by Amber Douglass, PharmD, BCPS, BCPP (she/her/hers)
Council Member, BPS Psychiatric Pharmacy Specialty Council
Clinical Pharmacist Practitioner – Mental Health
VISN 1 Clinical Resource Hub
VA Connecticut Healthcare System
In a professional organization I belong to, a recent conversation arose about different pathways to pharmacist board certification. This topic sparked discussion among colleagues and highlighted different ways that pharmacists may pursue board certification through the Board of Pharmacy Specialties (BPS). While the eligibility requirements may vary slightly between specialties, there seems to be a misconception that the only way to become eligible to sit for a BPS examination is to complete a PGY1 and PGY2 residency. Although a number of pharmacists do follow this path, it should be emphasized that other routes are available and if an individual didn’t complete residency training, this should not deter a pharmacist who is interested in certification.
The path I took to psychiatric pharmacy specialization was a bit of a hybrid between eligibility pathways. I completed a PGY1 residency, but not a PGY2 residency, as I matched with and became the first resident at a “psych-focused” PGY1 program. My program was based at a state psychiatric hospital with only a handful of pharmacists and “clinical pharmacy” was still an emerging concept. My plans post-PGY1 were to aim for a PGY2 in psychiatry or obtain a psychiatric pharmacist position. The pharmacy landscape was different then and I was fortunate to land a position in academia with a psychiatry practice site upon completion of my PGY1.
I continued to learn “on-the-job” and build my practice in this new position. I wasn’t yet qualified to sit for BPS’s Board-Certified Psychiatric Pharmacist (BCPP) exam, so with ample studying I took and passed the Board-Certified Pharmacotherapy Specialist (BCPS) exam. I found this certification helpful in my role as a faculty member involved with teaching a variety of disease states. When I had enough experience to meet the BCPP eligibility requirements at the time, I applied and successfully passed the exam after months of studying. Finally, I became dually certified as a BCPS and BCPP.
After a couple years, I moved to a university hospital and found myself in a similar situation to my first practice environment: I was the first pharmacist they had rounding on their inpatient psychiatry unit. It took time to get acquainted and build rapport with the team, but I found it to be a great experience. When it came time for me to move to another position, one of the psychiatry MD residents told me, “…when you first came, we didn’t really like having you around. Now we are really going to miss you!”
My next position was extremely important in my growth and I am so grateful for working at a Veterans Affairs (VA) facility in Tennessee, although, it was an adjustment. I joined a large group of PGY2-trained mental health pharmacists and I honestly felt inadequate for a while. However, I drew confidence from my previous experiences, my board certifications in psychiatric pharmacy and pharmacotherapy and I knew that I had my own value to add to the team. I found that I was supported by my team and was able to grow accustomed to this new environment and learn from my peers. I’ve been able to take many of my professional experiences to my new telehealth position within the VA and continue my learning and growth as a pharmacist.
While my story has not followed the traditional path that many board-certified pharmacists may have, I believe that my passion for engagement in professional organizations, my experiences, various scholarly activities, and my service on the BPS Psychiatric Pharmacy Specialty Council have truly shaped me into the pharmacist I am today. I am forever grateful to my mentors over the years, which largely includes my trainees, and those still to come. Each pharmacist’s career path is unique and I recognize others may have different hurdles than I did. I believe that with determination and persistence, goals can be achieved. I hope my story inspires other pharmacists whose careers may not fit the PGY1-PGY2 mold to pursue board certification. I would love to see more pharmacists in the coming years that can also answer what I have just shared about: “what was your path to board certification?”