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Specialty Certification: Can It Help Your Career?

by Cindy Mehallow Contributing Writer

Now that all freshly minted pharmacy grads have PharmDs, the degree is no longer the rarity it once was. So ambitious young pharmacists are looking for new ways to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. For a growing number, specialty certification is way to demonstrate a high level of clinical knowledge. But which certification is right for you, if any? And just how much advantage will certification really give you? Here's a look at a few types of certification.

Board of Pharmaceutical Specialties Certification

Formed in 1976 by the American Pharmacists Association, the Board of Pharmaceutical Specialties (BPS) offers certification in five areas: nuclear, nutrition support, oncology, pharmacotherapy and psychiatry. As of October 2008, the BPS had granted nearly 8,000 certifications. Pharmacotherapy is the broadest, most popular program by far, with nearly 5,600 pharmacists certified. Many BPS specialists work in hospitals or teach in pharmacy schools.

Board-certified pharmacists report a low but rising level of recognition for their specialty credential, according to a 2004 BPS online survey. The most common forms this recognition takes are reimbursement of certification and recertification costs, public notice, salary increases and hiring priority. However, nearly one-third of respondents reported no recognition at all.

Disease-State Specialists

A pharmacist's education level and patient focus will influence the certification decision, says Ed Staffa, vice president of pharmacy practice and communications for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. Participating in patient-care programs, such as administering immunizations and measuring cholesterol (which involve injections or drawing blood), calls for the government's Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment (CLIA) certification. Some pharmacists who work extensively with diabetics are opting to obtain the rigorous certified diabetes educator (CDE) designation from the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators. And pharmacists who work with geriatric patients can become a certified geriatric pharmacist (CGP) through the Commission for Certification in Geriatric Pharmacy, which was created in 1997.

A Boost from MTM?

Starting in 2006, pharmacists became eligible to provide new medication therapy management (MTM) services under Medicare Part D. BPS’ Bertin believes this change highlights the value of BPS specialty certification, since certified pharmacists may be perceived as better-qualified to provide MTM therapy. But Staffa maintains that while specialty certification, even for the purpose of providing MTM, is commendable and can boost a pharmacist's confidence, the training pharmacists receive to earn their doctorates already qualifies them to provide many services, including MTM. "A pharmacist is a medication therapy manager," he says.