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A clinical pharmacy specialist helps patients and their doctors learn about different medications to ensure safe, effective treatment. He or she explains what a drug is and does, why it should be prescribed, what risks are involved, and what results to expect. Unlike retail pharmacists who fill prescriptions and provide basic patient education, a clinical pharmacy specialist is a highly involved member of a treatment team. Most professionals work in hospitals and clinics so they can have close personal interaction with physicians, nurses, and patients.
Many doctors rely on clinical pharmacy specialists to help them choose the best treatment plans for their patients' current illnesses and previous medical histories. It is often difficult for a doctor to stay up-to-date on the latest breakthroughs in the pharmaceutical industry, and a specialist can answer any questions he or she may have regarding a new drug. The specialist also can take a great deal of burden off of a doctor by providing a list of possible drug interactions, appropriate dosage amounts, and likely outcomes of treatment.
In addition to working closely with health-care professionals, a clinical pharmacy specialist may also meet directly with a patient. He or she can explain the importance of sticking to a precise dosing schedule and avoiding certain foods, activities, and other drugs that may interfere with the prescribed medication. It is common for patients who have questions about their drugs during treatment to be referred directly to their specialists instead of scheduling appointments with their physicians.
When a clinical pharmacy specialist does not actively participate in doctor and patient services, he or she still contributes to the advancement of health-care. Many specialists regularly engage in research projects, working with other experts to test and analyze new pharmaceutical products. Some also act as resident advisers for new pharmacists or as instructors at local pharmacy schools to prepare the next generation of clinical specialists.
In most countries, a person who wants to work as a clinical pharmacy specialist must first obtain a doctoral degree in the specialty and complete a one- to two-year residency or fellowship training program. Some workers move into clinical positions after gaining experience in retail pharmacy positions, while others enter the field immediately after completing their education requirements. On-the-job training is important for a new specialist to ensure that he or she builds the skills necessary to succeed in the job. With several years of experience, a pharmacist may be able to become a lead administrative supervisor in a hospital pharmacy division.
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