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Pharmacist Specialty Certification: Can It Help Your Career?

Pharmacist Specialty Certification: Can It Help Your Career?

Now that all freshly minted pharmacy grads have PharmDs, the degree is no longer the distinction it once was. So ambitious pharmacists are looking for new ways to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. For a small but growing number of them, specialty certification offers one way to demonstrate a high level of clinical knowledge. But which certification is right for you, if any? And just how much advantage will certification really give you? Here's a look at a few types of certification.

Board of Pharmaceutical Specialties Certification

Formed in 1976 by the American Pharmacists Association, the Board of Pharmacy Specialties (BPS) offers certification in five areas: nuclear, nutrition support, oncology, pharmacotherapy and psychiatry. As of December 2009, the BPS had granted more than 9,200 certifications. Pharmacotherapy is the broadest, most popular program by far, with more than 6,700 pharmacists certified.

Board-certified pharmacists report a low but rising level of recognition for their specialty credential, according to a 2004 BPS online survey. The most common forms this recognition takes are reimbursement of certification and recertification costs, public notice, salary increases and hiring priority. However, nearly one-third of respondents reported no recognition at all.

"Specialties in pharmacy haven't existed that long, so we still have to educate the public about specialties and their value," says BPS executive director Richard Bertin, PhD, RPh. Indeed, fewer than 5 percent of the nation's approximately 200,000 licensed pharmacists have any advanced level of certification, he says.

While serving as an oncology specialist, Raylene Rospond, PharmD, fellow of the American College of Clinical Pharmacy, became certified in the broader field of pharmacotherapy. She earned her certification to validate her knowledge in areas besides oncology and to arm herself in case she needed to look for a job outside of oncology.

"Pharmacotherapy is the generalist certification," says Rospond, currently dean of the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences at Drake University. "It helped broaden my appeal for other positions."

Many BPS specialists work in hospitals or teach in pharmacy schools. The University of Tennessee College of Pharmacy has 77 BPS-certified pharmacy faculty members -- more than any other pharmacy school.

Disease-State Specialists

A pharmacist's education level and patient population will also influence whether he obtains certification, says Ed Staffa, vice president of pharmacy practice and communications for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. Participating in patient-care programs, such as administering immunizations and measuring cholesterol (which involve injections or drawing blood), calls for the government's Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment (CLIA) certification. Some pharmacists who work extensively with diabetics are opting to obtain the rigorous certified diabetes educator (CDE) designation from the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators. And pharmacists who work with geriatric patients can become a certified geriatric pharmacist (CGP) through the Commission for Certification in Geriatric Pharmacy, which was created in 1997.

A Boost from MTM?

As of January 1, 2006, pharmacists became eligible to provide new medication therapy management (MTM) provisions under Medicare Part D. BPS certification advocate Bertin believes this change highlights the value of BPS specialty certification, since certified pharmacists may be perceived as better-qualified to provide MTM therapy.

But Staffa maintains that while specialty certification, even for the purpose of providing MTM, is commendable and can boost a pharmacist's confidence, the training pharmacists receive to earn their doctorates already qualifies them to provide many services, including MTM. "A pharmacist is a medication therapy manager," he says.


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