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Learn About Credentials

Kate Traynor

As a new pharmacist, you probably have confidence in your ability to practice your profession safely and well. But before you begin working with patients, you will need to provide evidence—in the form of credentials—that attests to your professional skills.

For pharmacists, credentials are often physical documents such as diplomas, licenses, and certificates that serve as records of professional training. Pharmacists should become familiar with the distinct purposes of the many credentials available.

Academic degrees: Last July, the Pharm.D. degree became the required foundation for people practicing pharmacy in the United States. Some pharmacists pursue additional academic credentials, such as a master’s degree or Ph.D., in areas that may or may not relate to pharmacy practice.

State licensing: The names of pharmacists who pass their state licensing examination are entered into a state registry. Licensed pharmacists are said to have earned their R.Ph. credential and may legally practice pharmacy in the state that issued the license.

Certificate training programs: Pharmacists earn certificates of completion by taking part in these structured, systematic continuing-education programs offered by schools, pharmacy organizations, and other groups. These programs provide more training on a specific area of practice than typical continuing-education programs.

Traineeships: At about five days in length, traineeships generally last longer than certificate training programs. By virtue of their intense focus on an area of practice, traineeships prepare pharmacists to provide a high level of care to patients with chronic illnesses and conditions.

Residency programs: ASHP-accredited residencies are hands-on training programs that take place at practice sites and usually last one or two years. Pharmacists can pursue residencies in pharmacy practice or specialized areas such as pediatric pharmacy, oncology pharmacy, or pharmacokinetics. Pharmacists are awarded a residency certificate upon completion of the program.

Fellowships: Like residency programs, fellowships typically last one or two years. The purpose of fellowship programs is to train pharmacists to conduct independent research. A fellowship certificate is awarded to pharmacists who successfully complete their fellowship. (The "Fellow" credential, however, is an honorary title awarded by professional organizations to pharmacists who have made significant contributions to the profession. Pharmacists who complete fellowships are not considered Fellows.)

Board certification: Pharmacists who have passed a test administered by the Board of Pharmaceutical Specialties (BPS) can add the words "board certified" to their professional title. Pharmacists can become board certified in nuclear pharmacy, nutrition support pharmacy, oncology pharmacy, pharmacotherapy, or psychiatric pharmacy.

CCGP certification: The Commission for Certification in Geriatric Pharmacy (CCGP) offers a certification program for pharmacists who specialize in treating elderly patients. After passing the CCGP exam, a pharmacist earns the Geriatric Certified Pharmacist credential.

Disease management certification: The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) administers tests to pharmacists who want to be certified in the management of a specific disease. Pharmacists who pass NABP’s test receive certification from the National Institute for Standards in Pharmacist Credentialing. Disease management certification is available in four specialty areas: anticoagulation therapy, asthma, diabetes, and dyslipidema.

For more information on credentialing, read "Credentialing in Pharmacy" (PDF), which appears in the Jan. 1, 2001, issue of the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy.