/ Podcast / How to Pass the NBC-HWC Exam, With the Health Nerds

How to Pass the NBC-HWC Exam, With the Health Nerds

What does it take to earn your National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC) credential from NBHWC? This week on Health Coach Talk, Dr. Sandi hosts the Health Nerds, FMCA’s own Susan, Amy, Kellye, and Micki, who unpack their journey from FMCA graduates to thriving health coaches. The four guests reveal their personal stories of studying for and passing the NBC-HWC exam and share how their experiences inspired them to help others find exam success.

“The three of them started saying, ‘Hey, this is something that we could put together as a business’…We saw this huge opportunity and the ability to help others save a lot of time, and some money, and share our resources…to help others become successful.”

Kellye, Health Nerds

In the time between graduating from a coach training program and sitting for the NBC-HWC exam, a lot can happen. Before sitting for the test, you’ll want to make sure you have a thorough understanding of the coaching core competencies, manage any exam stress or procrastination, and deal with the unexpected life obstacles and distractions that may arise—all of which can contribute to a feeling of nervous unreadiness heading into the exam. According to the Health Nerds, it does not have to be this way! They discuss the strategies they’ve developed to overcome these challenges, offering invaluable insights into the test preparation process.

For Amy, Kellye, and Micki, and Susan, one key way to bridge the gap between finishing your program and earning your credential is through community. They explain how the comprehensive prep course they designed can help coaches master the exam material and build confidence within a network of support. The conversation emphasizes practical tips, emotional preparation, and the power of community as you move to the next level of your coaching career. Check it out below.

Episode Highlights

  • Find out why memorizing the coaching core competencies may not be enough to pass the NBC-HWC exam
  • Discover the Health Nerds’ practical prep strategies and resources for exam success
  • Explore the power of community support in bridging the gap between completing a coach training program and earning the NBC-HWC credential
  • Learn about the emotional prep work that can send you into exam day confident and ready to pass on your first try

Meet the Health Nerds

Amy, Micki, Susan, and Kellye

The Health Nerds

The Health Nerds met in March 2021 as new students in FMCA’s Health Coach Certification Program, where they quickly connected over shared interests and values. They practiced coaching together, shared resources, and even studied for the NBC-HWC exam together. That’s when they got the idea to create an online, self-paced study program that followed the core competencies outlined by the NBHWC. Now, their passion is supporting fellow FMCA grads in passing the NBC-HWC exam for themselves.

Meet Amy

Amy Haugen, FMCHC, NBC-HWC, MS

Beet Your Health

Amy has been a registered dental hygienist for 30 years, and received the Dental Hygienist of the Year Award. She has her Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership, and has a passion for helping fund local non-profits. She is an active “sports” mom of 2 daughters in Boise, Idaho. She and her husband are soon to be empty nesters. She loves to travel, enjoys skiing with her family and helping her clients thrive and “beet” their health.

Meet Kellye

Kellye Ryan, FMCHC, NBC-HWC

Health Style

Kellye lives in Santa Rosa, California and is a mom of 4 grown children. Her previous work was in pharmaceutical sales and coaching entrepreneurs in business. She is passionate about supporting her clients to be advocates and the CEO of their health and wellness. She is a pilates instructor and completing a MS in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine. She enjoys traveling, playing golf, and skiing with friends and family.

Meet Micki

Micki Friday, FMCHC, NBC-HWC, MS

Nourish+Flourish Coaching

Micki works as a health coach for a functional medicine doctor in Denver, Colorado. She has her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and her masters degree in Occupational Therapy. She is certified through the American Fitness Professionals & Associates along with a Functional Nutrition certification through MindBodyGreen. Micki is also a Holistic Health Coach through AFPA, and has a herbalist certification from Heart of Herbs. She has a passion for learning what health really means, and lives with the intention of helping others incorporate a healthy lifestyle while living a fulfilled life. She and her husband love to travel, and she is an avid quilter and yogi.


Meet Susan


Well-Nourished Coaching

Susan is a mom of 2 daughters in Evergreen, Colorado. She has a marketing degree and has been an integral part of an online learning company. She is passionate about helping her clients and families find nutritious options for busy lifestyles. She and her daughters share the love of preparing healthy meals together.

