Infectious diseases pharmacy fellowship is one avenue pharmacists can pursue to gain post-graduate training and advance their knowledge, particularly in the area of research. Here a recent infectious diseases pharmacy fellow reflects on her experience and shares what she has learned.
Authored By: Kimberly C. Claeys, PharmD, BCPS
The specialty of Infectious Diseases (ID) offers numerous opportunities to participate in high impact, multidisciplinary research with the potential to influence practice and improve quality of care not only at the national level but even internationally.
There are several different ways for pharmacists to get involved in ID research, whether through pharmacy residency training, pharmacy fellowship training, or graduate education (e.g., Ph.D.).
If you are interested in ID research, one of the first steps is to determine the type(s) of research in which you have an interest. Would you be interested in bench to bedside translational research, computational modelling, patient-centered outcomes research, or large database analytics? Other key questions that may not be as apparent when you are trying to decide your career path are: What role do you want take on? How do you see yourself participating in research? Often in collaborative research relationships, each member offers unique skills and expertise.
When trying to decide between pharmacy residency, pharmacy fellowship, or graduate education, talking to a trusted mentor will help you navigate these important questions. As you think about where you see yourself in five years, here are some commonly held beliefs regarding ID fellowship training, along with perspective on those beliefs from someone who has recently been through that training.
1. Once you finish an infectious diseases pharmacy fellowship, you are a shoe-in for a tenure track academic position
Although ID pharmacy fellowships are predominantly research-focused, this does not mean that you are guaranteed a research-intensive tenure track positive when you finish.
At larger, established schools and colleges of pharmacy people looking to fill such positions frequently search for individuals with graduate training (often Ph.D.) as these individuals will more likely be able to meet promotion and tenure requirements. Without going too far down the rabbit hole, this has to do with how grant funding tends to be disbursed. That being said, there are still great opportunities to find an academic or non-academic position where you can have a larger percentage of your effort devoted to research.
It is important to know what kind of position you want when you are finished with fellowship as this will base your decision on which fellowship programs to pursue. In addition, if having a more research intensive position is what you are interested in, consider a program that allows you to complete graduate training, such as a Masters of Science (MS) or Masters of Public Health (MPH) program, as these will make you more competitive in the academic field as well as enhance your research skills.
If you would like to know more about what it is like to be a pharmacy faculty member, here is a post on the topic.
2. Infectious diseases pharmacy fellowships are standardized and accredited similar to practice and specialty pharmacy residencies
ID pharmacy fellowships are much more individualized than ID pharmacy residencies. The fellowship program’s structure is heavily based on the director’s area of research and relationships with surrounding medical institutions.
There are more lab-intensive fellowships where pharmacokinetics/ pharmacodynamics of antimicrobial agents is the focus, and there are fellowships that are based on clinical outcomes and antibiotic stewardship. The skillsets you gain from these experiences are extremely different. In addition, how much clinical service you are expected to complete and the type of service is highly variable.
In two years you may have as little as two or three months working with ID consults in the clinical setting or you may spend 50% of your fellowship rotating between different clinical ID services and being a key member of the institution’s Antimicrobial Stewardship Team.
Also, fellowships differ in their ability to provide graduate training, like the MPH or MS, as mentioned above. When reviewing different fellowship programs, make sure you know what they offer, and if it is not clear online, contact the directors of these programs. They are often happy to answer questions from interested and informed trainees.
3. What I learn in my infectious diseases pharmacy fellowship is exactly what I will be doing in my post-fellowship position
It is unlikely that you will be doing the exact same thing in your position as you were trained in during fellowship – and that is okay. An ID pharmacy fellowship is meant to establish a basic skill set and although you may have developed an in-depth knowledge on the topic of your fellowship research project, it is the fundamental skills gained that will still serve you well if you switch your focus of research.
Largely, when starting a new position after fellowship your research focus will depend upon the type of institution and what your research opportunities / responsibilities will be plus how those will be weighed against your other responsibilities (e.g., clinical, teaching, administrative). Adjusting to these responsibilities will take time, and it will also take time to orient yourself to your new resources and make connections at your institution.
Pharmacy fellowships provide skill sets, to varying degrees, in clinical practice, research, and teaching. You are likely to have additional new responsibilities that you take on post-fellowship and you may experience growing pains with them. This is normal and just about everyone has these experiences coming out of training.
4. Infectious diseases pharmacy fellowship is just like infectious diseases pharmacy residency, but with an extra year of research
When you are in your first year of ID pharmacy fellowship, patience and time/project management skills will be key. Research is a time-sensitive process and you are often required to manage multiple projects at the same time.
In fellowship you are involved in research projects in multiple stages, from those needing help with wrap-up data collection to other projects requiring development of a proposal from scratch. It is common for fellows to have six or more projects by the time they complete their two years of fellowship training. Two years in fellowship is needed largely because research projects tend to take over a year to complete, especially if you plan to pursue funding for that project, which may take months on its own.
Pharmacy residency largely involves the development and implementation of a residency research project and a medication use evaluation. As a pharmacy resident you often do not have dedicated research time or protected time in order to complete this project. Also, as a pharmacy resident, it is common that your project must be completed within one year.
One good way to think of the difference between the tracks is that ID pharmacy fellowship tends to focus more on depth of information, while an ID pharmacy residency focuses on breadth of information. When you are a pharmacy fellow your research may be highly focused on one or two areas of infectious diseases, and you will become very familiar with these. Residency is more focused on making you a good clinician that can tackle the numerous and varied day to day issue that can arise on service. It really all boils down how you are spending your time.
Here are some posts related to this point which may be helpful:
- What it is like being a PGY-2 ID pharmacy resident
- What it is like to be a residency-trained hospital-based ID pharmacist
- What it is like to be a residency-trained ambulatory care-based HIV pharmacist
- Considerations for choosing between pharmacy fellowship versus pharmacy residency
5. You can get by with just doing an infectious diseases pharmacy fellowship, there is no need to also complete a pharmacy residency
ID pharmacy fellows still need a strong clinical foundation regardless of what their practice commitments will be. Most pharmacy fellowship programs require at least a post-graduate year 1 pharmacy practice residency in order to be a competitive candidate for the fellowship program.
The clinical foundation provided by pharmacy residency helps when you are expected to provide clinical services or precept students/ residents. It will also be helpful in your future position for any clinical responsibilities involved.
In addition, having a stronger clinical core from your pharmacy residency helps to develop meaningful research questions. This can be especially important if enter into a health outcomes, antimicrobial stewardship, or other more clinically-focused fellowship experience.
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