How to Enter Pharmacy Informatics Without an Residency

by | Aug 9, 2018 | Career


This is a special guest post by YouTuber Brian Fung, PharmD. He made a video on the subject, and together we collaborated to make it into a wonderfully instructive article. Here’s Brian’s bio:

Brian K. Fung, PharmD, BCPS is a Medication Management Informaticist at a large academic medical center in Rochester, MN, and a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Florida, College of Pharmacy. In his current role, he is responsible for the implementation of the Antimicrobial Stewardship and Infection Control programs into the Epic electronic health record. He received his B.S. in Human Nutrition and PharmD from the University of Florida and is currently pursuing his MPH from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He completed a PGY-1 in Pharmacy Practice at Sarasota Memorial Hospital and a PGY-2 in Pharmacy Informatics at the University of Utah Health Care.

Data transforms every industry it touches, and pharmacy is no exception.

The field of pharmacy informatics continues to grow, and pharmacists who are intrigued by the specialty might do well to take notice.

Pharmacy informatics (PI) is the scientific field that focuses on medication-related data. Combining both computer science and medical knowledge, PI uses technology to streamline care and enhance accuracy.

Although PI continues to expand its reach, there aren’t enough pharmacists trained in the field to fill the roles that will continue to emerge in pharmacy. As of 2017, only 24 PGY2s existed in PI. Of those, only a few were accredited.

Unlike other pharmacy specialties, residencies aren’t required for pharmacists interested in entering the field. Several options exist for those interested in PI.

Path 1: Staff or clinical pharmacist interested in PI

If you’re a staff or clinical pharmacist who is already working inside a hospital, you may have access to a very common pathway. Often, hospitals who are implementing an electronic health record need people to jump on board early and help develop the effort.

Most of the pioneers of PI entered the field this way and rose very quickly up the ranks because the field was so new. Many of them are now managers, directors, and some even work in the C-suites.

Why this is a great option: You have a tremendous understanding of pharmacy workloads.

Why it might not be so great: You typically don’t have formal informatics training in the fundamentals. You must be in the right place at the right time.

Path 2: IT professionals pursuing PI

Some professionals who have formal training in informatics or IT go to pharmacy school on their way to the PI industry.

For people with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering, it’s an option; but it also requires a lot of school.

The truth is that most people who currently work in PI have an informal interest in the field. Many have an informal education.

Why this is a great option: You’ll have an extraordinary amount of technical ability, which is attractive to many employers.

Why it might not be so great: You may not be as adept in your understanding of pharmacy workflows. Plus, you’ll be in school for quite a long time.

Path 3: Pharmacists who pursue advanced degrees in Informatics

Some pharmacists pursue advanced degrees in informatics as a path into the industry. After (or during) pharmacy school, they pursue a Masters in Healthcare Informatics or a Ph.D. in informatics.

If you pursue an MHI and the institution you’re working for initiates an informatics strategy, they’ll likely look to you first to help implement it.

In many cases, these people land in academia or research positions.

Why this is a great option: You’ll have formal training in both fields, which should make you highly employable.

Why it might not be so great: You’ll have to do an additional 1-2 years of didactic training along with the associated costs.

Why not pursue a PI residency?

For those interested in PGY1 or PGY2 as a path to informatics, there are residencies available but not an abundance.

Although many people recognize it as a valid pathway, not many PI residencies exist as of this writing.

If you’re able to get one of them, students most often do their PGY1 in pharmacy and their PGY2 in pharmacy informatics.

The problem is that, by the time you’re finished, you will have invested a huge amount of time and money.

Distinguish yourself in the PI industry

If you’d like to move toward a career in PI, there are 4 things you can do to set yourself apart from others pursuing the industry.

1. Ensure that your clinical skills are solid.

Pursue board certification like Board of Certified Pharmacotherapy Specialists.

BCPS is the most widely-recognized clinical certification you can obtain as a pharmacist. It certifies your clinical competence and answers the number one question recruiters and managers will ask during the interview process: what kind of clinical skills do you have?

Because PI people design the tools that clinical pharmacists use, it’s important to have the clinical mindset and retain it moving forward.

2. Pursue informatics training.

The easiest way to enter informatics is to pick up projects wherever you are. Whether you’re in retail or hospital pharmacy, or even if you’re a student, you can seek out PI projects.

Look for projects that require project management skills like managing a staffing calendar or organizing students for a community event. They’ll demand task management skills and they’ll improve your efficiency in Excel, PowerPoint, and other useful programs.

3. Volunteer for informatics projects.

Organizations like the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists offer opportunities to join collaborative workgroups. The groups are limited to members of ASHP but it’s free to participate, and they provide great experience that will improve your informatics resume.

Advisory groups collaborate on projects related to automation, tracking, and other Medication-Use Technology.

4. Pursue certification in informatics.

Certification in informatics demonstrates that you have gained the fundamental skills necessary to work in the industry.

CAHiMS(Certified Associate in Healthcare Information Management Systems) certification is designed for emerging professionals who don’t have extensive experience in the industry, and it’s great for pharmacists who are new to informatics.

CPHiMS(Certified Professional in Healthcare Information and Management Systems) certification is for those with three years of experience in informatics.

ASHP offers its own certification, and though the certification is new, ASHP is widely recognized by many in the pharmacy industry. As an added bonus, pursuing your PI certification through ASHP also satisfies your CE requirements at the same time.

AMIA certification varies from the others because it focuses primarily on the clinical side of pharmacy informatics.

All certifications demonstrate an established standard of knowledge and competence in the fields and increase credibility with employers.

5. Network with other Pharmacy Informatics professionals.

Networking serves as a powerful tool for any pharmacist in any specialty, but in an emerging field like PI, it could be one of the most powerful tools at your disposal.

Conferences like the ASHP midyear and HIMSS offer countless chances to meet pharmacy informatics leaders from across the world and hear about emerging opportunities in the field. Cross paths with students, residents, and PI professionals in a variety of settings.

At some point, your very best bet is to begin applying for PI positions as you become aware of them. Because the field is new and not-yet-crowded, your chances of landing a position might be better now than they’ll ever be again.

Do not, however, make the mistake of submitting less than your best.

Craft a resume that captures the impact you’ve had in previous jobs. Then write a cover letter that helps the hiring manager understand exactly what makes you tick and why you’re the best fit for the job.

Research the companies you’re applying to and ask for help if you need it.

Even if you’re happy in your current job, keep an eye on emerging developments in the pharmacy industry so you’ll never be caught flat-footed when unexpected change comes your way.

Change is coming.

Because informatics is poised to streamline medical care and enhance its accuracy, the pharmacy industry should want to jump on board as quickly as possible.

When that day comes, they’ll need people to make it happen.

Why not you?

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Creating Happy Pharmacists

If you really want to build the career and life that you’ve dreamed of, one where you are helping people and working in a field that you love, you need to do something different than what you’ve been doing.

Through coaching you can re-discover why you became a pharmacist and find your passion again.