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Career Spotlight: Informatics Pharmacist

The informatics pharmacist, also known by many other titles such as information systems pharmacist or pharmacy systems administrator, is a speciality within the field of pharmacy that focuses on the many aspects of technology that support pharmacy operations, most often in the institutional setting. For purposes of consistency within this post, we will refer to this position title as the informatics pharmacist. There is not one clear path to become an informatics pharmacist. However, this sort of specialty will most likely require a licensed pharmacist to adept with utilizing technology to support the needs of the pharmacy for the goal of building an efficient, reliable, and dedicated pharmacy system. These days, much healthcare information, such as patient medical records, is communicated and recorded electronically within computer databases. These computer databases are usually part of an integrated software application used by hospitals. The pharmacy system is most likely a part of this integrated software application, known to many as electronic health records (EHR). EHRs allow healthcare practitioners to communicate quickly and effectively because using one centralized database system allows for consistent information to be recorded, as opposed to a fragmented repository in one database, and other information in various other databases.

The informatics pharmacist works with the EHR team and with the pharmacy staff to coordinate medication information so that the healthcare organization will be on the same page. Much of these duties include activities a licensed pharmacist will be best capable of performing for the EHR team such as but not limited to the configuration of settings for medications, their costs, strengths available, proper dosages, inventory of ndc numbers, route of administration, times of administration, drug interactions, allergy information, basic drug information, infusion rates, dilution recommendations, and instructions for preparation. The informatics pharmacist will also build order sets of these medications rooted on hospital protocols, medication usage reports for pharmacy management and clinical staff, train pharmacy staff, provide news and updates about technology issues, prepare downtime instructions when the EHR shuts down, provide technical support for software/hardware issues, manage the automated dispensing cabinets, managing cartfill settings, manage pharmacy label printers and labels, total parenteral nutrition (TPN) systems, managing smartpump medication configurations, as well as many other roles. Needless to say, this requires a lot of knowledge of hospital pharmacy operations and management needs. A workload of this magnitude usually involves a team of pharmacy informatics specialists depending on the size of the healthcare organization. These specialists may attend many meetings such as the pharmacy therapeutics committee (P&T) to know what new medications to add, old ones to delete or to change. They may also attend antimicrobial stewardship committees, healthcare informatics group, and other upper-level management meetings.

So how does one become an informatics pharmacist? As mentioned previously, there is not one path. Having a pharmacy license and experience within an healthcare institution should be required. As far as having the knowledge required for understanding the technology aspects of the position, there are many different possibilities such as a pharmacist who learns on the job and is able to understand the intricacies of technology, a pharmacist who is also a trained information technology (IT) specialist whether through school or from a prior job, and also the post-graduate opportunities that are now available for pharmacy school graduates that offer pharmacy informatics residencies. These are usually the various paths taken by current informatics pharmacist to obtain their position. The hours of work are usually a Monday to Friday normal day shift schedule, with off-hour on-call support. The compensation is usually competitive given the dual skills required to perform the job. Needless to say, it could be an exciting and rewarding career for those interested in both pharmacy and technology.

Is A Residency Worth It?

Do we need to do a residency? This is a question asked over and over again by pharmacy students. Basically, there are those students who want to dig deeper into clinical practice, and they want to endure all the rigors of a residency. There are also those that feel that in order to keep up with the job competition and make themselves marketable for hospital staff or clinical positions, they may feel compelled to pursue a residency. Not all residencies are exactly the same…that is obvious. But for the most part, a typical year one residency have most if not all the same characteristics required such as rotating on various different clinical services, some staffing required, presentations and in-services, as well as final project in the form of a conference and/or poster presentation at a residency meeting.

Well, the answer obviously depends on the individual’s situation. If a retail position is being pursued, a residency isn’t usually required. To obtain a regulatory or other specialized position (eg. drug information, pharmacoeconomics, managed care) a regulatory fellowship is could possibly be required. However, for a hospital position, more and more residencies are being pursued because of the increase in competition for the limited hospital jobs that are available. Having a residency allows one to compete against those who do not have such an experience. Some say a residency is equivalent to three years of hospital staff experience. This may or may not be true depending on the hospital that one works in, or even the strength of the residency. Regardless, a residency allows a pharmacist to experience multiple aspects of pharmacy practice that may not be obtained from only working as a hospital staff pharmacist. It also allows a resident to interact with other healthcare professionals face to face, as opposed to only via a phone call from the basement as most hospital pharmacists do. This may allow for more networking opportunities that could benefit the resident and even the pharmacy as the resident could partake in many projects that benefit both the hospital and the pharmacy. A resident may also become an expert in analyzing clinical trials for the many journal clubs that are held, honing presentation skills from in-services and conference presentations, developing research methodologies, improving understanding of hospital and patient care, meeting many new peer residents and health care professionals, and improving one’s preceptorship over pharmacy students. The resident may also be a part of P&T committees, antimicrobial stewardship committees, as well as many other hospital or pharmacy committees. The resident will rotate from one practice to another, allowing one to become exposed to multiple areas of hospital service, and possibly opening doors to new opportunities. After a year, a resident could expect to have a full range of skills, and exposures to many types of medical services. It will allow one to gauge their strength and weakness in various types of settings, as well as any interest that may have that could lead them to pursue a second year specialized residency. Important to a resident is how networking with other health care professionals in the hospital and at conferences could open doors for new job opportunities.

