Lifelong Learning in Specialty Pharmacy Goes Beyond Continuing Education Requirements


Recent pharmacy school graduates will find the benefits of investing in professional development to open new career paths.

Many of us anticipated our college graduation day and looked forward to a change from the days of studying, writing papers, and taking exams. Those of us who graduated from pharmacy school had one more hurdle after graduation, sitting for the state board and pharmacy law examinations to earn an official license as a registered pharmacist.

With degree and license in hand, you are ready to begin a professional career and believe you will never study or take an all-encompassing exam like the pharmacy boards again. Depending on where you hold a license to practice pharmacy, however, continuing education is required annually or biannually, and is easy to obtain.

In a sense, continuing education does require some test taking, ensuring the goals of the program were met and the knowledge check does not employ trick questions, essays, or layered multiple choice options, like college exams. Continuing education is critical to staying abreast of changes in pharmacy and health care.

It is meant to enrich, enhance, and expand what a practitioner has an interest in today and maybe pique your interest in an area outside of your current practice. Most continuing education programs are designed to be concise enough to provide an overview on a topic and some skills training to enhance one’s practice.

Continuing education is not enough to differentiate a practitioner as having an in-depth experience, knowledge or skillset about a topic, but it can open a door to new opportunities. When a topic is intriguing or something that keeps presenting itself, what options does the practitioner follow to learn more or take it further?

There is no perfect answer, but sage advice to recent graduates applies to all of us—no matter how many years have passed since graduation—is to think beyond the present and consider a career path. Anyone can get a job, but a pharmacist is well equipped with a professional degree, a license, and endless opportunities to differentiate oneself in the market through residencies, post-graduate experiences, mentorships, preceptorship, professional association membership, additional certifications and licensure, or obtaining an advanced degree.

To decide which path is most appropriate, one needs to do a little research about the health care market, a self-assessment of one’s strengths and weaknesses, and the desire to keep learning for the sake of learning. It is never too late to start investing in your professional development. For many reasons, the best time to focus on a specialized area of practice—even earn a certification in an area of competency like specialty pharmacy or nuclear pharmacy—is after practicing for a decade or two.

Take a more active role in a professional association or invest in yourself by contemplating a return to the classroom for an advanced degree; it is never too late to enhance one’s education and skillset, providing interest and variety throughout one’s career.

There are advanced degree programs geared towards professionals who are working and have a plate-full of commitments. These programs are designed to include on-line coursework options or weekend classroom time, meaning much of the work is completed per the student’s schedule and availability.

Advanced degrees in Pharmacy Business Administration, Health Infomatics, Public Health, and Leadership are available, and are geared towards those of us with several years of experience under our belts. An honest, self-assessment will reveal what you perceive as a knowledge or skill gap. Doing something to overcome what holds you back will be worth the time commitment and effort.

The effort to hone critical and strategic thinking capabilities and provide a unique perspective to your organization will enhance one’s value and future opportunities. The evolution of specialty pharmacy started nearly 30 years ago and looks to continue well into the future.

The pharmacist who develops a career in specialty pharmacy is well positioned to differentiate themselves through leadership and knowledge. The best way to demonstrate this expertise is by becoming a certified specialty pharmacist (CSP).

The CSP is a nationally recognized certification program with oversight from the Specialty Pharmacy Certification Board, which became an independent division within the National Association of Specialty Pharmacy in 2016. Obtaining the CSP designation is a commitment that requires multiple continuing education credits dedicated to specialty pharmacy, work experience in specialty pharmacy, commitment to the standards and expectations of the certification, and the successful passing of a detailed examination covering a wide range of specialty pharmacy topics.

Once the certificate is earned, it is valid for 2 years, and ongoing education about specialty pharmacy is required for renewal. The designation of CSP is meant to bring those dedicated to working in specialty pharmacy to a higher level of practice. It offers differentiation from others in health care and verifies the specialty pharmacist’s expertise and proficiency.

Still not comfortable with the thought of studying and taking another exam?

There is very little to lose and every educational experience will add value. Even if the experience is not ideal, learning that something is not exactly what you needed or that it did not fill the void in your career path is still valuable learning.

Figuring out what you don’t like or what is missing helps to pinpoint what excites and inspires you and will define the next step on your educational journey.

A personal note, when I graduated from pharmacy school over two decades ago, I could have never imagined the opportunities that have unfolded for me.

I have earned an MSPBA degree from the University of Pittsburgh, and then on to the next challenge of becoming a CSP. Please consider joining me and together we will continue our educational pursuits.

About the Author

Jill Schachte earned her BS in Pharmacy from Duquesne University and her Masters of Science in Pharmacy Business Administration (MSPBA) from the University of Pittsburgh. Jill has spent the past 20 years working in specialty pharmacy, starting as a clinical pharmacist at Stadtlanders Pharmacy and working in a variety of management roles in specialty pharmacy operations for CVS Health. Jill’s current role is on the CVS Specialty Professional Practice team, with a focus on accreditation and compliance for all the specialty pharmacy locations within CVS Health.

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