IT pharmacists need more practical pharmacy experience

By | October 27, 2013

I’ve laid out my pharmacy career on this site many times in the past. In a nutshell I’ve been a pharmacist for about 16 years. The first 10 years was a mix of “clinical pharmacy” and operations. The last 6 have been spent on the technology side of things; IT pharmacist for about 3 years followed by approximately 3 years with a pharmacy technology vendor.

I will state this as clearly as possible: the time I spent as a clinician combined with my time in operations made me a better IT pharmacist.


The time I spent as an IT pharmacist was some of the most rewarding of my career. I dove into the position when the idea of an IT pharmacist was new. The practice had yet to be defined, which meant that I was able to define it in ways that fit the needs of not only those around me, but myself as well.

Today I’m considered an experienced IT pharmacist with a pretty solid background. With that said, if I had not entered the IT pharmacy world when I did I would have been shut out. Today hospitals want IT pharmacy experience as well as formalized education, i.e. residency. An example would be the hospital where I previously practiced “informatics”. They are currently seeking a full-time IT pharmacist with a Pharm.D. and a “residency certificate”. I did not do a residency. Interestingly they don’t require any experience as an IT pharmacist.

I do not believe that formalized IT pharmacy residency training can fully prepare you for what an IT pharmacist needs to know. Formalized residency training in IT prepares you for a job in the same environment in which you were trained. Unlike residencies in a clinical field, IT pharmacy practices vary widely from hospital to hospital. Some use carousel technology, others use robotics. Some use CPOE, BCMA, CDS, while others do not. Some use ADUs from vendor X, while others use vendor Y. Some expect IT pharmacists to use their brains, others simply need a data entry person with a Pharm.D.. Depending on where you get your residency training you may have significant gaps in your knowledge base. That’s ok because all of this can be learned on the job.

What’s missing in many young IT pharmacists today is a solid understanding of the way healthcare systems work from a patient care perspective, i.e. they don’t fully understand what a clinical pharmacist does or what pharmacy operations look like from the inside of a pharmacy.

I’ll give you an example. I’m currently working on a project with a young IT pharmacist. He’s only been a pharmacist for a couple of years. He’s smart as a whip. He can write code in more than one coding language, he understands database structure and design, he can quickly grasp difficult concepts, and he has great organizational skills. All good things. But, there are times when he’ll say or do something that makes me scratch my head until I realize he’s never spent more than a few minutes in a pharmacy, and has never been on a nursing unit as a clinician.

It creates a gap. A gap that simply can’t be filled in with experience as an IT pharmacist. It’s a gap that can only be closed through experience in pharmacy operations and clinical activity.

IT pharmacy is unlike any other pharmacy specialty. Cardiology, infectious disease, pediatrics, etc. are all well established disciplines that can be taught in residency, and will get better with time in practice. IT pharmacy on the other hand, requires a somewhat opposite approach. A good IT pharmacist will have first spent time as both a clinician and in operations prior to launching an IT pharmacy career. Without that experience an IT pharmacist is more an IT professional with a Pharm.D. than a pharmacist specializing in informatics, automation and technology. It’s a very important distinction. Never forget, an IT pharmacist’s job is to use technology in various forms to improve the ability of pharmacists to provide the best pharmaceutical care possible in safest, most efficient, most cost effective manner possible. How does one know what that looks like if they’ve never spent time doing it?

Which brings me to my point: a pharmacist should have three to five years of experience as a practicing pharmacist before becoming an “IT Pharmacist”.  “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” [Albert Einstein]. It’s much easier to think about a problem when you’ve experienced it, or something similar before.

10 thoughts on “IT pharmacists need more practical pharmacy experience

  1. Justin

    I have been a pharmacist for 5 years. Because of my IT background (was a programmer for a couple of years) and CPOE implementation at that time, I started my Pharmacy career as an IT pharmacist. In the beginning of my career, I do agree with you that I was an IT professional with a PharmD. When I started working as a per-diem at another hospital on a regular basis, and really understand the clinical & operational parts of pharmacy and nursing, I became a more valuable IT pharmaciast. My recommendation for IT pharmacist out there with just a residency is that working experience as a clinical pharmacist will make your & your colleagues life so much easier unless you have a strong clinical / operational background in the beginning of your career.

    Lastly, Jerry, thanks for all your postings. I have been reading your blog since I started my career and feel so good to have someone who truely understands the IT side of Pharmacy.

  2. Jerry Fahrni Post author

    Hi Justin –

    Thank you very much for stopping by and for your comments. I appreciate your honesty regarding your experience. I think you may have found an ideal solution to my complaint. Congratulations on being able to bridge the gap and gain experience that not only makes you a better IT pharmacist, but makes you even more valuable to those around you.

    Also like to thank you for the kind words. Always nice to hear a positive.

