Education & Training
Geriatric pharmacy specialists are those pharmacists that have special knowledge in the care of older adults. To become a pharmacist, you must obtain a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree. Pharm.D. programs are typically 4 years in length and require 2-4 years of pre-requisite course material. While curriculums may differ, didactic experiences are offered early along introductory pharmacy practice experiential learning, with the final year being dedicated to advanced pharmacy practice experiential learning. Most curriculums offer some introductory information on geriatric pharmacy and disease states that often affect older adults, while other schools may offer geriatric-focused electives that allow students to become familiar with the approach to care for older adults.
To become a geriatric pharmacy specialist, most training will happen after pharmacy school. A common way to become specialized is to complete a geriatric pharmacy residency. Residency experiences are elective in the field of pharmacy, but serve to provide intensive training experiences. Geriatric pharmacy residencies allow the learner to be immersed in the field of geriatrics by offering experiences in long term care, ambulatory care, and acute care settings, all of which would concentrate on providing care for older adults. If someone chooses not to pursue a residency, then they can choose to work in a setting that primarily focuses on providing medications to older adults.
For pharmacists choosing to practice within the field of geriatrics, there are a variety of types of careers and practice settings. Commonly, pharmacists practicing in long-term care are considered experts in geriatrics. These pharmacists provide a thorough review of medications for patients on a monthly basis and are trained to be aware of the needs of institutionalized older adults. Other pharmacists may choose to practice in ambulatory care where they are working alongside prescribers to treat older adults still living in their communities. In the acute care setting, other pharmacists work on Acute Care for the Elderly (ACE) units where their geriatric patients are receiving care to emergent issues.
Examinations & Licensure
All states require licensure to practice pharmacy, and there are some differences from state to state that would require a license transfer. State boards of pharmacy use several components in their licensing process, one of them being the NAPLEX exam from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.
After practicing in the field of geriatrics, pharmacists may also wish to become a Board Certified Geriatric Specialist. To achieve this certification, pharmacists must pass an exam from the Board of Pharmacy Specialties that focuses on the provision of medical care to older adults. To keep the certification, pharmacists can continue to retake the board exam every 7 years or complete geriatrics-focused continuing education.
The field of geriatric pharmacy is very rewarding and allows pharmacists to practice in a variety of different settings. Pharmacists are an integral part of the provision of care for older adults and serve as the expert in medication-related information as part of the healthcare team. As the population continues to age, having pharmacists that are aware of the needs of older adults will help keep this population safe from medication-related problems.
With thanks to Crystal Burkhardt, PharmD, MBA, BCPS, BCGP and Emily Hajjar, PharmD, BCPS, BCACP, CGP