Going after the BCPS credential as a New Practitioner

Career Manager By Joshua Lee, PharmD

A year and a half ago, when I left my NAPLEX and MPJE examinations, I felt a mixture of elation, despair, and a little hungry and dehydrated from sitting through what was hopefully the last exams I would have to worry about in my pharmacy career. I was starting my PGY1 residency and excited to be evaluated on my abilities as a pharmacist rather than how well I did on my medicinal chemistry or therapeutics exam.  I knew I wanted to eventually become Board Certified, but that was for “Future Josh” to worry about. “Present Josh” wanted a break and didn’t want to pay any more money that I already have.

However, in my 10 years in pharmacy as a technician, intern, and pharmacist, I realized that although pharmacists are trusted and respected, what we actually know often eludes patients and other health care providers. With the landscape of health care moving and shifting, it is imperative for pharmacists to advance the profession and expand their knowledge. Opportunities as providers of clinical services continue to grow and the need for qualified individuals is at a premium.

As a New Practitioner and current PGY2 resident in cardiology, I want to share the journey I took to prepare for and take the Board of Pharmacy Specialties (BPS) exam that led me to become a Board Certified Pharmacotherapy Specialist (BCPS).

What I considered before taking the BCPS
One way to show a level of knowledge is to have degrees and credentials. The PharmD degree is at the entry level of practice. Board certifications were developed to validate that the bearer has advanced knowledge, skills, and experience above and beyond what is expected for licensure. 

My pharmacotherapy specialist certification indicates to others that I have a certain set of pharmacy knowledge. It will give me an edge on the competition in landing a new position after my residency. It is not a guarantee, but I will be happy if it gets me on the interview list. It will still be up to me to follow through. 

My preparation
Immediately after completing my PGY1 residency, I started a brand new, pre-accredited PGY2 residency in cardiology. I am a big part of putting this new program together, so time to study was at a premium. 

The best piece of advice that I received was that if you are going to take the board exams after a residency, then it is best to do it immediately because everything is still fresh and up-to-date. I used ACCP’s study material to guide me and studied sporadically for an average of 10 hours a week for 8 weeks. I did not spend too much time in areas I already was comfortable with and focused on areas that were not my forte, such as statistics and study design.

Knowing that statistics and study design are part of the exam freaked me out, so I studied daily, recreating charts out of fear of forgetting.  I sought help from my hospital system’s pharmacy stats superstars, who gave great lectures. I studied their notes very well.  Ultimately, the statistics and study design sections of the BCPS exam ended up being the easiest part of the test for me and let me spend more time on the clinical head-scratchers. The exam questions were not supposed to be controversial, so I didn’t get bogged down in areas that didn’t have clear answers.

Success!
To be completely honest, no one I have talked to felt confident about the board exams during and afterwards. I disagreed with many of the options provided and chose answers that were the most amicable. It was frustrating to deal with a grueling 60-day period of waiting and wondering while the exam was graded and analyzed for quality with my peers. Thankfully, I passed with a comfortable margin and a shiny four letters after my PharmD.  Although it was a time-consuming process and mentally draining during the rigors of residency, it was worth it.   

Some other details for the BCPS exam: There is a $600 examination fee and you have to pay a $125 annual maintenance fee each year for years 1 through 6 and a $400 recertification fee in year 7. Recertification also includes either a passing score on a 100-item multiple-choice recertification exam or earning 120 hours of continuing pharmacy education from a BPS-approved professional development program provider.  Many employers are willing to pay for employees to take the exam and my director encouraged me to take the exam but would reimburse me if I passed.

Sure, specialty certification has given me greater confidence as a provider, but the best thing is it has given another reason for patients and other health care providers to trust pharmacists even more.

Registration for spring BPS exams is now open. Go to for all the details.