Board certification is becoming increasingly important to pharmacists in their careers. To help pharmacists prepare for the Board of Pharmacy Specialties (BPS) certification examinations, ASHP has expanded its review and recertification courses to include pediatrics and critical care. The courses join those for ambulatory care, pharmacotherapy, and oncology.
“Getting board certified can help with healthcare organization privileges,” said Sandra Oh Clarke, R.Ph., ASHP’s Senior Director of Certification Resources. “Many institutions are starting to ask for employees who provide direct patient care to be certified if a certification exists for their specialty, and some states are even using specialty certification as one of the criteria for practitioners to obtain provider status.”
ASHP has a long history as a strong supporter of board certification and has petitioned for six of the eight BPS specialties — ambulatory care, nutrition, oncology, psychiatric, pediatrics, and critical care. ASHP is currently involved with the development of petitions for cardiology, infectious diseases, and sterile compounding. In addition to providing resources for exam preparation, ASHP’s professional development programs for recertification are recognized by BPS and the Commission for Certification in Geriatric Pharmacy (CCGP).
A Competitive Edge
Jennifer Thackray, Pharm.D., BCPPS, BCPS, Pediatric Oncology Clinical Pharmacy Specialist in the Department of Pharmacy, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, agreed that becoming credentialed is the first step in becoming a provider. “Medicare and Medicaid will not just recognize us as providers because we want them to. There must be some kind of certification and credentialing process in place by healthcare organizations,” said Thackray, who is an instructor for ASHP’s Pediatric Pharmacy Specialty Certification Review Course.
Paul M. Szumita, Pharm.D., BCCCP, BCPS, FCCM, Clinical Pharmacy Practice Manager and Director of the PGY2 Critical Care Pharmacy Residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said that certification can give pharmacists a competitive edge in seeking employment. “Board certification is not the whole picture, but it is looked upon highly, particularly in a subspecialty like critical care. All else being equal, the board-certified person has a leg up on the competition,” said Szumita, an instructor in the Critical Care Pharmacy Specialty Review Course. “As board certification has become more and more common, it’s clear that pharmacists are providing more consistent patient care and moving higher and higher in terms of clinical practice.”
Szumita noted that board certification may put pharmacists on more solid footing as members of interprofessional teams. “Since board certification is such a longstanding credential in the medical field, hospitals and health systems will be seeking pharmacists who have certifications in specific subspecialties.”
Building on Knowledge
ASHP’s review courses are both intensive and intense: 16 hours in two days. Because they’re so compact, and because BPS can require up to three years of clinical experience (depending on the specialty) before one can sit for a certification examination, the courses are more about identifying a pharmacist’s weak spots than about imparting new knowledge, said Oh Clarke.
“The courses are fast and furious. Because of that, there’s no time to actually teach new material. We assume learners have met the eligibility requirements to sit for the exam,” Oh Clarke said. “ASHP’s courses are more about helping learners identify knowledge gaps that they can strengthen through further study on their own.”
The courses parallel the objectives of the examinations, added Thackray. “BPS has set out domain, task, and knowledge points for the exams, so we mapped them out to every session in our review course — this is in Domain 1, Task 2, Points 4 and 5, etc. This keeps us on track with the requirements of the exam.”
Beyond the Examination
The most important aspect of board certification is what it does for patients, said Oh Clarke, resulting in “better care by allowing pharmacists to practice at the highest level possible.”
ASHP’s review and recertification courses reflect that emphasis on patient care in their design, said Thackray. “All of the lectures within the course are driven by patient cases to keep the learners engaged. I don’t just lecture on tumor types and chemotherapy,” she said. “We start the complex case with a patient who is diagnosed with leukemia, and then we walk through all the complications that the patient has, the treatment, the nuances. It’s never as simple as a patient having just one issue.”
The way the ASHP courses handle practice questions sets them apart from other courses, Thackray added. “We give the rationale for every answer, why one answer is correct and another is incorrect, with the data to support those conclusions.”
According to Szumita, the critical care review course focuses on specific aspects of patient care and is unique because of how close it is to the patient encounters that pharmacists would actually face in their own practices. “We start with patients first and create a seamless case that would happen in real life,” he said.
Overall, the knowledge that pharmacists take away from preparing for board certification has helped keep pharmacists on the cutting edge of care, according to Szumita. “Most practitioners who get certified want to keep that certification up, so they are continually getting educated on the topic of their certification,” he said. “The reality is that even the most seasoned critical care pharmacist would benefit from certification.”
–By Terri D’Arrigo