and the skills needed to support behavior change.

SMB: Why are there three levels included in the EIM credential?

The goal was to maintain a large pool of exercise professionals for patient referral while assuring the competence of exercise professionals so physicians can confidently refer their patients to the right exercise professional. The three levels are based on the health status of patient referrals and the certification and educational level earned by the exercise professional. For example, patients at high risk or those who require clinical monitoring will be referred to an individual with the Level 3 EIM credential while an apparently healthy individual wishing to lose weight could be referred to someone with the Level 1 or 2 EIM credential.

SMB: What are the eligibility requirements?

All three levels require exercise professionals to be certified by a National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) accreditation organization. Formal education (B.S. or M.S. degree in exercise science) provides the exercise professionals additional opportunities to work with patients who are at higher risk. Some exercise professionals will be required to take a six-hour EIM course and pass an EIM examination. However, individuals with formal education in exercise science and more advanced certifications will be exempt. For details, see: certification.acsm.org/exercise-is-medicine-credential.

In summary, the EIM credential has the potential to further integrate exercise professionals into the health care system. It provides a quick and accessible resource to help identify qualified exercise professionals and helps physicians and patients embrace the important role that regular exercise plays in the prevention and treatment of disease.