Avis Bullard’s career has been built around a focus on quality assurance and has, in fact, become an essential element in the fabric of her professional journey. She entered the world of credentialing later in her career, upon accepting a job at the Board of Pharmacy Specialties (BPS). In this role, she became responsible for the implementation of ISO 17024 and the maintenance of NCCA accreditation for all BPS pharmacy practice specialties. Though she was new to the credentialing industry, her passion for all things quality assurance made the transition a natural fit.
We spoke with Avis to learn more about her career pathway to credentialing, the challenges she’s faced and the volunteer roles she’s since taken on within ICE.
Tell us about your career path. How did you get to where you are today, and what can others learn from your story?
After graduating from Northeastern University in Boston, I started my career as a certified medical technologist working in a university-hospital medical center. After several years I was recruited by Eastman Kodak to work on their dry chemistry desktop blood analyzer, and later I worked as a bench chemist analyzing competitor film products. During my tenure at Kodak, I received a master's degree in clinical chemistry and began to look at career opportunities in the biotechnology industry, which was beginning to grow.
In 1998, I moved to Maryland after getting a job with a biotech firm as a quality control (QC) analyst. I eventually became a QC laboratory manager working for small and large corporations. After several years I transitioned out of the laboratory and into a quality assurance role. During my career I worked in certain types of public and private laboratory environments which were governed by the Code of Federal Regulations. Ensuring compliance to government regulations was no small task and this really solidified my understanding of being focused on quality. I had an opportunity to become an American Society of Quality (ASQ) certified quality auditor and certified six sigma greenbelt. Those certifications accelerated my career path as a quality assurance professional. While at BPS, I recently earned my six-sigma black belt from ASQ.
Being focused on quality is now an essential part of who I am, and I truly enjoy working in organizations who understand that quality is not an option, but a transition to excellence.
How did you get involved with credentialing?
Honestly, I never thought about credentialing as a collective industry with standards to ensure fair and unbiased testing. Accepting a position with BPS was my first real exposure to credentialing. As part of my learning curve, I was encouraged to attend my first ICE Exchange in 2016. This conference provided me with the opportunity to interact with various practitioners within the credentialing community. The conference was very informative, and I actually learned what psychometricians do, as I had never heard of them in my professional career.
At the end of the conference I submitted a volunteer application for the government affairs committee, as I thought this would be a good fit for me given my regulatory experience. To my surprise my application was accepted to serve on the 2017 ICE Annual Conference Program Committee as a regular committee member. I did my first presentation at the ICE Exchange in 2017. Because the community is so welcoming and engaging, I have continued to seek out volunteer opportunities to further my professional development.
You were brought on board as the quality manager for BPS to help them prepare for ISO 17024 Accreditation, which has a strong quality orientation. Can you tell us about that experience?
I was hired by BPS as the Director of Quality Assurance in 2016 and in that role, I have two key functions: maintain NCCA accreditation for our pharmacy specialty programs and prepare for ISO 17024 accreditation. Preparing for ISO 17024 accreditation has actually been easy for me, as I have experience preparing several public and private organizations for accreditation under ISO 9001, ISO 17025 and ISO 13485. My familiarity with the ISO standard framework allowed me to actually build the quality management system (QMS) for BPS rather quickly.
The most critical part of implementing any ISO standard is having leadership buy-in and communicating to the team its strategic importance. The BPS Executive Director and the Board of Directors view ISO 17024 as a strategic goal directly linked to our international growth, and because of this I have a clear path for implementation. Training the BPS team on quality principles and tools was welcomed by staff as it presented an opportunity for them to develop professionally. Most of the BPS team has received six-sigma white belt training. This has helped facilitate writing standard operating procedures, documenting customer complaints and errors, and working on continuous process improvement projects.
Being part of a team with an organizational focus on quality has resulted in staff buy-in, making my job easier. This has helped in not only both the NCCA and ISO application process, but also in implementing improvements to our existing processes.
What were some challenges you overcame, or what moments do you feel you grew from professionally?
The actual challenge for me was understanding the NCCA Standards. BPS had already attained NCCA accreditation for six pharmacy specialties and there were three more specialties in development. Therefore, I needed to submit for reaccreditation for the original six and prepare for the accreditation of the additional three.
For me, the challenge was to understand the synergy between the NCCA and ISO standards. I accomplished this by using a resource I found on the ICE website, i.e. the crosswalk document for NCCA and ISO. This document was very helpful in developing the BPS policy and procedure manual. Developing the manual helped me professionally in that I had a steep learning curve. I needed to understand how to weave the standards together into a single comprehensive document that would adequately address our NCCA and ISO application needs.
You’re somewhat new to credentialing. What resources and connections have helped you get acclimated to the industry?
A few that come to mind are:
- Certification: The ICE Handbook
- NCCA Standards
- NCCA Certification Accreditation self-assessment checklist
- NCCA & ISO/IEC 17024 Accreditation Overview Workshop
- 17024 Compliance Handbook
- ICE Live and On-demand Webinars
What volunteer role(s) have you played within ICE, and what have you enjoyed about them most?
In 2018, I was asked to serve as Vice Chair of the ICE Annual Conference Program Committee, and as Chair in 2019. This was the best volunteer experience because I worked with very creative credentialing professionals and the excellent support staff at ICE. Reviewing abstracts, selecting keynote speakers and planning the first-time attendee reception was both challenging and exciting.
In 2018, I was invited to author a chapter on Quality Assurance and Documentation for the 3rd Edition of Certification: The ICE Handbook. This was an excellent opportunity to share my almost 20 years of quality assurance experience with a wider audience.
I have also written two articles for Credentialing Insights. Writing for ICE's content hub has been an excellent professional development opportunity for me. We post on the BPS blog and it has given BPS wider exposure to our candidates and certificants related to our quality assurance program.
In 2020 I am serving as a committee member on the NCCA Standards Revision Main Committee. There are a lot of psychometricians on this committee, so I should be able to make new friends. I truly appreciate the opportunity to serve the credentialing community and work with the great staff at ICE.