The Growing Need for Specialty Curriculum in Pharmacy Schools
Hurdles remain in adding college coursework dedicated to specialty pharmacy.
The specialty pharmacy landscape is moving at a record-breaking pace, but the problem is that there is no clear educational path to the specialty industry. “It never ceases to amaze me how overlooked specialty pharmacy is in academia, really by colleges and pharmacy,” Denali Cahoon, PharmD, CSP, chief operating officer of Apothecary by Design, said during the session From Classroom to Boardroom: The Real-World of Specialty Pharmacy Education at the Asembia Specialty Pharmacy Summit 2017.
An even bigger problem is that there is a large proportion of students who are unaware of the existence of specialty pharmacy, let alone how to pursue the path to it.
“As an industry, can we wait for our talent to stumble through the door or do we need to find better ways to partner with academia to actually invite them in?” Cahoon asked during the session.
There are several different forms that exist for learning and for education in specialty pharmacy discussed during the session:
- Education—it starts with the pharmacy school curriculum and other areas for certifications or specializations.
- On the job training—students can learn about specialty pharmacy through internships or rotations while still in school. Later, they can gain experience through residencies and fellowships.
- Career options—students must gain experience and expertise to break into the specialty space and differentiate themselves from their peers.
- Continuing education—seeking different forms to continue to stay current.
Despite these opportunities, panelist Doug Gebhard, PharmD, MBA, vice president of Quality and Education at PANTHERx, mentioned several barriers to entry and why they pose such a challenge. The education space is limited by the pharmacy school curriculum and specialty pharmacy is not specifically taught within that curriculum.
Furthermore, major infectious disease states are covered, but patient management and the pharmacy market are not widely discussed, he said. The reason for this barrier is that the schools have limited flexibility to add required coursework due to requirements of the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education and National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.
Sections on specialty pharmacy are sometimes incorporated, but it is difficult to get a whole course dedicated to specialty pharmacy, according to the panelists. For internships and rotations, students are limited to the number of available specialty pharmacies, which means less opportunities.
Rotations are usually in proximity to the pharmacy, and within the rotations, they are often categorized as elective. This is mostly due to the lack of standards, according to the panelists. For residencies and fellowships, there are really no current accredited standards for postgraduate specialty training through the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.
Many pharmacies will tailor training to fit into the accredited (PGY1) category, Gebhard noted. New graduates searching for a job have a hard time breaking into the specialty pharmacy space because pharmacies are looking for highly experienced and specialized candidates.
Lastly, continuing education (CE) can be difficult to maintain. The pharmacy space has a lot of requirements, but it is more difficult for specialty pharmacists. Unfortunately, finding quality CE is a challenge, according to the panelists. They noted that the cost for implementation of specialty education can seem insurmountable, and balancing those costs with the benefit to the organization needs to be considered.
Some of the direct accessible benefits that can result from these programs, and serve as an argument to balance out cost, are the residents’ revenue-generating. For the return on investments of residency programs, you need to think about all the incremental additions of the services, not just the direct services of the resident, according to the speakers. Cahoon said that indirect operational benefits, which are slightly harder to quantify, are employee satisfaction, increased quality of care, and the strengthening of partnerships.
“Perhaps the biggest return on investment of conducting a residency program or other type of postgraduate education lies in—–because of this dynamic competitive marketplace––really lies in differentiation,” Cahoon said.
The panelists said that simply having a residency or fellowship is a marker of excellence that can be leveraged to meet accreditation requirements or for participation in distribution networks. Overall, those who will benefit from specialty pharmacy education are the residents, the industry, the organization, and the patients, the panelists concluded.