Frequently Asked Questions About Board Certification

Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Board of Pharmacy Specialties and what are its responsibilities?

The Board of Pharmacy Specialties (BPS) is an administratively independent agency started by and physically housed on the premises of the American Pharmaceutical Association. The BPS is totally separate and distinct from ACCP. The BPS, via its specialty councils, is responsible for specialty examination content, administration, scoring, and all other aspects related to sitting for specialty certification examinations. For example, the Pharmacotherapy specialty examination is assembled, with the assistance of outside consultants, by the six pharmacotherapy specialist members of the Specialty Council on Pharmacotherapy and a select number of other pharmacotherapy specialists. Each specialty council recommends the passing score for its respective examination to the BPS for approval.

What specialty areas of pharmacy are currently recognized?
Currently, the BPS recognizes eight specialty areas of pharmacy:
  • Ambulatory Care Pharmacy
  • Critical Care Pharmacy (beginning 2015)
  • Nuclear Pharmacy
  • Nutrition Support Pharmacy
  • Oncology Pharmacy
  • Pediatric Pharmacy (beginning 2015)
  • Pharmacotherapy
  • Psychiatric Pharmacy

Certification examinations for each of these specialties are offered annually.

What is the role of ACCP?

ACCP developed the petition seeking recognition of Pharmacotherapy as a specialty of pharmacy and presented it to the BPS. Designated by the BPS as the sponsoring organization for Pharmacotherapy, ACCP is responsible for appointing the specialist members of the Pharmacotherapy Specialty Council. In addition, ACCP works to assist pharmacists in successfully sitting for the Ambulatory Care Pharmacy, Oncology, and Pharmacotherapy examinations through "Updates in Therapeutics: The Ambulatory Care Pharmacy, Pharmacotherapy, and Oncology Preparatory Courses." ACCP also helps pharmacotherapy specialists maintain their certification through its "Pharmacotherapy Self-Assessment Program." Neither ACCP nor its agents, including the faculty and staff of the "Updates in Therapeutics" series, have knowledge of specific examination content, areas of emphasis, or any other information that would compromise the integrity of the examination process.

How many pharmacists are certified by the BPS?

As of January 2014, there were 13,961 Board Certified Pharmacotherapy Specialists, 569 Board Certified Nutrition Support Pharmacists, 575 Board Certified Nuclear Pharmacists, 1,648 Board Certified Oncology Pharmacists, 824 Board Certified Psychiatric Pharmacists, and 1,539 Board Certified Ambulatory Care Pharmacists.

Pharmacists Certified by the Board of Pharmacy Specialties
Above: Pharmacists Certified by the Board of Pharmacy Specialties. Click here to view a PDF of the data.
What is the value of board certification to the patient?

Board certification is a way of demonstrating to society that an individual possesses a certain high level of expertise. It signifies that an individual pharmacy specialist possesses a body of knowledge and skill in addition to that of a general practitioner. Thus, patients are able to identify practitioners who can satisfy special needs.

What is the value of board certification to the health care system?

Through pharmacy licensure, state boards of pharmacy ensure that an individual is competent to dispense drugs and understands the legal requirements of pharmacy practice. Board certification in a pharmacy specialty recognizes an individual who has gained additional knowledge, experience, and skills in a defined area of pharmacy practice. Although the health care system as a whole does not yet fully appreciate the value of pharmacy specialty board certification, the Public Health Service and the Veteran's Administration recognize this and reward those who obtain certification.

What is the value of board certification to the individual clinical pharmacist?

The rationale for board certification is to demonstrate a level of experience, knowledge, and implied skill. In published surveys, the most significant value of becoming board certified is improved feelings of self-worth and competence. Other important factors include a competitive edge in obtaining jobs, job retention, and enhanced job security for those who have achieved board certification. Tangible value is provided by employers, including some government agencies, where a salary increase is given to employees who become board certified. Furthermore, board certification may be an important factor in third party payment for services and prescriptive authority.

When are the specialty examinations offered?

