In part 1 of this series, I briefly wrote about how I initially struggled with the idea of being more clinical in my role as a retail pharmacist, how I overcame those struggles and what I decided to do next…start learning. How I started learning, how I make time to learn, and the various tools I use are the things I am going to discuss in this post.
I won’t say that studying in pharmacy school was easy because it definitely was not. But, in my opinion, studying while working full-time as a pharmacist is significantly more difficult. Why? Because there is no specific test to prepare for and there is no assigned reading (well, I guess there can be depending on your area of practice but it is definitely not as continuous and well defined as it was in school).
I knew my goal was to know as much as I could about as many things as possible but obviously, that is not the best way to set and accomplish a goal. If you are practicing in a niche it becomes easier to pinpoint exactly what you need to brush up on and stay abreast of, but in general retail practice you can potentially see a lot of different medications and therapeutic classes on any given day. For this reason, I did not want to focus on a particular niche; I wanted to acquire both a large breadth and depth of knowledge. I just needed to develop a plan. Ultimately, I decided it would be best to focus primarily on individual specialties for set blocks of time and develop a high level of competency in each one as quickly as possible and then move to the next.
I created a list of disease states and topics I felt I needed to know well because I was likely to see them often in my daily practice, and others that I wanted to know well but would probably only see sporadically, if at all. I then looked up all the different certifications available to pharmacists and made a list of the ones I could qualify to obtain. I prioritized the list in order of how relevant topics were to what I do daily and listed the ones with certifications higher than those without. I created deadlines based on either testing windows for the certifications or the time I felt I needed to fully understand the topic. I scheduled time blocks during the week to study and specified exactly what book, module or other references I would use during those blocks. Essentially I created a program for myself that was almost the same as pharmacy school. I had the structure I needed and I was excited to begin my path to turning myself into a knowledgeable (and now board certified) "clinical retail pharmacist".
However, I did not want to just learn a ton of information about one disease state only to forget everything 3 to 6 months later when I start studying a new topic. I reasoned that I would need to not only develop competencies in specialties one by one, I would also need to find a way to constantly review the things I was learning so that I retained the knowledge. So far I have found a few methods that have been working well for me and I have listed 3 of them here.
1. Thinking clinically all day, every day.
The first, and perhaps most obvious, is using my workday as a pharmacist to review all the things I have learned, am currently learning/reviewing and to research anything I may not be familiar with. I do this by actively and intensely verifying each prescription by really thinking through the indications, counseling points, therapeutic alternatives and appropriateness for every single medication. I look into every DUR that comes up and review immunization guidelines when patients request vaccinations. I review each patient profile to look for adherence patterns, therapy changes or anything else that may be pertinent. And maybe most importantly, I try to counsel as many patients as I can, and not just the patients I am required to counsel by law.
2. Reading as much I can as often as possible.
Another method I use is to read as many pharmacy and medicine periodicals as possible. I try to set aside time each day to read (I find it to be the easiest first thing in the morning). These publications often address a wide variety of disease states, present the most current literature, and detail interesting cases or innovative practices. There is also the added benefit of catching up on current events and trends happening in the field. In addition, I complete all of the free continuing education offered in these types of publications.
3. Precepting pharmacy students.
Being a preceptor is one of the best ways to keep your pharmacy mind sharp. When I have students (I LOVE having rotations students) their whole day with me is essentially back-to-back topic discussions unless I have given them a project to complete or present. This helps both the student and me; they learn new things and occasionally I do as well. It definitely keeps my knowledge fresh and challenges me to understand concepts well enough to teach them. It was Albert Einstein that said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. I always keep that quote in mind when I am learning anything new or when I feel I need to brush up on a topic.
These 3 approaches to learning and retaining information have made me significantly more knowledgeable and confident. I strongly recommend that all healthcare professionals develop a system of continuing education that works for them. In the field of pharmacy alone, it seems like new drugs are being approved daily, guidelines are constantly being updated or created, and pharmacists are becoming more and more integrated into our complicated healthcare system. There are countless resources available to both increase your knowledge base and further your career. Healthcare professionals have to be dedicated to being lifelong learners, and that is one of the many things that keeps me excited about the field.
Let me know in the comments what you do to learn more and become an expert, or what you do to make sure you remain current in your field!