The Difference Between Being Qualified and Being Certified.

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Just yesterday someone said to me, “I’ve been diving that for years. I’m certified but I’m not qualified. You probably know what I mean.”
My answer was, ¨Absolutely!¨
This person has hundreds of dives on this unit and probably thousands of dives under his belt. In his words, he hasn’t dove the unit for 2 years or so and he wanted to be clear that he wasn’t qualified to teach on that particular unit anymore. That’s right, hundreds of dives on that unit and thousands of dives total and he isn’t qualified? I assure you with a little practice he would be right back at it but that statement speaks volumes about the kind of person he is. In a friend´s words, “He’s a legend!”
This brings up the idea of continuing education and being adequately trained to truly dive what you are diving and teach what you are teaching. For example, I started teaching CPR in 2010. I did a good job, a fine job, an adequate job. I was certified to teach it. Someone showed me how to teach it,  told me I was ready to teach it  and registered me for a card. Now, after actually doing hundreds of rounds of compressions (not from scuba from my other job) and being Certified in BLS, NRP, PALS, and ACLS, my classes are so much better. I am now qualified, in my eyes, to teach this. I can now impart some real learning for my students beyond the books. I perform Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) about once a week on average (sometimes not a single instance for 2 weeks, sometimes 4 times in 8 hours) and we still recertify every few years. The fact that I am doing it doesn’t count. I can’t say, “Oh I was in a code last week so I don’t need to take the class.” Once you are back in ACLS, you realize how much you forgot. Heart Blocks get me every year.
“Yeah, that’s a second degree!”  
“You are right now. Is it Wenckebach or Mobitz I or Mobitz II?”
“Ugh, I forget because my job is airway and chest compressions. I don’t look at the monitor except to make sure my rate is good and my ETCO2 is above 10.¨
Let´s take that into scuba. I dive sidemount and rebreather. They are my styles of choice. I practice, reconfigure, read, study, dive it, and repeat. I also teach regular backmount open circuit. I dive that enough to stay proficient. I make sure I stay current and teach beginner scuba classes to stay current. It helps me practice teaching IDCs (Instructor Development Courses). Do I dive wrecks? Yes, yes I do. I love them. Know who is better at them? One of my other instructors and that’s why he teaches the course. He dives them all the time. He knows them. He is well versed, current, and practices. He is the guy to teach you. I can certify you, but he truly makes you qualified. I do a great job, but he does an amazing job and our students paid for and deserve amazing!
That is also an example of self-reflection. You have a little plastic card that someone gave you that says you are certified.  This goes for all divers including the highest rated technical diver and all instructors. Just because you have that card, does that make you qualified?
I was just discussing the idea of qualified vs certified and I posted about this on Facebook and I got a few responses from people I respect highly so I went with it. I can’t take credit for what they contributed and it helps to validate this scenario. I asked and they agreed to let me add their thoughts to my blog. My friend, paramedic and newly minted firefighter, JP, reminded me that competence is also overlooked. This is along the same idea as qualified and they go hand-in-hand. How do you increase competence? Education and practice. Get out there and dive!
Eric Fine mentioned that integral to him becoming qualified was having a metor (or multiple). He is right. Mentoring requires time and commitment. It´s not just a class on how to dive. It´s not a single weekend Instructor Training Class. It´s time spent with someone you know is better than you at something and, hopefully, there is a give and take that develops. I hope that in the process of mentoring me, my mentors have learned something also. I have a few great mentors and guess what? Some now work for me and still help me develop!
As much as the process can be is frustrating sometimes, I love the TDI (Technical Diving International) method of Instructor Training. Basically, it´s that age old “Learn, Do, Teach” before you get your instructor certification in an area. Take the class, dive it a bunch, dive some more, shadow another instructor while you coteach to make sure you are qualified and competent, and THEN get certified to teach. If you are signing up for a class, ask your instructor how many dives or how often then dive what they are teaching you. Look for someone who can mentor you and not someone who, in just a few days, went from zero real experience to your instructor.  Find someone that has a passion for that kind of diving and you will get an amazing class and, hopefully, an amazing mentor too.
I’ve had the pleasure to get to know Richie Kohler over the past year and he put the idea very directly and to the point. Richie said, “Certification is paid for, qualification is earned. And to be clear, you must have both. I am not demeaning certification. I am merely stating that it is the beginning of qualification which is an ongoing process.” Hopefully, readers can see the benefits of seeking out qualified and competent instructors so they can then be mentored down the road to more than just a certification card but towards an education and becoming a more competent diver, instructor, and mentor themselves.
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