Why I Became a Board Certified Medical Affairs Specialist (BCMAS)

July 17, 2018

By Christine Megalla, PharmD, BCMAS

Imagine this scenario: a pharmacist makes a recommendation to a physician to either change, or add a medication to a patient’s regimen but the physician does not accept the recommendation since he or she is either unfamiliar with or does not have much experience with the drug and does not feel comfortable prescribing it. Medical affairs helps tear down these barriers so that both physicians and patients have access to scientifically accurate data and other information they need about a medication. Often, medical affairs professionals become the gatekeepers of information that could be critical to a patient’s treatment plan and, in some cases, be the difference of life or death for a patient. For instance, in oncology we frequently find that the efficacy of medications that are used to treat a particular tumor is measured in the fact that it can extend the life of a patient by a few months. If a physician does not have all the data they need to prescribe that particular medication, is unaware of its benefits found in studies performed on that particular tumor, or has unanswered questions due to lack of studies, the loss of those few months could mean the difference of whether the cancer patient will survive to see a major family milestone, like the birth of a grandchild, or not.

That being said, unless a student decides to pursue industry rotations, pharmacy school gives us the clinical aspect that is needed for the role, but not the full picture of how to put that clinical knowledge to use in regards to medical affairs. We are not taught what it entails to be a medical affairs professional. There are no classes on how to write medical response documents; there are no lectures about interactions that pharmaceutical industry professionals can have with health care providers; and we do not have group projects on reviewing grant proposals or promotional reviews.

As pharmacy students interested in learning more about the pharmaceutical industry, we have to hope to get those one or two industry rotations that our school offers, which will give us a month or so of exposure. That is not nearly enough time to learn the full skillset we need if we decide to pursue this career path. Some will pursue fellowships, which are becoming more and more competitive every year, but even then some fellows are not exposed to the full spectrum of knowledge of what medical affairs entails because many positions specialize in only one aspect of medical affairs (i.e. medical communications, medical science liaison, etc.).

With pharmacists growing in population within the medical affairs field, gaining board certification is now critical for our profession. Becoming a Board Certified Medical Affairs Specialist (BCMAS) lays the groundwork that one needs to become successful in medical affairs. The program not only reviews and delves deeper into topics that we learn in pharmacy school, such as the drug development process and pharmacoeconomics, but also introduces concepts we do not get the chance to study in pharmacy school, like medical writing, publication practices, and grants. The program for certification is also a valuable resource for those already working in medical affairs to help broaden their skills, thereby expanding their career opportunities and providing greater value to their company.

In a time where board certification is available for several fields in pharmacy, it only makes sense that board certification in medical affairs would not only be the norm, but the standard. The Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs (ACMA) is to be congratulated for putting together such a comprehensive program for the first time in the history of the industry.

The work that professionals in medical affairs do influences patient outcomes on a global scale and set professional standards should be the minimum requirement for such a huge responsibility. Being as such, it is remarkable that until recently there was no board certification for medical affairs. The market is becoming saturated with PharmD’s looking to add letters after their degree to help give them an edge in a very competitive job market. When you also take this into consideration it becomes clear that becoming a BCMAS shows your passion for providing the best possible care for patients all across the world – and your dedication to gaining the extensive knowledge needed in the field to accomplish it.

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2 Comments → “Why I Became a Board Certified Medical Affairs Specialist (BCMAS)”

  1. Ken Sternfeld 7 months ago  

    This article resonates with our mission of enhancing the role of the Pharmacist in the health care continuum. We would like explore adding this certification into our educational pathway as additional level of competency