It’s been a little over six months since I nervously logged into the NBME website, frantically clicked, and scrolled to find out I passed my board exam! After a sigh of relief, I could officially add a few more letters to my name to signify this success, becoming Nicole C. Foster, MA, NBC-HWC.
I’ve been putting this blog post on the back burner for quite a while but I’m so relieved to finally be sharing my journey to become a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach. It’s been quite a winding path to get where I am today and I’m giving you the scoop on how I got here, and what I’ve learned in the process. I’m breaking it all down for you in this blog post. I’ll be sharing my path to becoming a health coach, how the board certification amplifies my work, and a few new offerings from me.
Why I decided to become a health coach…
If you know me personally or were sent this article by a friend, you might know that I was diagnosed with APML leukemia just before my fifteenth birthday. What seemed like a strange case of bumps and bruises turned out to be a much more serious condition. I soon learned it was a rare blood cancer causing all my strange symptoms and that treatment was promising, but it needed to happen right away. This shocking diagnosis landed me a 2.5-year-long intensive treatment that included various rounds of chemo, cell-altering drugs, steroids, antibiotics, and a 12-week long phase of arsenic trioxide therapy (yes, you read that right– actual arsenic cured me). During this time, the world “health” meant survival. I wasn’t in a place where I was ready to make any more drastic changes. Going through treatment was challenging enough. I approached each day with anxious anticipation, waiting for the laundry list of side effects to subside and the doctors to tell me that I had “no evidence of disease.” Fortunately, my treatment was both intense and highly effective. I heard those four life-saving words several months into chemo, but I was still required to complete my protocol which ended during my senior year of high school.
Often, when someone receives a cancer diagnosis, they are quick to research ways to
improve their health and get rid of the disease growing inside them. Sometimes they dive right into the world of juicing, supplements, and holistic healing to complement the modern medicine they are receiving, which can help aid in their recovery and energy levels. As for my fifteen-year-old self, I was simply trying to get this over with as soon as possible and resume life as “normal”. While my diet didn’t change much (aside from the chemo-induced food aversions), I grew to understand my emotional and physical needs during this time. As I spent time on the pediatric inpatient floor, I channeled my creativity by making doodled decals for the hospital windows and happy-making decor for my hospital room walls. At outpatient chemo, I was introduced to the healing powers of reflexology and energy medicine, thanks to my hospital’s Integrative Medicine Program. Throughout the most harrowing moments, I collected a word document of positive motivational quotes and healing prayers to refer to when I was filled with fear. Slowly but surely, I was enhancing my well-being in ways that were tiny yet powerful and helped me get through the most challenging feat I had yet to endure. These precious rituals and habits helped me move from merely surviving to improving my mental and emotional health as the chemo did its thing to remove the cancer from my body.
A few years after I completed treatment, as a Sophomore in college, I realized that I had been a “second chance” at life that I wasn’t fully appreciating. I was still not considering how I could intentionally improve my health and well-being. The troublesome lifestyle I grew up with was catching up to me. I was overweight and barely active– but had recently discovered my love of yoga the summer before. When a doctor told me I had pre-hypertension– which could have been a result of “white coat syndrome”– I knew I couldn’t continue with the lifestyle I was living. So, I enlisted the help of an IIN Health Coach who happened to be a fellow leukemia survivor and decided that I would reroute to living a truly healthy lifestyle.
Throughout my time working with a health coach, I grew to understand why the process works and how I had it in me to make the changes I spent years wishing to attain. I decided my vegetarian diet was no longer working for me, so I opted to go fully plant-based, and my coach helped me ease into this transition. She worked with me to adapt meals I loved and helped me learn about new plant-based foods in the process. Within just a few months, I was feeling more energized and confident about the choices I was making. Soon I realized that it had ripple effects in all areas of my life. I began working out regularly, increased my yoga practice, learned more about mindfulness and meditation, and found my love for cooking and preparing vegan meals. I was quiet about the changes I was making, but it was apparent to my friends and family that I was experiencing a radical shift in my well-being. I was finally learning to take care of myself, my health, and my needs in ways that would enhance my life in the long run.
By my senior year at Marist College, I had completed all my Psychology requirements, and I still felt like I had barely scraped the surface of what it means to understand the human experience from a scientific and theoretical perspective. I knew that I wanted to learn more, but I was hesitant to jump into a clinical counseling or social work program. As I stressed over what would be next for me, I learned about Columbia University’s Spirituality Mind-Body Institute– a Masters in Psychology program. I had total imposter syndrome applying– I had never even considered that I would step foot on an Ivy League campus– but I knew this program was distinctly unique to what I was searching for. A few weeks before my college graduation, I clicked on a link in an e-mail to see digital balloons and confetti fly across the screen and somehow managed to read spot the word “accepted” in the first sentence. By July, I began my degree with a week-long intensive immersion. In these initial days, I was learning from the top researchers in Psychology and Mind-Body medicine. And that’s where my path to become a professional health and wellness coach officially began.
My Education and Training
As I mentioned earlier, I spent my undergrad years at Marist College. It was there that I majored in Psychology and minored in Social Work and Criminal Justice. From the moment I took my first college course, I knew I wanted to help people, I just wasn’t sure what that would look like for me. Counseling and social work felt like the typical paths to pursue, but I was concerned about my own well-being and fearful that I would not thrive being so close to others suffering all day long. That concern alone is part of what brought me to my Master’s in Psychology at Columbia. I was simply pursuing a master’s degree in this degree program without the requirement to attain licensure and clinical hours.
