Melissa Caldwell: Lifelong Learner, Ever-Growing Professional, CCHP-Advanced
“My goal is to be an ever-growing professional and lifelong learner,” says clinical and forensic psychologist Melissa Caldwell, PhD, CCHP-MH, CCHP-A, president of Freedom Behavioral Health. “After I earned the CCHP-MH specialty certification for mental health, my immediate thought was, ‘What’s next?’ CCHP-A was the obvious choice.”
CCHP-A (Advanced) is the top certification level available to correctional health professionals. Unlike the other CCHP examinations, CCHP-A is an essay exam that measures not only test-takers’ correctional health care knowledge, but also their understanding, application, and interpretation of that specialized knowledge. “CCHP-A is recognized as the highest achievement in correctional health care,” says Caldwell. “It’s like the professional equivalent to climbing Mt. Everest.”
To prepare for that challenge, Caldwell read and reviewed each of the current NCCHC standards and also relied on her years of experience in the industry to inform her answers. She says she felt nervous but well-prepared. “For me, it was important that I think beyond my mental health frame of reference, as the exam has a multidisciplinary, systems focus,” she explains.
The “climb” was well worth the effort, she says. “CCHP-A demonstrates my aptitude and understanding of how the various correctional components work together to achieve the standard of care.”
Just Do It
She has some advice for others considering going for CCHP or CCHP-A certification: “Do it!”
“I highly recommend the CCHP for anyone working in corrections, and I suggest the CCHP-A for any correctional professional working (or wanting to work) in a leadership capacity. It ensures that one possesses the necessary understanding to care for incarcerated persons, and also fosters confidence in those that aspire to be in a leadership role.”
Freedom Behavioral Health is part of the Advanced Correctional Healthcare business family, which provides medical and mental health care services to correctional facilities in 19 states. In her role as vice president, Caldwell develops behavioral health programs, supervises more than 160 mental health and substance abuse professionals, and provides behavioral health training and consulting to custody and health staff.
She first earned her certification as a CCHP in 2016, followed by the CCHP-Mental Health in 2018 “out of a desire to continue to grow my expertise,” she explains. She took the CCHP-A exam in fall of 2022 and found out she had passed just before being presented with the Edward A. Harrison Award of Excellence in Correctional Health Care Leadership at the National Conference on Correctional Health Care. In accepting the award, she had this to say to the attendees:
“You are providing valuable service to your communities and the nation. Our actions have the capacity to help our patients find a path to wellness and good citizenship. We have the opportunity to leave a positive mark on our patients – certainly – but also on other professionals who engage in such an important partnership with us. It is not often that our hard work is recognized as there continues to be a mystique and misunderstanding about the work we do. It’s critical that we stay grounded and firm in our understanding that public safety and actual lives are at stake.”
Certified Correctional Health Professionals are eligible to apply for Advanced Certification after being certified for at least three years in the basic program. For more information go to ncchc.org/professional-certification/CCHP-A.