Specialty Drugs Demand Specialized Skills

Pharmacy CareersPharmacy Careers May 2015

Here is 1 pharmacy's perspective on the value of board certifications in a dynamic industry.

The health care industry is undergoing a dramatic shift, and this has affected the type of pharmacy training, specialized skills, and knowledge that are in demand by employers. Health care reform did much more than just extend health coverage to the uninsured; it introduced new concepts like accountable care, in which health care teams, that include pharmacists, work together to improve quality and better manage costs.

At the same time, new health information technology resources have made data sharing between physicians, pharmacists, and other clinical professionals an important part of ongoing care practices. This has transformed the daily job of the pharmacist as we know it. Whether this focus on collaboration means counseling patients to manage the adverse effects of multiple, complex drugs or tracking medication adherence, it is no longer enough to simply understand the basics of pharmacy practice to secure top-paying positions or promotions. Instead, pharmacies, such as Avella, expect clinicians to have the clinical expertise needed to support patients and understand the “bigger picture” of a physician’s overall treatment plan.

Board Certifications Evolve Along with the Health Care Industry

Across the entire industry, pharmacists have a much bigger part to play in the facilitation of care and the engagement of patients. This includes delivering chronic condition management support and taking other opportunities to leverage specialized skills and expertise. Fortunately, board-certification opportunities are evolving along with these industry needs. While general education and residency requirements have also expanded over time, these certifications now give students and graduates the opportunity to pick an extremely focused area of specialization. Many of these areas—such as ambulatory care pharmacy—are of particular interest to health care organizations looking to improve patients’ outcomes and control costs.

Ambulatory care pharmacy practice is defined by the Board of Pharmacy Specialties (BPS) as “the provision of integrated, accessible health care services by pharmacists who are accountable for addressing medication needs, developing sustained partnerships with patients, and practices in the context of family and community.” This certification aims to give graduates the advanced knowledge and expertise needed to support at-risk patients with chronic conditions who may be taking multiple medications. The same patient population also happens to be the focus of many payers and health systems that are hiring pharmacists to support new care management and population health programs. These programs are often designed to provide extra support to patients to help them better manage their health and health care decisions.

Rapidly Expanding Fields of Study

There is no doubt that interest in board certification is growing. According to the BPS, the number of pharmacists who have become certified in a specialty by the BPS alone has doubled every 5 years (from 3600 in 2002 to more than 18,000 in 2013). Many pharmacists are now attaining dual credentials. Board certifications include pain management, nuclear pharmacy, oncology, HIV, and pharmacotherapy. Critical care pharmacy and pediatric pharmacy are 2 recently introduced certifications, with first examinations scheduled this year.

An Opportunity for Growth Demands Highly Specialized Expertise

Employers are looking for these types of certifications in new hires, and current employees may wish to consider obtaining such credentials if they are seeking opportunities for advancement. Board certification can showcase an individual’s ability to manage specialized fields of work and the treatment of complex disease states. This is especially important in the specialty pharmacy space. Specialty pharmacy is among the fastest growing segments of pharmacy care. By 2020, specialty drug spending is expected to reach $400 billion, approximately 9% of all health care spending in the nation, according to America’s Health Insurance Plans’ (AHIP) Specialty Drugs Issue Brief. Around half of current specialty drug spending is for therapies that treat cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis, AHIP noted.

What does this mean for pharmacy students and recent graduates? Specialty pharmacies will increasingly be looking for prospective employees with niche skill sets.

At Avella, we are excited to see new board certifications being introduced, especially those in the areas of specialized medication therapy and complex disease states. Specialty pharmacy is a highly unique sector and requires a distinct set of skills and knowledge. For example, some of our pharmacists have received certification as practicing HIV pharmacists from the American Academy of HIV Medicine. HIV management is a strong area of clinical expertise for our organization, along with fertility, hepatitis C, oncology, ophthalmology, and inflammatory disease in the areas of rheumatology, dermatology, and gastroenterology. Since we treat many immunocompromised patients, certifications in immunization are important in our hiring process, as well. We also look to hire certified specialty pharmacists, as well as individuals certified in oncology.

For our existing employees, we encourage membership in pharmacy organizations and certification. Avella has made a commitment to reimburse these costs, along with those associated with other continuing education requirements. Pharmacists are also invited to attend and present at clinical conferences.

Looking to the Future of Specialization

It is obvious from the current trajectory of board certifications that we can expect even greater specialization opportunities to come. At Avella, we’d like to see more certifications applicable to specific clinical areas, such as inflammatory disease, fertility, or multiple sclerosis, along with advanced studies in the areas of pharmacoeconomics, compounding, and

managed care. With so many options already available, however, the process of selecting the right certification can be overwhelming and confusing to students and graduates. These individuals would be well served by talking with their counselor or seeking an actively practicing mentor in the industry to help with decision making, especially given that the choice of certification can have implications for both entry-level jobs and opportunities for advancement.

Graduates looking to differentiate themselves in a competitive field may find that the knowledge and expertise demonstrated by the right board certifications can put their résumé on top of the pile within hiring organizations.

Kelly Mathews earned her PharmD from the University of Arizona in 2009 and completed a postgraduate year 1 community pharmacy residency in affiliation with Midwestern University in 2010. She works at Avella Specialty Pharmacy National Distribution pharmacy in Phoenix, Arizona, where she is the director of clinical services, with responsibilities that include overseeing specialty disease patient management programs and precepting pharmacy students across the country.

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