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12/2/2000

Army Starts Study of Civilian Pharmacists' Duties in Medical Treatment Facilities

Cheryl A. Thompson

Civilian personnel management specialists from the Army Medical Department have started an occupational study of pharmacists in its treatment facilities. The results of the study will be used by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in determining whether the grading and classification of pharmacist position descriptions need to be changed, said a member of the project team.

The position classification standard used by OPM dates from 1968, when the primary duty of most pharmacists was only to dispense medications. Contemporary pharmacy practice has outdistanced and outpaced the occupational information in the 1968 standard, said Personnel Management Specialist Juanita Nason, placing actual work situations of pharmacists and position descriptions for this occupation at opposite ends of the spectrum. 

Nason and Josie Poirier, also with the Army Medical Department, talked in October with several members of ASHP's Professional and Scientific Affairs Office. The civilian personnel specialists gathered information on the current and future practice of pharmacy, focusing on the need to properly describe the work of pharmacists in Army medical treatment facilities.

ASHP staff provided information on the clinical orientation of modern-day pharmacy, current educational requirements, residency training, and pharmacist specialties such as nuclear pharmacy and oncology. Staff also gave the personnel specialists several references, including Best Practices for Health-System Pharmacy, and articles describing findings from surveys of contemporary pharmacy practice in acute care, ambulatory care, and managed care settings.

Col. William Mike Heath, an Army pharmacy consultant and member of the ASHP Council on Professional Affairs, also attended the October meeting. "The standards—for many, many years—have needed to be revised," he said. Because of the decades-old standards, newly employed civilian pharmacists start at about general schedule 9, he said, a GS level with an annual salary of about $40,000, he said.

The next steps in the study, Nason said, are to continue collecting and analyzing occupational data, conduct job audits, and build model position descriptions. Once the study is completed, the information will be submitted through Army headquarters to OPM for its consideration. The ideal situation, she said, would be for OPM to issue a new standard, which is usually a two-year process. However, the model position descriptions, if approved, will help in the recruitment and retention of pharmacists until a new classification standard can be developed, Nason said.