How Do I Become a Critical Care Pharmacist?

Susan Abe
Susan Abe

A critical care pharmacist is a specialized clinical pharmacist who works as part of the treatment team of doctors and nurses in an intensive care unit (ICU) or critical care unit (CCU). Instead of filling medication orders from a remote hospital pharmacy for a patient known only by name, a critical care pharmacist works within an intensive care unit with an embedded unit or adjacent pharmacy. As part of the treatment team, a critical care pharmacist is familiar with each patient and each patient's diagnoses, prognosis, treatments and — of course — allergies and medications. She often suggests medication alternatives, administration protocols, and dosage calculation formulas to the rest of the treatment team. The process to become a critical care pharmacist is lengthy and requires completion of an undergraduate degree, a graduate degree, state licensure and specialty certifications as a clinical pharmacist.

A critical care pharmacist should be familiar with each patient and each patient's diagnoses, prognosis, treatments, allergies and medications.
A critical care pharmacist should be familiar with each patient and each patient's diagnoses, prognosis, treatments, allergies and medications.

In the US, the first step to undertake to become a critical care pharmacist is to begin and satisfactorily complete a bachelor's degree in biology, chemistry or a related field. The pharmacist field is very competitive and admission to a school of pharmacy emphasizes undergraduate grades, so students must study for the highest grades possible. In the midst of their degree requirements, most undergraduate students also find themselves studying twice as much as usual as they continue their degree classes and begin to study for the admission test to pharmacy school, the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT). When nearing the end of their undergraduate degree requirements, students begin to apply for admission to schools offering a Doctor of Pharmacy (D. Pharm) degree. Admission to pharmacy school is based on a student's undergraduate grades and PCAT score, among other criteria a school may choose to emphasize.

A critical care pharmacist delivers life-saving drugs to a hospital's emergency room.
A critical care pharmacist delivers life-saving drugs to a hospital's emergency room.

The second educational challenge to complete to become a critical care pharmacist is that of pharmacy school. A Doctor of Pharmacy degree usually requires between two and four years to complete, depending upon the subjects studied as an undergraduate. At one time, a student could obtain a four-year bachelor's degree in pharmacy science, but this option has been eliminated with the growing professional status of the career. Along with classes on physiology, pharmacokinetics, and pharmacodynamics, students also rotate through outpatient and inpatient clinical interactions with patients.

A critical care pharmacist will be required to gain extra experience working as a clinical pharmacist before securing a position in a hospital.
A critical care pharmacist will be required to gain extra experience working as a clinical pharmacist before securing a position in a hospital.

Following completion of pharmacy school, a graduate pharmacist must successfully pass an examination for licensure in the state or states where she may practice. Depending upon the state and the specific healthcare facility, a licensed pharmacist may be required to have completed study and certification in clinical pharmacology prior to obtaining a position at a hospital as a clinical pharmacist. Securing this type of position within an intensive care unit, specifically, may require additional certification in cardiology, infectious disease or another specialty as provided by the Board of Pharmacy Specialties (BPS).

Many states require special licensing or certification beyond pharmacy school to enter the area of critical care.
Many states require special licensing or certification beyond pharmacy school to enter the area of critical care.

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    • A critical care pharmacist should be familiar with each patient and each patient's diagnoses, prognosis, treatments, allergies and medications.
      A critical care pharmacist should be familiar with each patient and each patient's diagnoses, prognosis, treatments, allergies and medications.
    • A critical care pharmacist delivers life-saving drugs to a hospital's emergency room.
      A critical care pharmacist delivers life-saving drugs to a hospital's emergency room.
    • A critical care pharmacist will be required to gain extra experience working as a clinical pharmacist before securing a position in a hospital.
      A critical care pharmacist will be required to gain extra experience working as a clinical pharmacist before securing a position in a hospital.
    • Many states require special licensing or certification beyond pharmacy school to enter the area of critical care.
      Many states require special licensing or certification beyond pharmacy school to enter the area of critical care.
    • A critical care pharmacist may calculate the dose of painkiller required for a patient after an open heart operation or other serious surgery.
      A critical care pharmacist may calculate the dose of painkiller required for a patient after an open heart operation or other serious surgery.