There are pharmacists who specialise in different areas of medicine, and from tomorrow they can apply to be recognised as such.

The newly formed Pharmacy Specialists Accreditation Board will accept submissions for pharmacist specialists in oncology, cardiology, geriatrics, infectious diseases and psychiatry.

Minister of Health Gan Kim Yong, making the announcement yesterday at a congress at the Shangri-La Hotel, said well-certified pharmacists are needed to promote safe and effective drug use.

"With the growing emphasis on integrated care, we need pharmacists to take on expanded roles in the community, long- term care and home-care settings," he said.

The two-day Singapore Pharmacy Congress gathers more than 700 experts.

An estimated 20 are expected to be eligible when the accreditation process starts, said an MOH spokesman.

There are more than 2,000 registered pharmacists here, up from 1,814 in 2010, and some of them are now expected to go for further training with this latest move.

Pharmacist specialists can expect more senior jobs in hospitals, for example, in supervisory roles.

Pharmacists said the move would attract more to join the field and offer patients better care. "It's a sign that pharmacy has reached a higher standard," said principal clinical pharmacist Wendy Ang of Changi General Hospital. "Potential students will see the accreditation as something they can aspire towards."

Ms Ang, who is trained in geriatrics, said patients would benefit as health care is now more complicated, with new drugs, guidelines and models of care.

The accreditation process will take about eight weeks. To qualify, pharmacists must have reached a certain level of experience, said chief pharmacist Lita Chew. They also need to meet education and training requirements. A number of overseas programmes provide specialist training, but certification itself does not mean they are automatically regarded as specialists. They will also need three to five years of work experience to qualify, among other criteria.

Pharmacists who obtain accreditation from the board can approach the Singapore Pharmacy Council to register as a specialist pharmacist.

Over the years, the field of pharmacy has shifted focus from products to patients, noted Associate Professor Chui Wai Keung, deputy head of the pharmacy department at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

"Even in patient care, there's a switch now towards health promotion," said Prof Chui.

Community pharmacists working in places like the Watsons chain of personal care stores, for instance, now help with health screening.

Some visit nursing homes to help elderly residents sort out their medication.

They are playing bigger roles in the areas of clinical trials and in sales and marketing.

Mr Lim See Wah, managing director of Hyphens Pharma, a drug marketing company, said with more drug information to digest these days, pharmacists in the drug industry are needed to interpret it to other health-care professionals.

No more are pharmacists simply drug dispensers.

Said Dr Doreen Tan, associate consultant in pharmacy at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital who is qualified in cardiology: "It is fast becoming clear that undergraduate education is not enough to prepare us for the job any more."