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Board Certification as a Mechanism for Becoming a Well-Rounded Pharmacist

by Caitlin Gibson, PharmD, MEd, BCPS, BCCP
Council Member, BPS Specialty Council on Cardiology Pharmacy
Associate Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy
Clinical Pharmacist, VCU Health System



I know I’m not the only pharmacist who finds it challenging to carve out time to focus on my own professional development! Despite how ambitious my intent to read journal articles, attend webinars, take online courses, or read professional books and blogs, I find myself putting these tasks on the back burner when life gets hectic. Personally, prioritizing my own professional growth feels like prioritizing exercise: if I don’t have a schedule and an accountability mechanism, there’s a good chance I’ll put it off when other priorities come up.


During residency, I decided to sit for my first board certification. I naively assumed that the entirety of the exam would focus on medications and clinical guidelines. I quickly realized that the BPS Content Outline aims to ensure that board-certified pharmacists are proficient not only in clinical knowledge, but also in a host of other professional skills essential for the provision of high-quality, person-centered care. I was not only studying disease states, but also public health, cultural competency, pharmacy administration, patient safety, literature evaluation, communication methods, and more. As a resident, I enjoyed applying what I studied. For example, while learning about transitions of care and patient safety, I noted an opportunity to improve the discharge medication reconciliation process at my hospital. I joined a hospital-wide task force and drafted procedures to reduce medication-related adverse events at hospital discharge. I saw first-hand how my role as a pharmacist could extend beyond caring for individual patients admitted to my team.


While completing my first year of continuing education (CE) for maintenance of licensure, I remember haphazardly completing CE without any clear vision for my lifelong learning. While this may have gotten the job done, I didn’t find the same fulfillment compared to when I started completing BPS-approved CE with my board certification in mind. The process of maintaining my certifications helps me prioritize my own growth as a pharmacist. The curricula for BPS-approved professional development programs parallels the examination content outline domains required for certification and the programs are carefully planned and rigorously vetted to help pharmacists develop as clinicians, educators, advocates, and professionals. I engage with BPS-approved CE material that helps me become a more well-rounded pharmacist and I complete activities that are meaningful for my professional growth. For instance, I have learned how social determinants of health impact patient outcomes and what steps I can take as a pharmacist to reduce health disparities.


The deadlines and requirements from BPS-approved professional development providers certainly hold me accountable – much like how spending money on a fitness class keeps me accountable to my exercise routine. However, I am intentional not to view completing CE as just one more task on the to-do list. I often go to my favorite coffee shop or lunch spot to avoid competing stressors at home and prevent myself from rushing through the material. I frame this time as “me time” because I genuinely enjoy lifelong learning and I am allowing myself to take a few undistracted hours to focus on becoming a better clinician and educator.


I am thankful for the growth I’ve received from board certification. To give back to the community that has given me so much, I applied to join the BPS Cardiology Pharmacy Specialty Council in 2020. I was fortunate enough to be selected and have continued to grow as a pharmacist, professional, and educator through my work on the council. Writing and reviewing BPS exam items using evidence-based best practices improves my ability to write quality patient cases for my own students in ways that consider clinical, social, and cultural aspects of patient care. I’ve learned a lot from my colleagues on the council, including how to manage complex cardiology patients and the tremendous role clinical pharmacists play in elevating patient care. My engagement, in turn, continues to foster professional growth.


As a pharmacist educator, I encourage my students to augment their classroom learning with extracurricular activities and professional involvement. As a faculty member, it is easy to recognize that the most successful and impactful pharmacy graduates possess more than classroom knowledge. Rather, they are well-rounded pharmacists, teachers, communicators, and culturally sensitive healthcare professionals. It is challenging, however, to lead by example and continue to improve my own knowledge and skills in these areas. I find that BPS Certification provides a framework for accountability and direction in the ever-evolving, ever-improving journey of pharmacy practice. Through BPS Certification, I now prioritize my own professional development, and I have gained a more holistic and intentional approach to becoming a well-rounded pharmacist and educator.