How to Become a Drug Safety Nurse: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Research the requirements to become a drug safety nurse. Learn about the job description and duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career as a drug safety nurse.

Should I Become a Drug Safety Nurse?

Drug safety nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who specialize in monitoring the adverse effects of drugs in patients and reporting these effects for review and drug modification. Also known as drug safety associates, these professionals typically don't work in clinics as RNs, but rather work for pharmaceutical companies as patient advocates and product quality controllers. Working in more of a research position may be a difficult transition for those who have previously worked in clinical settings.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree is required
Degree Field Nursing
Licensure and Certification Licensure is required
Experience Nursing experience is required
Key Skills Active listening, speaking, critical thinking, social perceptiveness, service orientation, monitoring, science, judgment and decision-making skills, medical software, database user interface and query software, spreadsheet software, Microsoft Office software, time accounting software
Salary $66,640 (Median annual salary for RNs as of May 2014)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O Net Online.

Step 1: Earn a Degree or Diploma

An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a diploma from an accredited nursing school are three programs through which aspiring drug safety nurses can gain an education. This first step, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), can take 2-4 years depending on the program. Candidates should make sure their program is accredited by a reputable accrediting agency.

Step 2: Become Licensed

After attaining a nursing degree, candidates should pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Additionally, licensing requirements vary by state, and nurses should check in with their state health board for further requirements. Nurses are also responsible for maintaining and renewing their licenses through continuing education hours.

Step 3: Specialize in Drug Safety

Nurses will want to take additional training in pharmaceuticals and pharmaceutical safety, which is also known as pharmacovigilance (PV or PhV). While some employers may hire RNs without PV training as drug safety associates (DSAs), most employers want experience and knowledge of the drug safety industry. A multidisciplinary education and additional training helps drug safety nurses acquire the experience and knowledge necessary to fulfill a variety of DSA tasks. Topics commonly covered in drug safety classes include good manufacturing practices and safety surveillance.

Prospective DSAs have several sources for drug safety courses, including nursing schools and continuing education courses. The more desirable continuing education classes are accredited by the American Nurses Credentialing Center, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and consulting organizations such as BioSoteria. The FDA provides a list of continuing education courses on its website. These courses are offered by the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research and may help RNs build up their drug safety knowledge and credibility.

Step 4: Work as a Drug Safety Associate

Job duties for drug safety nurses and DSAs may include documenting the patient's progress under treatment. They also track harmful effects of drugs and create reports on these effects. The DSA may also give feedback to the organization with regards to drug quality and individual patient labs. Depending on employer, the nurse or DSA may function as a liaison between patient and pharmaceutical company.

Step 5: Consider Continuing Education for Career Advancement

Drug safety nurses with bachelor's degrees have the option to advance into other, more specialized fields, such as clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, and nurse-midwives. Master's degree programs are also available in the field of nursing.

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