The dates of the specialty examinations vary from year to year, but the examinations are generally given on the first Saturday in October, unless religious affiliation prevents someone from participating on a Saturday. In this case, the examination will be given the following Sunday. All specialty certification examinations are offered on the same date at 15–20 sites throughout the United States. In addition, a group of 10 or more individuals who are more than 250 miles from an examination site and committed to taking one of the specialty certification or recertification examinations can petition the BPS to offer the examination at a location other than a scheduled site. The petition must be filed at least 4 months before the examination is being offered. The date and location of the next board certification and recertification examinations can be obtained by writing to the BPS, calling (202) 429-7591, or e-mailing at bps@mail.aphanet.org.

Board of Pharmacy Specialties
2215 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20037-2985
http://www.bpsweb.org

Do I need to be certified in more than one specialty?

The decision to obtain certification in more than one area is an individual one. Many individuals who are certified in Pharmacotherapy have decided to become certified in another area, primarily Nutrition Support.

Who writes examination questions?

Each year, the specialty councils of the Board of Pharmacy Specialties solicit questions from individuals who are considered experts in a topic area. Answers must be supported by references in the literature. If there is a lack of questions about a specific topic, the specialty councils will request that questions in these areas be developed. After the questions have been compiled, an item development workshop is conducted. Each question, each correct response, and distracters are reviewed by a group of experts who may edit and revise the original question. In many cases, the question that is finally agreed on is very different from the one that was initially submitted. Questions that make it through this process are then added to the bank of questions available to be included on the examination.

How are the questions that appear on the examination determined?

Each BPS specialty council maintains a bank of questions that are categorized according to domain and, within Domain 1, by therapeutic area. A listing of the domains, tasks, and knowledge statements is provided to potential candidates with the examination application. Because there are a limited number of questions on the examination, not all of the knowledge statements are addressed on the examination. The percentage of questions in a given domain and subject area selected for an examination is based on a template derived from role delineation surveys obtained from pharmacist specialists in each of the respective specialties. Refer to the Candidate's Guide from the Board of Pharmacy Specialties for specific information regarding the number of questions in each domain that will appear on the certification examination.

Once I become board certified, how do I maintain certification?

Once an individual passes the certification examination, the length of certification is 7 years. An annual registration fee of $50 is paid to the BPS to help support administrative costs and promotion of the specialty. For recertification, specialists may elect to take an examination. The number of questions on the recertification examination is fewer than is required for initial certification. The Pharmacotherapy specialty offers a second option for recertification. Before the 7-year period has elapsed, an individual may elect to subscribe to the Pharmacotherapy Self-Assessment Program (PSAP), a BPS-approved recertification program, and successfully complete 120 hours of PSAP Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE)-approved continuing education contact hours. PSAP is available from ACCP. The current subscription cost can be found under "Bookstore" on the ACCP Web site at http://www.accp.com. Regardless of whether you choose to recertify by examination or BPS-approved continuing education, the cost of recertification is $400.

Do I need a Doctor of Pharmacy degree to take a specialty certification examination?

No. A Doctor of Pharmacy degree is not required. To be eligible to take a certification examination, you need to have a degree from a pharmacy program accredited by the ACPE or an alternative educational program accepted by the BPS (outside the USA); a current, valid license to practice pharmacy; and experience. The length of experience that is required to be eligible for certification depends on whether a residency has been completed and, for Pharmacotherapy, the terminal degree that is held. For example, those with a Bachelor of Science degree must have more clinical practice experience than those with a Doctor of Pharmacy degree to be eligible to sit for the Pharmacotherapy certification examination. Please refer to the Candidate's Guide from the BPS for specific education, training, and experience required for the specialty certification you are seeking.

What is the best way to study for a certification examination?

