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Continuing Pharmacy Education in Japan

Nahoko Kurosawa, Ph.D.
Professor of Pharmacy
Hokkaido Pharmaceutical University School of Pharmacy, Japan

In Japan, the pharmacy educational system was changed in 2006, with separation into two curricular tracks: a traditional 4-year program with a laboratory orientation and a new 6-year licensure-oriented program. On the one hand, those who complete the 6-year program are awarded “Gakushi (Yakugaku)” (meaning “Bachelor of Pharmacy” in Japanese, but the English expression of this degree is very controversial in Japan), and graduates are able to obtain a national pharmacy license. On the other hand, those who complete the 4-year program are awarded “Gakushi (Yaku kagaku)” (meaning “Bachelor of Pharmaceutical Science”), and graduates are not able to obtain a national pharmacy license.

This change was made to accommodate the strong demand for high-quality pharmacists as health care providers to deliver pharmaceutical care. Since 2006, most Japanese pharmacy schools have offered the 6-year program, and most of the enrolled students have the aim of becoming pharmacists (as opposed to pharmaceutical scientists).

The first graduates of the 6-year program will appear in March 2012. All pharmacists need continuing education (CE), but for those who registered as pharmacists through the 4-year program, CE is seen as especially important for bridging clinical skills and maintaining competence. Many CE programs are currently provided by pharmacy schools, pharmacist societies, pharmaceutical companies, and others, but the content and quality are highly variable.

The Council on Pharmacists Credentials (CPC) is an independent national agency established in 2004 to accredit CE programs in pharmacy. It received authorization as a nonprofit foundation in July 2010. The CPC governing body has representatives from the pharmacy and health professions, as well as from academic and educational representatives. CPC has established standards on all aspects of program evaluation, including standards on credentialing bodies, program planning and content, budgets, and administrative activities.

Fourteen organizations are currently accredited as providers of CE credentialing programs by CPC, and four types of CE credentialing programs exist: (1) CE credentialing programs to improve pharmacists’ competence by implementing and evaluating training programs (live lectures, clinical training, distance education, etc); (2) special training programs to improve pharmacists’ competence by certifying them with specific abilities and aptitudes; (3) pharmacy specialties credentialing programs to recognize and certify pharmacists who have specialized pharmaceutical knowledge and skills in certain disease categories, practice areas, or particular diseases; and (4) others. Upon completion of CE programs, pharmacists receive a certificate from each provider, and some employers recognize or reward them.

Presently, in Japan, it is widely acknowledged that CE is indispensable for good pharmacy practice. However, the degree and extent of acceptance vary because much CE is still “voluntary” (there is no renewal system of pharmacy license in Japan). Although the concepts of “self-appraisal” and “evaluation” are well understood, the concept of “planning” the continuing professional development (CPD) for each individual’s personal circumstances is insufficiently advanced. A major thrust at present is the development of a “personal CPD portfolio” to further enhance the understanding and acceptability of CPD.

Opinions, judgments, and data expressed or implied in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the policy or position of the American College of Clinical Pharmacy, and the American College of Clinical Pharmacy provides no warranty regarding their accuracy or reliability.