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Episode Transcript

Dr. Sandi: Welcome to “Health Coach Talk.” We have a very exciting podcast episode for you today because it is not just a conversation I’m having with one person, but I have four very special guests. They’re special to me because they were students of Functional Medicine Coaching Academy, and now as graduates, as health coaches, they have a very big mission. They, in addition to being health coaches, are also on a mission to help other health coaches pass a very rigorous exam that is administered by the National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching so that you can become a National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coach.

So, without further ado, let me introduce them. So, we have Susan, and Amy, and Kellye, and Micki. Welcome, everybody.

Susan: Hey, thank you.

Kellye: Hi, we’re excited to be here.

Dr. Sandi: So, I would like to start by just hearing from each of you. What inspired you to become a health coach—maybe what you were doing before you trained to be a health coach? And just what inspired you to embark on this mission? So, whoever wants to go first and then we can just go around.

Micki: First, I have always enjoyed teaching, and learning, and helping. And so my first career, I was a teacher. My second career, I was an occupational therapist. And along that path, there was not much with prevention or lifestyle medicine as a way of living. So, health coaching kind of combined all of those passions and all the things that were important to me.

Dr. Sandi: Micki, that really resonates because I started as a teacher way back in the day. And so it is starting with that basic desire to serve. So, thank you for that. Who’s next?

Amy: I can go.

Dr. Sandi: Okay, Amy.

Amy: I started out as a dental hygienist, and I’m still a dental hygienist. And then I went into business and got my master’s in organizational leadership and did a lot of nonprofit things. And then I came into functional medicine, my family, it was probably, like, 10 years ago and my two younger girls at that time and my husband. And we just went all in functional medicine, and we had a health coach and a nutritionist. And I just came out of that several years later thinking, “Oh, my gosh, I want to be able to guide people and help people.” When they come out of all this new learning and adapting this new lifestyle, it’s so much. And so I just really had a passion to be a coach and had an incredible time at Functional Medicine Coaching Academy.

Dr. Sandi: Well, thank you, Amy.

Susan: I don’t think I realized how life-changing FMCA was going to be. I got the bug in me whenever I was a… I started a family and have two daughters, and you just want to nourish them the best way you can. And then I just, like, went down the rabbit hole of functional medicine and Dr. Hyman. And I did the elimination diet, like, way long ago, and I don’t think I realized it until I was in the program like, “Oh, I’ve already done this.” It was IFM, but it just comes naturally for me to, like, help support people with food, and nutrition, and lifestyle change. So, I feel like I finally figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Dr. Sandi: Oh, I love that. And what I’m hearing from all of you is just your passion and your desire to serve others. Yeah, Kellye?

Kellye: So, for me, my background, I had been in a business that I did a lot of business coaching predominantly with women, and it just wasn’t serving me as to where I wanted to really put my passion in. And health and wellness has always been a really big passion of mine. We had a couple of traumatic health experiences happen with my family. And what I realized during that process is there really wasn’t a lot of education on how to go about taking care of these either chronic conditions and acute conditions. And quite honestly, I was feeling a little bit frustrated by what was available from the medical community was lacking, and I just started to research into health coaching and found the FMCA and thought, “This sounds like it would be a really great fit for me.”

So, actually, as I continued to go more through the program, my desire and my vision became more and more clear about health coaching. I actually started partway through with my master’s program in functional medicine and human nutrition at the University of Western States. So, I’m bringing all my fitness passion and my nutrition passion, and I had no idea what health coaching was until I actually really got started. And I’m so glad I did because it brought me something that has been, like they mentioned, a truly life-changing experience for myself and my family. And my friends, family, and everyone around me.

Dr. Sandi: Oh, thank you. This is something we hear over and over again, that when you study to become a health coach, you are personally transformed, and you feel like your loved ones are also getting… You’re making a difference. And it’s not that you’re lecturing them, you’re nagging them to change, but it’s just naturally that process of, like, spreading health to your immediate circle as well as to your communities. So, yeah, the four of you are really making a difference. And I love hearing that you’re all from different backgrounds, different levels of experience, and you came together. And you were in a cohort group, because that’s how we learn at FMCA. It is through community, meeting together in small groups. Can you describe what that experience was like and how you happened to come together to start something, a business?

Kellye: I’ll take this one. This story is a lot of fun to tell. So, Amy, Micki, Susan, and myself, like you said, met in our March 2021 cohort led by Holly Ladd. And we came together within our cohort, but also on the side, as a group, that we started practicing those skills that we learned in our cohort, just coaching each other. And then we realized how much we shared so many things and passion over books and resources on functional medicine and lots of recipes always coming from Susan. And we had this wonderful text thread that I think it was Susan but it could have been Micki that just happened to name the text thread, the “Health Nerds.” And it just really stuck. And had we known a few years ago that would end up being a name of an LLC that we put together—I don’t think that we could have ever imagined it.

