Certifications in Specialty Pharmacy: Finding the Best Professional Version of You


The onus to have properly-trained pharmacists has shifted from the specialty pharmacy to the individual.

Back in 2014, I attended the Asembia specialty pharmacy summit in beautiful Las Vegas, Nevada. While many topics were discussed, the most intriguing was the projected path of specialty pharmacy.

Many industry experts concluded that by 2020, 50% of all health care spend would be associated with specialty pharmacy. I think it’s fair to say that we are well ahead of the curve.

Specialty pharmacy continues to be the fastest growing sector in our profession. With more than 200 medications in the pipeline to treat 100 plus indications, there are no signs that it will slow down.

Because of this, there is no better time to be a practicing specialty pharmacist or an aspiring one. Furthermore, there is no better time to distinguish your skillset so that you may enhance the future of care.

And I have a few suggestions to help you get there.

When I think about specialty pharmacy, there are 2 things that come to mind—clinical and cost management (managed care). Specialty diseases and the medications used to treat them are very complex. With that comes the need for a higher level of knowledge to be obtained.

Many specialty medications require atypical administration routes, specific storage parameters to be followed, weight- and lab-based dose adjustments, etc. Additionally, pharmacists routinely speak with patients to discuss adverse effects, drug-drug interactions, and any other pertinent clinical information related to the disease or medication.

For many years, the onus to have properly trained pharmacists has been placed on the specialty pharmacy itself. Although this is good in theory, it created a deficit from one specialty pharmacist to the next throughout the continuum of care. This has given rise to a demand for clear standards to be adopted for specialty pharmacists.

Related Coverage: We Don’t Need No Education: Post—Pharmacy School Options

In 2015, the Specialty Pharmacy Certification Board (SPCB) introduced a pathway by which this demand could be met. Officially referred to as the CSP Certification or the Certified Specialty Pharmacist credential, the industry now had standards to benchmark specialty pharmacists against.

This article is about pharmacists though, not the industry.

When I started in specialty pharmacy in 2008, there was not a specialty pharmacist training guide. Whether it was intake, front end operations, or fulfillment, there was only one way to gain an understanding...just do it. If only there was a certification for specialty pharmacists that focused on areas such as intake, clinical management of key specialty disease states, fulfillment, and outcomes. I think I would have appreciated that.

Fast forward to the modern day...

After earning my CSP Certification, I can report that it was an investment well made. I will be the first to admit that I was not in favor when it was made available. It was not a necessity to practice as a specialty pharmacist and still isn’t. Instead of approaching it with a mindset that it could be an opportunity to certify what I already knew and maybe learn something new, I saw it as a barrier.

I will commend the SPCB for creating this opportunity for us specialty pharmacists. The exam does a masterful job of challenging one’s knowledge regarding specialty pharmacy from both an operations and clinical perspective. Whether you’re a year in or 10 years into your specialty pharmacy career, do not let this opportunity pass you by.

Earlier in this article I had mentioned 2 things that come to mind when I think about specialty pharmacy. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise where we are heading next. In my own thinking, the future of care goes beyond the clinical aspect of specialty pharmacy (for pharmacists) and so should we.

It is nearly impossible to discuss specialty pharmacy without mentioning drug costs, how to manage them, and the effects they have on patients. At the pharmacy level, I am referring to insurance-related conversations. As pharmacists, we have been trained/conditioned to shy away from these types of engagement.

So, when the phone rings and it’s:

  • A patient inquiring about their drug costs, you transfer that call to the next available insurance representative as fast as humanly possible.
  • A patient inquiring about the prior authorization status for their medication, you transfer that call to the next available insurance representative as fast as humanly possible.
  • A physician’s office inquiring about what clinical information is required to submit a prior authorization, you transfer that call to the next available insurance representative as fast as humanly possible.

Given the specialty pharmacy landscape as it relates to drug costs for your patients, there has never been a more appropriate time for above trend to change. In order for this to occur though, it is imperative that you develop a strong understanding of the subject matter.

To enhance your understanding, both in a general sense and as it relates to specialty pharmacy, there are 2 certifications that will help you accomplish this.

The Fundamentals of Managed Care Pharmacy Certificate Program was created by the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy. It consists of 11 pre-recorded modules, which cover the spectrum of managed care principles. The certification is earned following the completion of all 11 modules and a score of 70% or greater on the post-test.

The Certified Pharmacy Benefits Specialist (CPBS) program was created by pharmacy benefit manager, TransparentRX. Consisting of 8 weekly meetings, you are engaged in live online sessions with the instructor.

Over the course of 8 weeks, you are introduced to the spectrum of managed care principles. The certification is only earned after the minimum cumulative point total is met and a score of 85% or greater on the final exam.

After earning my CPBS from TransparentRX, I can report that the program is well developed. Starting with the basics in week 1, each additional week builds on the knowledge presented in the previous ones. The live online learning environment enhanced my ability to understand concepts, at a more expeditious rate.

It goes without saying, that there are many more certifications available that can help you propel yourself and the care you provide within specialty pharmacy. The choice of which certifications to pursue is largely based on personal preference.

However, it should be influenced by the factors that you perceive as the driving forces in specialty pharmacy. Good luck on your journey of finding the best version of you!

About the Author

Joe Thomas, PharmD, MSPBA, CSP, CPBS, earned his Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Duquesne University and earned his Masters of Science in Pharmacy Business Administration (MSPBA) degree at the University of Pittsburgh, a 12-month, executive-style graduate education program designed for working professionals striving to be tomorrow’s leaders in the business of medicines. He has spent the past several years working across several specialty pharmacies, integrated in both staff and corporate experiences.

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