Specialty Pharmacist Certification: The CSP Credential

Over the past 20 years, the specialty pharmacy channel has been the fastest growing segment of pharmacy practice.

Is specialty pharmacy certification for you? Specialty pharmacy originated in the era of HIV and post-transplant immunosuppressant treatments requiring specialized pharmacist oversight.

Over the past 20 years, the specialty pharmacy channel has been the fastest growing segment of pharmacy practice. It has evolved to accommodate the oversight of high risk and, usually, high cost medications—imperative to the explosion of biologic pharmaceutical agents—due to the added complexity and attention that they require.

Consequently, these drug therapies require a higher level of knowledge compared with traditional disease and drug therapies. The Certified Specialty Pharmacist (CSP) credential is designed to validate your professional expertise.

It will elevate your status to a specialty pharmacy professional, differentiate you in a competitive job market, position you for handling limited or exclusively distributed drugs, position you to better serve payer requirements, and protect the public by improving health outcomes and medication errors. If a career in specialty pharmacy is your interest, then becoming a CSP could be a worthwhile pursuit.

National Association of Specialty Pharmacy (NASP)

NASP is a non-profit trade organization and is the only national association representing all stakeholders in the specialty pharmacy industry. The mission of NASP is to elevate the practice of specialty pharmacy by developing and promoting continuing professional education and certification of specialty pharmacists while advocating for public policies that ensure patients have appropriate access to specialty medications in tandem with critical services.

Specialty Pharmacy Certification Board

The Specialty Pharmacy Certification Board (SPCB) was previously a separately incorporated non-profit corporation, affiliated with NASP. The SPCB was established to offer a non-governmental professional certification program for specialty pharmacists, called the CSP Credential.

In 2016, SPCB merged with NASP and is now an unincorporated division within NASP. The NASP Board of Directors has permanently delegated to the SPCB sole and exclusive authority with respect to the SPCB’s policies and procedures and autonomy over all certification decisions. The SPCB Board is dedicated to promoting the specialty pharmacist’s responsibility in maintaining the highest possible quality standards to advance ethical practice and to advocate for professional development to ensure that patients served receive safe, efficient care.

Certification Requirements

The minimum requirements to qualify to sit for the CSP exam are as follows:

  • Education

Candidates for the CSP exam must have a Bachelor of Science of Pharmacy degree or PharmD granted by a US regionally accredited college/university or foreign equivalent as a basic measure of the quality of the pharmacist’s education.

  • Licensure

In addition, candidates must hold a current, active pharmacist license in good standing consistent with the state/provincial requirements to practice as a pharmacist in the United States or Canada. Requiring that the license is full, current, and unrestricted is necessary to demonstrate that the pharmacist has no unresolved disciplinary issues is a measure to increase public protection.

  • Continuing Education

A minimum of 30 hours of accredited continuing education specific to specialty pharmacy medications and disease states must be completed within the 2 years prior to application. This provides assurance that the pharmacist’s specialty-related knowledge is up to date.

  • Hours of Experience

Three thousand hours of work experience is required to ensure that applicants have a reasonable base from which they should be able to pass the CSP exam. The SPCB Board acknowledges that accumulating 3000 hours of specialty pharmacy-specific job experience may be an obstacle for applicants who are employed as full-time pharmacists, but do not work exclusively with specialty medications.

Therefore, applicants are allowed a 4-year period of time during which they can complete the 3000 requisite hours. This allows individuals working part-time in specialty to become eligible without compromising the necessary amount of pertinent and up-to-date experience.

Applicants working in pharmacies in which they spend only a portion of their time in specialty, but who are otherwise qualified, should be able to take the CSP exam. The board acknowledges that there are many competent pharmacists with daily involvement in specialty whose jobs also include other aspects of pharmacy practice. It is not the intent of the certification to exclude these otherwise qualified applicants.

  • Certification Exam/Topics Covered

Applicants are required to pass the CSP exam to demonstrate that they have sufficient understanding of the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to provide safe and competent evidence-based specialty pharmacy services as determined by the job analysis studies and represented on the exam content outline.

The exam is offered twice per year, in April and September. The examination identifies individuals who have demonstrated competence to perform the required duties without harm to patients. It is comprised of 125 multiple choice questions, delivered via computer based-administration. Of the 125 questions, 25 are pre-test questions that will not affect your score. Candidates have 2 hours to complete the examination session.1

Preparatory Programs Available

NASP offers an online CSP Exam Preparatory Course covering aspects of clinical, fulfillment, intake, and outcomes that might be expected on the exam. Key aspects of specialty pharmacy and the specialty pharmacist’s role are discussed by expert faculty.

Important topics include the fundamentals and considerations for the patient intake process, as well as fulfillment workflows, quality assurance, and dispensing channels. Outcomes measures and standards are covered, and clinical modules review persistence and adherence, specialty drug classes, indications, interactions, and more.2

This content is continually refreshed to ensure appropriateness for current specialty pharmacy practice and align with the expectations set by SPCB for credentialing.

About the Author

Nivedita Kohli earned her Bachelor of Pharmacy degree from the Bouvé College of Health Sciences at Northeastern University and is currently enrolled in the Master of Pharmacy Business Administration (MPBA) program at the University of Pittsburgh, a 12-month, executive-style graduate education program designed for working professionals striving to be tomorrow’s leaders in pharmacy business. She spent the past 20 years developing and implementing drug safety initiatives for a health plan and pharmacy benefit management provider serving Western New York. Over the past decade, she spearheaded educational programs for healthcare practitioners around appropriate opioid prescribing in addition to supporting the Erie County Opioid Epidemic Task Force with multi-faceted programs to improve the outcomes and reduce the impact of the opioid epidemic in Western New York. More recently, she is focusing on opportunities to provide high quality, sustainable healthcare in the current US market, employing her skillset in managed care and business.

  • Certified Specialty Pharmacist (CSP) Handbook; http://www.spcboard.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/SPCB-CSP-Candidate-Handbook-2019-December2.pdf
  • Certification in Specialty Pharmacy Exam Preparation Course; https://www.proce.com/activities/activity_detail?id=567