So, that was pretty exciting graduating together and we celebrated big. We all got together. They flew out here where I am in Sonoma County in Northern California, and we enjoyed hiking, and eating great food, and drinking some wonderful wine together. But what really happened for us is that we became motivated on what the next step would be. And it was really Amy that was leading the charge on this. I personally just had more like the fear of missing out on something, but I didn’t have the confidence in myself to… I felt that I could take on meeting those rigorous qualifications for the exam, and the 50 sessions, and the coaching sessions, and also feeling like, “How would I even begin to study? I’m already in school. How could I possibly do this?”

But we did. We came up with a plan, and everyone decided that we would share our network of friends and family with each other so that we could begin to coach people that we didn’t know. And I think, at the time, we didn’t really understand how powerful that teamwork is. We can look back on that, and that’s something that we really want to help future graduates understand how they can bring that teamwork together. So excited to share that.

But it just grew from there. Then we started studying together. They took their exam before I did because I was on a bigger trip and it was during the time the exam occurred, but I caught back and found out that the National Board had changed their exam time. So, I was then going to be taking it in March, and I didn’t feel prepared, but my team gathered around and said, “Yes, you’re going to do it. We’ve already done this. You can do this.” So, we’ve got it together. And partway through studying, I just happened to mention to them, “I can’t believe there’s not an online course available. My daughter’s studying for a CPA exam, and there’s the Becker, and there’s all kinds of online courses that help people go through that study process.” And that kind of stuck. And the three of them started saying, “Hey, this is something that we could put together as a business.”

And so we did. So, after I finished my exam, we met again in Colorado where Susan and Micki live. And we were at Micki’s house. She hosted us, and we started to develop and collaborate on how you would put a course together, something that we had never done, and couldn’t have imagined that we would do, but we saw this huge opportunity and the ability to help others save a lot of time, and some money, and share our resources and what we did to help others become successful and not fearful in taking that approach.

So, the course took us about a year, a little bit bigger elephant than we thought it was going to be, but we’ve completed it. And we asked fellow FMCA graduates to beta-test it for us. So, that’s where we are now, really an exciting journey/process.

Dr. Sandi: I love hearing about that journey. And what I’m hearing is that this is something that really resonates, and you are abiding by this principle that a rising tide lifts all boats. So, rather than thinking that, “Oh, we are all going to be competing with one another for clients…” I hear this often with people like, “Oh, there’s too many health coaches out there. What chance do I have?” But you got together. And from the get-go, what a brilliant idea to say, “Yeah, because coaches, as a coach,” or when I was a therapist, you’re not going to do therapy. You’re not going to coach your best friend but you can have your colleague work with that individual. And that’s what you did. And what a wonderful way to get together and support one another.

And then starting your exam prep course. And let me just say for those who aren’t familiar, the NBC-HWC, that national board, they are requiring that you log 50 hours of coaching, and then they have an exam. And many people freak out. Perhaps they haven’t been in school for a while, but it is… And they’re nervous about taking an exam. So, this course is really going to be helpful. It’ll be a game-changer for so many people because getting that board certification has become the gold standard.

So, I’d like to hear from the rest of you. Are there other insights? What was it like to initially maybe have a sense like, “I’m all alone,” and, “What am I going to do?” And then once you’ve found these three other people, how did that change things for you in terms of your comfort level and a sense of, “We’re growing together”? Anyone who wants to take that can just jump in.

Susan: I think it was really one thing. We’ve said this so many times. Like, FMCA really set us up for success when it came to studying for the boards, but you just had to keep going just a little bit farther. And having all these ladies made us all so close, and it just made it more fun.

Dr. Sandi: Yes, I love that word, “fun.” And you did fun things together, and that’s showing the power of community and how we thrive in community of like-minded people. And we hear that all the time when people start to study as a health coach, “I found my community, especially my functional medicine community.”

Amy: I think that’s huge, the functional medicine community. And we actually had two other girls also that helped study with us. And I think that was huge, just feeling that sense of community. And we all had strengths that we brought into the whole study process. And then once the four of us decided to branch off and do this passion to help more coaches succeed in this, we had so much knowledge and information that we had between all of us that it just burst open like, “Oh, my gosh, we’re doing this.” And we were texting, and on the phone, and collaborating, like, every day.