Many techniques can be used to study for certification examinations. Before studying for an examination, it is important to get the application and review the domains and weights assigned to each covered topic so that study can be focused on areas that account for the most significant percentage of questions on the examination. The examinations are based on well-known facts and not experimental procedures, anecdotal reports, or obscure details; therefore, current review articles and textbook chapters are often helpful. Many individuals who plan to sit for the examination form study groups and assign topics for review and discussion. ACCP offers Preparatory Courses for three of the specialty certification examinations (Ambulatory Care Pharmacy, Oncology, and Pharmacotherapy), and other organizations also offer review courses. In addition, identification of areas of weakness allows one to focus review and preparation on those topics. The most important factor is to allow adequate time to review identified areas of weakness before the examination.

If the "Updates in Therapeutics: The Pharmacotherapy and Oncology Pharmacy Preparatory Courses" faculty do not know what is going to be on the examination, how can they help me?

All Preparatory Course faculty have passed the specialty examination in which they are involved. They will present their material "at the level of difficulty" of the examination. Prep Course attendees should compare themselves to this level of difficulty to identify areas where they are weak and where they are strong. If an attendee already knows the information presented in a particular area, chances are good he/she will be prepared for other questions in that area. It is very possible that the specific material presented in the Prep Course will not actually appear on the examination. Attendees should compare their areas of strength and weakness to the areas of content emphasis listed in the Candidate's Guide published by the BPS. The Prep Course should be viewed as a way to gauge preparedness for sitting for an examination.

Once I've identified an area of weakness, how should I proceed?
Study Preparation Methods Survey
 
% who ranked study method
Method
Value
% Who Rated Values 1–5
Most Useful
Least Useful
Prep Course
2.7
88.5
52.5
11.5
Review Articles
3.4
84.6
26.9
21.2
Study Group
3.6
83.3
43.3
23.3
PSAP
4.0
76.4
34.5
43.6
Therapeutic Textbooks
4.0
82.7
19.2
38.5

ACCP Pharmacotherapy Prep Course attendees were asked to rank various methods of preparation for the pharmacotherapy specialty examination regarding value and usefulness. A score of "1" indicated an extremely valuable method, and a score of "10" indicated a method that was not at all valuable. This group found the Prep Course to be the most valuable. Using review articles and participating in a study group were also highly rated methods of preparation. Also of value were use of therapeutics textbooks and the Pharmacotherapy Self-Assessment Program. PSAP is developed primarily as an ongoing professional development tool and is approved by the BPS as an acceptable means of recertification for Board Certified Pharmacotherapy Specialists; although many individuals find it useful as a board preparatory aid, this is not its primary purpose.

How much studying is necessary to pass?

Depending on your education, training, and experience, you may require more or less review. For example, an individual with a broad-based practice who encounters a wide variety of therapeutic issues on a daily basis, can critically evaluate literature, and stays current may require less study time than another whose responsibilities are largely in nonpatient care areas. Pass rates on the Pharmacotherapy examination have consistently been inversely associated with numbers of prescriptions filled per day (i.e., candidates who fill more prescriptions have lower pass rates). Certification is awarded to individuals with appropriate education and practice experience who can successfully pass the certification examination.

Is studying alone enough to pass?

Merely knowing "facts" about drug therapy and statistics is not enough to pass the specialty examinations. A candidate's ability to apply the facts to hypothetical patient case scenarios using clinical judgment and relying on past patient care experiences is critical to successful performance on the examinations. Candidates are strongly urged to compare their own practice experiences with the task statements for each specialty. When there is a close match between these two, it is much more likely the candidate has the experience necessary. Candidates who find they do not perform very many of the tasks listed should reevaluate their candidacy for specialty certification or postpone sitting for the examination until they have acquired that type of practice experience.

Is there a difference in pass rate on the Pharmacotherapy Examination for those who have a Doctor of Pharmacy degree compared to those with a Bachelor of Science degree?

From 1991 to 1999, the overall pass rate for the Pharmacotherapy examination ranged from 38% to 77%. Consistently, those with a Doctor of Pharmacy degree or who had completed a residency program had a higher pass rate each year than those with a Bachelor of Science degree or no residency, respectively. However, individuals with less formal training who have independently developed an advanced clinical practice, regardless of terminal pharmacy degree, have successfully passed the examination.

