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Discussing Board Certification with Your Residents – a Residency Program Director’s Perspective

by Ian Hollis, PharmD, BCPS
Clinical Specialist, Cardiac Surgery & Advanced Heart Failure
Director, PGY-2 Cardiology Pharmacy Residency
Associate Professor, Clinical Advancement and Professional Education
UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy


As the Residency Program Director (RPD) of an American Society of Health System Pharmacists (ASHP)-accredited post graduate year two (PGY2) Cardiology Pharmacy Residency, I make a point each year to discuss Board Certification with my residents shortly after they begin the program.  I find that residents are always very interested in hearing about the process, and often have questions based on the perspectives of prior preceptors or fellow residents they have heard discussing this issue.


Since the creation of the Board Certified Cardiology Pharmacist (BCCP) credential, many PGY2 Cardiology Pharmacy residents struggle with the decision on whether to take the Board Certified Pharmacotherapy Specialist (BCPS) exam in the fall of their PGY2 year, or to wait to take the BCCP exam after completion of the PGY2 year. This has become a common decision point for PGY2 residents given the growth in Board Certification exams that are more specific to certain PGY2 training pathways (i.e., Solid Organ Transplant Pharmacy, Infectious Diseases Pharmacy).


While I ultimately leave the decision to my residents, I share with them that I believe that there is significant value in attaining the BCPS certification, even for a practitioner who plans to obtain a more specialized certification.  My rationale for maintaining the BCPS along with a more specialized certification is a simple one: this is the best mechanism I have found for maintaining clinical skills and knowledge outside of my specialty area.  I participate in daily discussions on cardiology patient care rounds and with pharmacist peers about emerging practice innovations, new seminal publications, or recently updated treatment guidelines, and I commonly attend national cardiology meetings to learn about and discuss cutting edge medication management.  I admit that I don’t have any remaining bandwidth to read primary literature or check for new consensus practice guidelines outside my area of practice, and often find that the landscape of care in a clinical area outside of cardiology has changed significantly since I last reviewed it.  By completing the BPS-approved Professional Development Programs for the BCPS certification, I can stay ‘up to date’ on the evolving practice of medication management in practice areas I don’t manage as frequently.  This serves as my mechanism for preserving competence in areas outside of cardiology management that my patients require.


I firmly believe the best time for recently graduated PGY1 residents to take BCPS exam is right now – strong PGY1 residency training and targeted exam preparation adequately prepares them to pass the exam.  I recommend that my residents select and study a few key clinical content areas that were not covered in a residency rotation during their PGY1 year, while “trusting their training” in the other areas.


I advise my residents that, depending on where their career takes them, access to high-quality, unbiased continuing education (CE) may be limited.  Completing just one BCPS CE module per year from a BPS-approved Professional Development Program would cover the annual CE requirements for maintenance of licensure in most states while also allowing them to achieve the 120 required hours to recertify for the BCPS credential every 7 years.  There are also increasing opportunities for dual purpose recertification credit, which allows for specified educational modules to count towards both BCPS and BCCP recertification requirements.


Additionally, some of my residents, especially those who are geographically-restricted, may not be able to attain their “dream” cardiology position immediately after PGY-2 residency.  Having attained the BCPS certification makes them a more competitive candidate for clinical positions that are not fully dedicated to cardiology.


In summary, RPDs who pursue board certifications outside of their main specialty are in a unique position to help residents understand the value of board certification in their chosen specialty area, and also as a tool for continuous professional development in all pharmacotherapeutic areas.  While there is no “one-size fits all” certification strategy for a given resident, I encourage all RPDs to engage their residents on this topic and offer guidance on the consideration of multiple certifications.