And it was a lot of collaborating and work, and it was a whole year. I mean, we, like, wrote it for half the year and edited it for the other half. But I think just that sense of community is huge. And I think functional medicine with the cohorts, that is really unique. And it’s a year-long program, which is also unique, and I think you do get close. You get close to those people, and you can use them. They’re your people.

Dr. Sandi: Yeah, it is a strong community in functional medicine and the sense that other people have your back. And also you have strengths that others may not feel like they’re weakened and vice versa, and that’s the power of working together and collaborating.

Amy: Yeah.

Dr. Sandi: So, what are your future plans? What are your visions for the future and anything that you want to share that you’re doing now besides the prep course? And I know how valuable that can be when I was studying for the psychology licensing exam administered by the state of Illinois. There was a prep course, and I never would have passed it without that prep course.

Amy: Yeah, I think the exciting thing about the Health Nerds is we’re just beginning. There’s so much out there, and we’ve built this really strong bond of women in business together. And we’ve done so much, and we’ve had to learn so much about the business itself like not only like for the Health Nerds for our study course but also individually, we’re trying to build our own personal businesses.

And so I think the future for the “Health Nerds” right now in our course, we have 150 practice question exam that was brilliantly designed by Micki, and how she came up with that is a really cool thing. And the only part of the test you have to memorize is Know Your Numbers, and that’s in the health part. And so we have this cheat sheet, free thing. In our future, I think we’ll have more practice exams. We have a 50-question practice exam in our course. We barely get something finished, and then we’re already thinking about something else. So, the passion that we all four of us have and how we work together, we each bring something else. I think I said that. And so our characters, qualities, and strengths just…I think that we will hopefully be an FMCA household name.

Dr. Sandi: Oh, I will certainly do my best to make that happen. So, Micki, I’d love to hear about…

Kellye: I have something to add.

Dr. Sandi: Oh, go ahead, Kellye.

Kellye: I have something else to add that we are getting ready to release. So, it’s not really very far in the future, but we do have another resource that we’re working on right now. It hasn’t launched, but we want to make this a free resource as a way to take the experience that we had as a team. And we learned so much through that process that we feel that’s something that we can help recent graduates with right now. So, we’re coming out. We’re thinking it might be a little mini course or maybe a pretty substantial document that post-graduation and helping people that are getting ready to graduate know when to start to prepare for taking on 50 sessions.

So, a few things that we will provide in this is, “Who is your team? How do you build this team?” We’ll be coming up with verbiage on how you can help other people make referrals for you, either through social media posts, or through messages, or networks that they know. And we’re going to have tips for strategizing for those 50 sessions, because we learned along the way that just doing them is effective is actually having a strategy in place and coordinating it and planning it—how to charge or not to charge for those sessions, all of those things that might make that gap happen between graduation and being able to take that exam that you push off because the unknown is there. We want to be able to bring that right to these graduates so that they feel super confident and making that gap really narrow. We just want to be that bridge to help them just push right through it and have that confidence in it, belief in it, self-determination to know that they can do this because you all know that they can do it because FMCA graduated. And we know that they can do it because we know how hard that they’ve worked and we’ve been there. And we just feel like together we can really help them move through that can be awkward transition.

Dr. Sandi: That’s beautiful. I love that. It’ll be a wonderful, very valuable resource for health coaches. And I also just want to, again, reiterate that you might be, as a listener, not a health coach, or you’re a wellness entrepreneur or some other business not even related to health, but you can use these principles because what we’re talking about here is the power of community, the power of who, not how, getting together and supporting one another so that you can all thrive.

I’d like to circle back to the exam because I have written exam questions for quizzes for FMCA, and it can be challenging. And they need to be tested out. So, I’d like to turn to Micki to talk a little bit, and you had that background as an educator. But what was the process like in developing these practice questions?

Micki: I worked backwards. I looked at the national boards and the percentages for each of the competencies. And so I knew how many questions I needed to have for each section. And I really wanted to cover and make sure that we…motivational interviewing and stages of change and all of the really heavy hitters. I made sure that those were well represented. But basically, I just took the numbers from the boards and made sure I covered as much material as thoroughly as I could with my questions.