What are the relative merits of obtaining a Doctor of Pharmacy degree versus seeking board certification?

On the one hand, the Doctor of Pharmacy degree is an academic degree awarded after completion of a defined curriculum with mastery of core knowledge, skills, and competencies by the student. Pharmacists who do not have the requisite knowledge and skills to provide a desired level of care should pursue a Doctor of Pharmacy degree or an equivalent systematic form of professional development.

Board certification, on the other hand, is a degree-independent form of quality assurance that the practitioner does indeed possess a defined set of knowledge and skills. Pharmacists who already possess the requisite database and experiences who seek an independent verification of their knowledge and skills may well want to seek board certification.

How does board certification differ from a certificate program?

Most certificate programs are designed to bring pharmacists "up to speed" on a specific skill or therapeutic area. Examples include diabetes management, asthma management, drug interaction detection, pharmacoeconomics and outcomes assessment, and management of disorders in lipid metabolism. A certificate is generally provided at the completion of the program.

Board certification is not linked to completion of a specific educational program, is generally broader in scope than material covered in a certificate program, and implies a specified level of education, practice experience, knowledge, and skills. Specialty certification exams are psychometrically sound and validated using the expertise of outside testing consultants, Professional Examination Service. Certification comes from a credentialing body (i.e., the BPS).

What does "added qualifications" mean?

The BPS has recently approved the formal recognition of focused areas within established pharmacy specialties, known as "added qualifications." This designation denotes the demonstration of an enhanced level of training and experience within one segment of a BPS-recognized specialty practice area. Candidates for added qualifications must already be certified by the BPS and will be evaluated on the basis of a portfolio submission detailing their advanced training and experience in the area of the added qualifications. Thus far, added qualifications in cardiology and infectious diseases have been recognized for Board Certified Pharmacotherapy Specialists.

I have submitted my test to ACCP; when will I receive my Statement of Credit?
  • For ACCP-Sponsored Home Study Programs:
    • Pharmacotherapy Self-Assessment Program (PSAP)
      • BCPS Information: Online post tests submitted for BCPS recertification credit will be processed immediately after the submission deadline. Answers will be posted within 3 working days; results and printable statements of credit will be posted at the CE Center on the ACCP Web site within 60 days of the submission deadline. Only completed tests are eligible for credit; no partial or incomplete tests will be processed. The passing point for BCPS recertification is based on statistical analysis of the examinations in each of the modules. If you receive a passing score, that information will be forwarded to BPS and a printable statement of continuing pharmacy education/BCPS recertification credit will posted at the CE Center.
      • ACPE Information: To receive continuing pharmacy education credit, an online post test must be submitted within 3 years of the book release date; answers will be posted at CE Center immediately, with the exception of tests submitted during the BCPS testing period (the 3 months after the book release date). Continuing pharmacy education credit is awarded for test scores of 50% or greater, and printable statements of continuing education credit will be immediately available at the CE Center.
      • Waiver: To receive the explained answers to a PSAP post test without submitting a continuing education test, follow the waiver instructions at CE Center. By completing the waiver form for a post test, you waive the opportunity to receive continuing education credit for that module. A PDF with the explained answers will be available immediately, with the exception of waivers submitted during the BCPS testing period (3 months after the book release date).
    • All Other Web-based publications with continuing education (Pharmacotherapy Preparatory Course, Oncology Preparatory Course etc.):
      ACCP will make statements of credit for continuing pharmacy education available to participants within 4 weeks of successful completion of the Web-based post test via ACCP's CE Center.
  • ACCP-Cosponsored Live Programs:
    Statements of credit will made available from ACCP's CE Center within 4 weeks of submission of the complete program materials from the cosponsoring organization.
  • ACCP-Cosponsored Home Study Programs (i.e., Oncology Review Course cosponsored with ASHP):
    Statements of credit for continuing pharmacy education to participants will be available on ACCP's CE Center within 4 weeks of completion of the Web-based post test.