    Best of luck,
    Jerry

  3. Justin

    I have a question for you. I see more and more hospitals are implementing EPIC, especially a big teaching hospitals, and EPIC hospitals usually requires a certification to work for them. I see EPIC certification will be a MUST very soon for EPIC hospitals. Do you think if it is a good idea to jump NOW to an EPIC hospital who is still willing to get me certified before too late?

  4. Jerry Fahrni Post author

    Tough question, Justin, and one that I think you’ll have to answer for yourself. Here’s my two cents: I wouldn’t jump to an EPIC hospital for certification unless you’re ready to leave. If you’re happy where you are, and are continuing to learn and grow, then I say stay put for now. That’s basically how I’ve approached my jobs over the years. There’s only one – maybe two – times when it didn’t work out.

    Jerry

  5. Gary Garnto

    Professional Performance is currently interviewing IT Pharmacists interested in providing services at the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia.

    The ideal IT Pharmacist will:

    Receive, prepare, compound, and dispense prescriptions according to professional and military standards.
    Oversee and maintain the various computer hardware and software systems that are integrated in the automated filing and checking systems in the pharmacy.
    Obtain a complete patient drug history, monitor the patient’s response to drug therapy, counsel patient’s regarding drug therapy and/or protocol, Investigate and resolve patient-related system usage problems

    Ideal IT Pharmacist will possess the following Education and Experience:

    Have a Bachelor’s Degree in Pharmacy or Doctor of Pharmacy from a college of pharmacy accredited by the American Council on Pharmaceutical Education (ACPE).
    A current, valid, unrestricted license as a Pharmacist, in one of the fifty States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, or the U.S. Virgin Islands.
    Minimum of two (2) yrs experience as a full time practicing Pharmacist in the last three (3) yrs and a MINIMUM of two (2) yrs IT Pharmacy Experience.
    Successfully completed ACPE approved continuing education of at least 15 hours which maintains pharmacy skills and knowledge in the preceding 2 years.
    Current Basic Life Support Certification

    Our IT Pharmacist will receive:

    Competitive compensation
    Credentialing services are provided
    Paid Time Off (PTO)
    Health, Dental, Disability, and Life Ins.
    401(K) Plan

    For more information on this or other vacancies in your area visit our website at ppdg.com or contact Gary Garnto at (210) 253-3829

  6. chris

    Well put Jerry. I see this is an older post but just googling different things i somehow stumbled across it. I agree with your sentiment entirely that without clinical workflow knowledge it is, at best, an uphill battle to be an effective IT pharmacist. I was fortunate to work years as a pharm tech then transition to IT for CPOE go live, first in Cerner while in pharmacy school and now that I’m a pharmacist I’m working on an Epic go live. Newer grads coming in with an Informatics Residency are no more valuable than any other systems analyst. Without understanding the clinical workflows and pharmacy process how is one to build and/or maintain an electronic side of all of this? Terribly, thats how. When I finished pharmacy school, although I had extensive experience as a tech and IT personnel in the same medical center I still went into critical care for a year before going into IT pharmacy. That being said I still staff on the side to maintain my clinical knowledge and understanding.

    Truth be told though, from my experience, the same applies to most residents that I’ve worked with. We were told that a one year residency is supposed to provide the knowledge and experience of three years worth of work in the field — THIS IS NOT TRUE. There is little respect among my staffing colleagues when it comes to new residency grads. They know some things and they know them well but with that knowledge comes a false confidence in what they do not know. Their lack of understanding in other aspects of the field that are impacted by their workflow is detrimental to the dept and they tend to get handled with kid gloves or written off as new grad status. So what did the residency accomplish?!?! I feel at the end of the day nothing trumps legitimate experience yet academia is attempting to come up with a low budget replacement that frankly, i do not see working. Anyway, long comment turned post turned rant.

    Cheers

  7. Jerry Fahrni Post author

    Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughts. Your and my opinions are not shared by enough people in key positions to alter the current perception. I’m hopeful that things will turn around.

  8. James

    Hi Dear Jerry fahrni
    Please I want some advise from you as a it pharmacist , I’m currently stage 2 in college of pharmacy , I have some knowledge about coding from high school (html ,css , php , c++) , only a basic knowledge and once I entered college of pharmacy I have left learning these stuff but I really love programming languages and its first Time I hear this field IT PHARMACY and got interested into it , so now me as a stage 2 student ,what do you advice me ? Which programming language do I have to know ? I want to strengthen my it skill from now prior ending the college .

  9. Jerry Fahrni Post author

    Hi James – I don’t really know what languages hold value these days as I’m not a programmer or software engineer. I understand that the ‘C-based’ languages are still pretty popular, as well as things like Ruby, Python and HTML stuff if you’re in to the web. But like I said, that’s not really my cup of tea.

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