While part of me felt like this was a gamble, spending all this money on a degree that doesn’t have a clear path forward, I felt like it would bring me closer to my next chapter as a professional in the field of health and wellness. My classes at Columbia were immersive and hands-on, ranging from more typical psychology courses (positive psych, world psych, abnormal psych, social-emotional learning) to less typical courses that stretched my perspective on the intersection of psychology and spirituality and its role in human flourishing. Not only did I learn these concepts, I also had the chance to put them into practice. Under the supervision of a clinical psychologist, I co-developed and co-facilitated a Spiritual Wellness Workshop series with Columbia students on “The Art of Introspection” that emphasized mindfulness and meditation practices. Finally, I was helping others through my studies and knowledge, and I knew that I would continue to pursue this as a Health and Wellness Coach. By mid-December of 2019, I submitted my thesis, which consisted of a literature review and my adaptation of MBSR (mindfulness-based stress-reduction) in college student populations to combat the stress they endure in higher education. All in, I spent an intense 18 months studying areas of psychology and well-being in an academic environment that earned me my Master’s Degree and primed me to be a stand-out health coach. While it wasn’t a traditional (or necessary) route to becoming a health coach, I am grateful for it all the same.
So, you’ve heard about my degrees, now let’s get to the good stuff– how I became a Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach. While at Columbia, I knew that I would like to get more of an education surrounding physical health and nutrition that wasn’t covered in my psych classes. If you remember from earlier when I hired my health coach, she was a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, a very well-known online certification program. I figured I would load up my metaphorical plate and simultaneously complete my one-year-long Health Coach Training Program during the first year of my Masters. I ambitiously thought– how hard could it be?! Luckily, my programs were great compliments to one another, and I often found myself taking a grad school study break by watching IIN lectures and taking notes on those topics. Through this process I noticed that my IIN program covered many topics ranging from nutrition resources to the importance of self-care practices, all while sprinkling in methods of working with clients on these topics.
While I am SO grateful for my IIN education, in hindsight, I might have had a better experience with a hybrid certification program that met in person and virtually to get more of a hands-on approach to coaching and methodology. What I did like about IIN’s program was how quickly I was able to complete it in just one year. That allowed me to take on a “Health and Wellness Coach” title before I graduated from my master’s program. Although I had been an IIN Certified Health Coach for almost a year at that point, I didn’t feel entirely confident that this title was enough and that I was genuinely ready to begin working with clients regularly. Unfortunately, anyone can say they are a Health and Wellness Coach without having to prove any type of certification or education, leading to a lot of skepticism about our role. As I began my path towards Board Certification, I realized just how valuable the NBC-HWC title is and how rigorous their standards are for coaches.
Why the National Board Certification Matters
During the Spring of 2020, as COVID took its initial toll on the US, I received an e-mail from
IIN about an “Intensive Practicum.” After learning that it would allow me to sit for the National Board Exam for Health and Wellness Coaches (NBC-HWC), I knew now was the time to do this. After this intensive practicum, I followed the NBC-HWC’s content outline on their website and created a study plan to review and memorize these concepts before the exam in November. Luckily, I was fortunate to find Cherie Pettit’s Study Program (with a Facebook group) that was worth every penny! It kept me on track with content and connected with other coaches studying for the exam during that Fall. The best part of that group was cheering each other on as fellow members announced it was finally their turn to take the exam. The camaraderie alone boosted my spirits and helped me feel ready to give the exam my all– which ultimately led to my passing score!
The exam itself is a four-hour-long, standardized test consisting of 130 multiple-choice questions and is approved and administered through the National Board of Medical Examiners. For this reason, and the ethics and scope of practice coaches abide by, the NBC-HWC title is considered the gold standard for health and wellness coaching and is recognized here in the US and internationally. To uphold this title, coaches need to know and follow all HIPAA laws and complete continuing education credits each year. The NB-HWC organization is constantly updating their coaches on the latest findings in the field and the advancements they are working towards. Currently, insurance coverage and reimbursement for health coaching are non-existent but, the organization is constantly working towards paving the way to make coverage of our coaching services a reality.
What I do as a NBC-HWC Coach
First, if you made it this far, thank you for hanging in to learn all about my windy path to becoming an NBC-HWC Coach. It’s been a humbling process of learning, growing, and applying it all. By now, you might be wondering, what is the coaching process actually like? Simply put, as a coach, I guide clients to where they would like to be by implementing behavior-change concepts while pairing them with evidence-based wellness solutions to help my clients attain and sustain their goals.
I meet all my clients where they’re at and follow their lead regarding which areas they would like to improve on. I’m not here to prescribe any type of diet or lifestyle changes, but I do have the knowledge and education to implement scientifically supported strategies to help improve your health. We can work together to clean up your diet to include more whole foods, incorporate stress-reduction techniques, practice self-care even with a hectic life, or amplify your health and well-being in other ways. Often, my clients come in with one specific concern that we address head-on. As they gain confidence, we begin to approach other areas of their life that they never even considered impacted their well-being (i.e., time management, work-life boundaries, choosing “cleaner” options in beauty and home). Unlike traditional healthcare professionals, I’m able to take a holistic approach to your health and well-being, and I’m honored to be with you and hold you accountable every step of the way.
If you’re looking to focus and up-level your well-being, I’m happy to announce I am taking on new clients this Summer! I recently started an account with Better Practice where potential clients can book a complementary 1-on-1 20-minute consultation with me! In this introductory session, we discuss where you are now and where you’d like to see yourself improve your well-bring. I’ll share a bit about my coaching style and philosophy and share my current rates with you, with sliding scale options depending on your circumstances. There’s absolutely zero pressure to commit, so you have nothing to lose by booking your complementary consultation today.
P.S. If you made it this far, I have a very special announcement coming up later this summer. If reading about how to optimize your well-being is your thing, you’re in luck! I’ll share more in the coming months but until then, I’ll take my writing off-line :)