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.
Come to the conclusion that IT pharmacists should practice for 3-5 yrs as a “pharmacist” first. Otherwise gaps in knowledge too big to fill
— Jerry Fahrni (@JFahrni) October 22, 2013
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.