It is understandable that a residency will be hard. It is a lot of work, and it will require a year of one’s time with minimal pay at possibly a residency location that one will have to relocate to. Those that need a substantial pharmacist’s salary will need to decide the benefits of learning from the experience with the risks of earning a lesser salary for at least a year. Each person’s situation with finance, time, and family is different, so whether a residency is worth it will depend with each pharmacist.

Pharmacy School Academia

In pharmacy school, you may wonder how your teachers, professors, or other faculty members placed themselves in a position to train the future of pharmacy professionals in this country. A pharmacy student’s curriculum may be comprised of many different components of instruction to provide what the specific institution deem as most necessary to be a successful pharmacist in today’s ever changing pharmacy practice. Some of these courses and basic descriptions could include:

1. Pharmacokinetics/Pharmacodynamics – the study of a drug’s course of changes through the process of absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion. Pharmacodynamics deal with the effects of the drugs on the body.
2. Pharmacology – the study of drug interaction within the body or with other biochemical molecules.
3. Pharmaceutics – the study of how a chemical substance can be safety transformed into a safe and effective medication.
4. Physiology – the study of bodily system functions and processes.
5. Biochemistry – the study of nature, functions, interactions, and changes of biochemical compounds and processes within the human body.
6. Medicinal Chemistry – the study of pharmaceutical chemical compounds, structure, functional groups, and their interactions.
7. Biostatistics – how to apply the principles of statistics to properly evaluate medical studies and clinical trial results.
8. Pharmacy Law and Ethics – the study of federal and state pharmacy practice law.
9. Health Systems – the study of the current state of health policy as it pertains to insurance providers, government programs, etc.
10. Pharmaceutical Lab – the practice of compounding pharmacy
11. Pharmacotherapy – the practice of clinical pharmacy.

Pharmacy schools may have most of the above courses in addition to scores of electives outside of the general required curriculum. The above 1-7 are usually taught by professors of PhD level for the specific area of study. Numbers 8-11 are normally taught by seasoned pharmacists, some may have PhD’s or Master’s of Science degrees. Numbers 8-11 are what we will be discussing in this article.

Many pharmacy students may be interested in the practice of teaching. Those with a love of sharing knowledge from their experiences, speaking to audiences, and even research could pursue a career in pharmacy academia. An office job and the great workable schedule of a teacher doesn’t hurt either as teachers could have much needed time off during the winter, spring, and summer breaks. However, although teachers may not all have to work in a dispensing role forty hours a week due to having only to teach a few classes per week, they may have to fill clinical responsibilities at a local hospital and attend many meetings. Teachers who work concurrently as a clinical pharmacist and those with much experience are usually selected to fill the role as a pharmacy school educator. Having ongoing research and producing difference-making publications in reputable periodicals even more greatly enhances one’s reputation as an educator, and they will usually be sought as an expert lecturer at the pharmacy institution.

Pharmacy educators, teachers, and lecturers are respected professionals in the field of pharmacy. For those with much experience as a pharmacist, this may be a position where one could give back to the community by educating the pharmacists of the future. Students will always remember the teachers that have made a difference and impact in their education.

PharmD and Physician Assistant Dual Degree Program

Do you want to prescribe or dispense? For those of you who are undecided on whether to become a prescriber or a dispenser…why not both? Many current pharmacists have wanted to become a medical doctor or a physician assistant at one point in their lives. Fortunately for the young future degree seekers, there is a program that offers both a PharmD AND a physician assistant degree. The University of Washington currently offer this dual degree option at the moment.

Dual degree programs such as the above are a plus for those that look to pursue something more than what one typically finds in the employment market with only one degree. It may also appease the thoughts of those future pharmacy students who may think the ‘grass would have been greener’ if they had pursued a more patient care position. These programs offer both degrees usually in a shorter span of time instead of the total time it could take to complete both degrees individually. The programs are likely to be very competitive and difficult because much material will need to be absorbed in a relatively short amount of time. However, graduating with both degrees have the added advantage of saving the candidate a lot of time and possibly even money depending on the school. It is important to do some due diligence and research whether the dual degree holder will be allowed to hold both licenses, as well as having the ability to practice within the state of occupation; some states may have restrictions or limitations on the practice of both. Rules or laws that affect licensees may change frequently, and it is crucial to keep abreast of any new changes regarding the latest practice rulings within the state of residence. This should be performed before even considering applying to a dual degree program.