Dr. Sandi: Sounds like a good process. What are your thoughts on what could get in the way? For example, I find that people may know the content, but they may not pass the exam or they may not do as well as they wanted to because fears get in the way. They’re so anxious. They’re getting worked up before they enter the exam room. And this is one of those brutal tests. It is four hours, you’re fingerprinted.

So, I remember when I took the exam to be certified in functional medicine and just the nerves in the room. There were people there taking the CPA and other exams. And it was like, “Oh, my God. Oh, my gosh, it was so stressful.” You can’t have water and the lighting was bad. So, I just wonder if you provide any of those hacks, those strategies for thriving during this exam or the days leading up to it, where you’re freaking out or afterwards when you’re so anxious, “Oh, I failed it. I know I screwed up.”

Kellye: Anybody want to go first? I’ve got one that I can think of and that is, as you’re studying, to not feel like you’ve got to do a lot of memorizing. And Amy touched on that, that this isn’t really an exam that takes a lot of memorizing except for the section that’s posted on the help that Amy had mentioned that we’ve got a great resource already for that. But this exam is about recognizing the core competencies, and the skills, and coaching tools, and knowing where to apply them.

So, you already have, through graduating with the FMCA, the information that you need. We just help you put it in line with the core competencies that are outlined. So, take a deep breath going into that exam and know and have the belief within yourself. And don’t worry about the memorization part. Just think about making yourself the most proficient coach, and you will be just fine. That’s one test strategy I have.

Amy: Yeah. I also think, to answer your question as well as how to prepare for a huge test like this, we have a page on tips and tricks. So, when you do our study course, we give you a lot of things that you can do emotionally in preparing for it. But we also are doing live Zooms and so that’s a great place for us to also…like, our last Zoom before the test opens, for us to make sure that everyone’s in a good spot, and to give more tips, and to allow people to share their feelings about it.

Dr. Sandi: That is fantastic. Yeah, I think the power of centering yourself and being so fully present on what the content is, what are they actually asking, because I found that many people, they are reading the question. Sometimes they’re nervous. They don’t even thoroughly read the question. And there’s then this thought that keeps popping up, “Oh, I’m blowing it. I don’t know this. I’m failing. God, this is hard.” It’s all that negative thinking is really causing anxiety. And now the brain, the executive functions are not operating because the stress level is counteracting. You’re now in fight-or-flight.

And so it’s really just focusing. I remember during this licensing prep course in clinical psychology, they gave the exam to an executive assistant who just worked for the company. She had no idea. She was not in psychology. She’d never taken a psychology course in her life, but she passed with no knowledge because she had the skills to take the test where you look at the answers first. There’s always some throwaway ones. You’re really like, “What do they really want to know?” And it’s more logical thinking. So, if anyone cared to comment on that, have you experienced that in terms of test-taking strategies?

Susan: I totally remember some of us, especially Micki, like two weeks before the exam, she’s like, “Okay, I’m done studying.” She packed it up and just like, “I’m just going to relax and get ready and just believe in myself,” because some people are, like, up to the last minute just still, like, trying to study their term. So, I feel like that was good advice from her. And our program is just full of… We have nerd study tips and activities to get people ready and all these resources. We really want to help coaches walk in to their exam with confidence and readiness.

Dr. Sandi: Wonderful. This has been such an incredible conversation. You are so inspiring, what you have done, what you’ve gotten together, your mission, your future mission. So, in closing, I’d like to hear any parting words and then where can listeners connect with you?

Susan: Sure. We love connecting with coaches on Instagram and LinkedIn. And also on our course website, we can… It’s healthnerdscoach.thinkific.com, and we have free preview flashcards, free questions, and we also have that great “Know Your Numbers” reference guide that is available for free download as well. So, we’re excited to connect with more coaches and help them take their careers to the next level.

Dr. Sandi: Thank you. And you do not need to be an FMCA graduate health coach. This is for anyone who is a health coach to use their materials. So, I invite you to check it out. Check out their website. We will put that information in the show notes. You are just so inspiring. I’m so moved by your stories, and I just can’t wait to hear what’s to come from the “Health Nerds.” So, thank you for being on Health Coach Talk.

Susan: Yes, thanks for having us. It was so nice to connect, and we’re just so thankful for you.

Dr. Sandi: Oh, thank you. I can’t wait to hear more about what you guys are up to. So, thank you so much.

Kellye: Thanks, Sandi.

Susan: Thank you.