If you’re in the field of pharmacy or healthcare in general, you’ve probably heard of board certifications or becoming board certified as a pharmacist. What you might not know however, is why becoming board certified is worth doing so or how it can help your career. After all the exam does cost $600 to take plus a renewal fee each year and specific continued education requirements to remain board certified. I personally had set a goal of becoming board certified as soon as possible after completing residency, which I accomplished back in the fall of 2020 and believe wholeheartedly that it was worth it for many reasons.
Sets you apart from other pharmacists
Now this isn’t to say that anyone is “better” than anyone else or that one field of pharmacy is “better” than another, that’s not what I mean at all. However, there is a certain level of differentiation that comes with getting board certified that should be acknowledged. The exam itself is designed to only allow pharmacists with X amount of clinical experience in each specified area the ability to sit for the exam. For example, to sit for the Pharmacotherapy exam which is the most general/broad certification, you must have successfully completed a PGY1 residency or have 3 years of equivalent clinical experience. The more specific/specialty exams have even more strict requirements to be eligible. For example, the oncology certification requires you to have 4 years of experience in the field, or a PGY1 residency PLUS a PGY2 oncology residency or two additional years of practice in oncology after residency. So not any pharmacist can say that they are a Board Certified Oncology Pharmacist, the certification speaks to the years or training and years of experience it takes to even sit for that exam.
Then there’s the topic of the board certification exam pass rates. Generally speaking for most BPS exams, the pass rate is only about 60% (you can find pass rates and exam history from the BPS website by clicking HERE). There has always been debate surrounding how low the passing score is, is it good that it is hard to pass or is the bar set too high? Personally, I believe that having BPS exams be difficult to pass is a good thing. It adds to the prestige that not anyone out there could simply take the exam and pass, it makes the certification mean something. I bought an exam preparation material (from High Yield Med Reviews, you can see their packages HERE) and took studying for my BCPS exam very seriously and I am very proud to have passed because I feel that I truly earned it and accomplished something.
Comparable to other healthcare professions
Medical doctors, physician associates, nurses, just to name a few popular areas of medical practice, can all become board certified in various areas. One common theme I noticed when researching these different board certifications in other fields was the sentiment that taking whichever board certification was done to demonstrate commitment, knowledge, and advancement of that specialty. Having board certifications in pharmacy specialties is not just on par with the rest of the healthcare field but it will also help legitimize and advance how pharmacists are seen within medicine and what role we can take in patient care. When another specialty sees that you are board certified they will understand that level of commitment and knowledge.
Shows you value your role as a clinical pharmacist/specialist
Not every clinical pharmacist out there is going to care about or want to get board certified. Taking a board certification exam and remaining in good standing each year takes both time and money. I believe the commitment to becoming board certified therefore shows how much you value your standing or role as a clinical pharmacist. To me earning my pharmacotherapy specialist certification shows my passion for being a clinical pharmacist and how much I value the responsibility to care for patients that I have been given with my job.
Proves dedication to continued education
Not only do you have to put in work up front to pass a board certification exam, but you also must complete specified continuing education to remain certified. Again, not everyone is going to want to commit to this continuing education but the pharmacists that do clearly value lifelong learning and practicing the best medicine possible. This aspect and level of dedication I think is especially important when precepting and teaching the next generation of clinical pharmacists.
Land a new job
We all know the job market has been crazy recently. Just like it is super competitive to land a residency or fellowship, it can be just as competitive to land a job even after years of experience. Having a board certification is another important factor that can be added to your job application that can help set you apart from other candidates or give you a leg up on another candidate with similar training/experience. Similarly, to what I discussed previously, if being board certified helps prove your passion for the field, dedication to continuing education and comes with prestige, that can only help when applying to a new position.
Move up career ladder
If your institution or health system has a career has a career ladder, becoming board certified could help you advance up this ladder. You may have seen job postings or positions labeled Clinical Pharmacist I, Clinical Pharmacist II, Clinical Pharmacist III, or some variation of that. Likely how these levels are determined by career ladder criteria. Most career ladders are comprised of many different categories like residency, precepting students/residents, research and yup you guess it board certification. As you gain points in these said areas you could be promoted into a higher role, for example ‘Clinical Pharmacist II,’ or you may get hired directly to a higher level if you meet those criteria. Chances are being promoted up your career ladder would come with a raise and possibly other perks (and who doesn’t love that).
I know that all may sound intimidating or like a huge daunting task, but I promise it is worth it. Getting board certified is one of the best things I’ve done for my career! As for the financial investment, I encourage you to talk to your manager or supervisor at work. Many institutions have reimbursement policies for certifications like the bps exams. I personally got reimbursed for the cost of my exam by my institution and know many other places that do the same. Also, some advice on the CEs needed to keep your certificate, find a group of friends or co-workers who are also board certified and tackle it together, and don’t forget to give yourself a break at first…I got certified in fall of 2020 and I’m just starting to plan mine out now 1.5 years later! Lastly, I’d like to wish you the best of luck and be the first person to say, “YOU GOT THIS.”