Lifelong Learning and Certification in Specialty Pharmacy

Specialty Pharmacy Times, September/October, Volume 9, Issue 6

Earning the CSP credential demonstrates a commitment to practice excellence and provides lifelong learning and growth within the specialty pharmacy industry and is a key indicator to employers, manufacturers, patients, payers, other health care providers, and the public that a professional is an expert in specialty pharmaceuticals.

Few industries have experienced the monumental growth seen in specialty pharmacy. As the general population continues to age and the treatment of various diseases continues to advance, the need for qualified, trained specialty pharmacists capable of treating complex illnesses is becoming more essential.

According to the Specialty Pharmacy Certification Board (SPCB), there are more than 275,000 practicing licensed pharmacists in the United States, with an estimated 12,000 pharmacy graduates each year. These new pharmacists will be tasked with treating illnesses specific to many subsets of patients, from those needing support in a critical life stage, such as the elderly, to individuals seeking fertility advice to patients suffering from a growing epidemic of diseases requiring a complex pharmaceutical treatment plan, such as Alzheimer disease and cancer.

In response to this evolving need, the SPCB created the Certified Specialty Pharmacist (CSP) certification program to provide independent verifiable evidence of proficiency in specialty pharmacy practice. Since its launch in 2013, the program has grown rapidly, with more than 420 certificants. Administered biannually in April and October, the CSP exam was developed and is maintained in a manner consistent with generally accepted psychometric education testing practices and national accreditation standards for certification programs. CSP certification provides a benchmark for pharmacists aspiring to excel within specialty pharmacy while providing opportunities for them to earn the necessary skills and training to grow within the field.

“There is tremendous value in becoming a certified specialty pharmacist,” said George Zula, vice president of Acentrus Specialty and SPCB vice president. “Earning the CSP credential is a great way to differentiate yourself in an increasingly competitive job market. Certification denotes advanced specialty pharmacy knowledge, validates expertise, and enhances credibility.”

Created by experts within specialty pharmacy, the CSP examination covers the full range of specialty pharmacy practice, from intake and clinical management to fulfillment and outcomes, ensuring a comprehensive assessment tool capable of identifying highly qualified pharmacists. Those who pass the examination and maintain their CSP certification distinguish themselves among their peers and demonstrate to patients and employers a higher commitment to the field and continual learning.

CREATING STANDARDS

Considered one of the fastest-growing sectors of the pharmaceutical industry, specialty pharmacy continues to gain visibility and interest in the field. As specialty pharmacy grows, there is a demand for clear standards and guidelines. These well-defined principles serve pharmacists and patients by helping define best practices within a rapidly evolving industry. SPCB, in collaboration with national leaders and practitioners, is defining the specialty pharmacy scope of practice and establishing standards for specialty pharmacists.

“Lack of standards could lead to compromised patient care. Therefore the specialty pharmacy industry bears significant responsibility to ensure a high quality of care,” said SPCB President Gaurang J. Gandhi, PharmD, MHA, CSP.

A HIGHER LEVEL OF KNOWLEDGE

As treatment options and methods change, self-administered pharmaceuticals are now an essential aspect of well-rounded care plans for complex diseases (eg, cancer, hepatitis C, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis) and health conditions that historically were treated in a physician office, infusion center, or hospital outpatient department. This makes a higher level of pharmacy knowledge critical. Specialty pharmacy affects only a small percentage of the population; however, the diseases and drug therapies require a higher level of knowledge compared with more traditional diseases and drug therapies. We are also now seeing specialty drugs being developed for diseases and conditions that traditionally were managed by small molecule therapies.

Specialty pharmacy is comparable to a physician specialist where deeper knowledge and education are required to properly service specialty patients. Additionally, beyond care management for these patients, pharmacists need to better understand the distribution, handling, reimbursement, data reporting, and additional services required for specialty products.

Innovative specialty drug therapies with a wide range of variations in their characteristics, site of administration, devices, and monitoring demand significantly greater expertise in serving patients and provider communities. The CSP program improves the quality of care for patients and helps optimize positive outcomes, both clinically and economically.

CAREER GROWTH AND ADVANCEMENT

Although top-of-the-line patient care will always be the foremost reason for continuous learning, earning certification is also viewed as another way to distinguish a professional, highlighting additional expertise and knowledge of cutting-edge treatments. The CSP credential validates a pharmacist’s expertise in specialty pharmaceuticals, whether in retail, chain, infusion, mail order, hospital, or alternative sites of care. It benefits all practicing pharmacists by providing credibility, career advancement opportunities, enhanced placement opportunities, portability, and improved marketability.

Earning the CSP credential demonstrates a commitment to practice excellence and provides lifelong learning and growth within the specialty pharmacy industry and is a key indicator to employers, manufacturers, patients, payers, other health care providers, and the public that a professional is an expert in specialty pharmaceuticals. With ongoing expansion in the marketplace and the demand for complex pharmaceuticals, specialty pharmacists have the opportunity to commit to furthering their careers by completing certification and demonstrating proficiency in specialty pharmacy manage- ment duties in a variety of practice settings. For more information or to complete an online application, visit the SPCB website at spcboard.org.