Pharmacy technicians work in a fast-paced, demanding industry where qualities like accuracy and meticulousness mean everything. Although requirements in terms of certification differ from state to state, getting the right kind of education and pharmacy technician training will go a long way in ensuring that aspiring technicians thrive in their line of work.
History Of Pharmacy Technician Training And Its Contemporary Developments
Formal pharmacy technician training was not always as developed as it is today. This is clearly outlined in, “The White Paper on Pharmacy Technicians 2002: Needed Changes can No Longer Wait,” as endorsed by the 12 members of the Council on Credentialing in Pharmacy. According to the sources credited in this authoritative paper, the history of formal training for technicians unfolded thus:
Timeline Of Events Illustrating The Development Of Formal Pharmacy Technician Training
1930s – Pharmacy technicians were trained, “on-the-job.” This hands-on training prepared them sufficiently to meet the demands on the industry at the time. However, the need for a certified pharmacy technician training program soon emerged, largely due to the following reasons:
- With lawful procedures regarding the dispensing of medication and record-keeping policies becoming more prominent, a need for formal pharmacy tech training became evident.
- With insurance requirements becoming more stringent, it became more necessary for administrative tasks in the pharmaceutical industry to become more formalized and precise.
- Certain employers began to profess that a major benefit of formal training was greater job satisfaction and a lower staff turnover.
- Formal training seemed to provide technicians with a sense of pride in their work and a sense of duty towards their patients.
1940s – The Armed forces introduces a formal training program for all its pharmacy technicians serving military troops.
1958 – This pharmacy technician training program is further developed by the military to provide for the medical demands and needs of the time.
Late 1960 – The Department of Health, Education and Welfare recommends and implements a training program in all junior colleges and educational institutions.
This program aims to develop the skills of the, “pharmacist aide,” towards a more comprehensive kind of learning for all aspiring workers in this industry.
The first hospital-based pharmacy technician training program is developed and implemented.
1970s – Training programs continue to provide technicians with the education they require to operate at their best levels.
However, these programs are only implemented in the hospital and clinical environments, with no prominent need being voiced by other industries like retail.
1980s – The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) develops formal training guidelines for technicians in all hospital environments, with a set of minimum requirements and ways of evaluating skills and determining the competency levels of established technicians in the field.
Many colleges and institutions begin to use these guidelines to establish associate degree and certificate programs to assist technicians in meeting the basic pre-requisites for these positions.
The National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) and The National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA)develops this training manual by dividing it into sections which are applicable to any environment or industry in which technicians will be employed.
These sections include:
- Practical and legal procedures as they apply to the dispensing of medication and the filling of prescriptions.
- Sterile-product compounding
- Guidelines on interacting with patients
- Reimbursement systems
1990 – Till Present – There are around 250 schools and institutions across 42 states offering various pharmacy technician training programs including certificates, diplomas and associate degrees.
The Pharmacy Technician Training Course Syllabus
The structure of different curriculums differ from school to school although it is safe to say that the subject matter is roughly the same. Preparatory courses will also contain practical components, where students will be exposed to different environments where they may work after the completion of their studies. This provides them with valuable insight into what will be expected of them at an entry-level and how they can aspire to further themselves within their careers as technicians.
Below, some of this subject matter will be outlined and discussed to provide prospective technicians with a broad perspective on what pharmacy technician training will entail:
- The term refers to the study of what is known as drug action i.e. the effect that drugs or pharmaceutical substances have on the body and vice versa.
- The study can be divided into two main sections: pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics.
- Pharmacodynamics examines how the body’s various systems are affected by drugs and forms of medication.
- Pharmacokinetics focuses on how bodily systems and anatomical processes affect drugs or medication which are ingested by humans.
- In this aspect of study, students will learn how the body’s systems operate in sustaining life.
- These systems include but are not limited to the respiratory system, the digestive system, the gastrointestinal system and the musculoskeletal system.
- Students will also be exposed to the methods according to which drugs are classified.
According to the Department of Chemistry at Michigan Technological University: “Pharmaceutical companies need employees with strong skills in modern chemical techniques as well as a good understanding of biomedical issues such as drug action, drug design and drug development.”
- Going hand-in-hand with pharmacology, this subject focuses on drug manufacturing and classification.
- Students will learn the different compositions of certain medications.
- They will also understand from a technical point-of-view, the structure of these drugs on a molecular level and the properties of its components.
- Students will also become familiar with chemical reactions and how the components of drugs interact with each other to produce certain medical effects.
- Key areas of study include drug design and development, drug transportation and delivery as well as the mechanics involved in drug action.
- This is the study of the structure of the body on both a gross and microscopic level.
- Students will learn the fundamental ways in which the body operates.
- Students will also learn how the body reacts to aspects like disease, viruses and outside stimulate.
- In familiarizing students with the terminology used for different organs and body parts, they will begin to build a solid foundation of knowledge on how the body functions as a whole.
- They will also learn how treatment for various common ailments work and how they should be administered in order to be effective.
- This subject is taken in conjunction with pharmacology, where students will learn how the body reacts to different forms of medication.
Mathematics As It Pertains To Dosage Calculations
- Technicians require basic mathematical skills in order to function effectively.
- Students will therefore revise their understanding of arithmetic and build upon their school-level knowledge by learning special counting techniques employed for the counting and packaging of drugs.
- Different measurement systems will also be introduced to students.
- They will be educated on how to make accurate dosage calculations in the interests of the wellbeing and safety of their future patients.
- They will also learn how to measure natural ingredients used in creams and medicines by employing methods of concentration and dilution.
Compounding Of Sterile Medication
- Some patients have special needs in terms of the administering of medication and students will be shown how these needs can be taken into account.
- Course content will contain a list of common ingredients which patients may be allergic to as well as alternatives to these ingredients.
- Students will then be shown how to mix creams and other forms of medication according to the patient’s medical needs.
This knowledge will help future technicians to help the following groups of people:
- Infants requiring smaller doses of medication.
- Children who cannot take pills and require that their medication be compounded to form a liquid medicine.
- Patients with physical disabilities who cannot take certain forms of medication.
- People who are hyper-sensitive to certain allergens like colorants.
- Patients requiring drugs which have been previously discontinued.
- The dispensary of medication needs to be closely monitored in order to track patients’ health levels and to prevent negative side effects occurring when different types of medication are being used simultaneously.
- Record-keeping is largely computerized.
- Students will therefore be familiarized with having to use computerized systems to take inventory, record the pharmaceutical history of all patients and place electronic orders for medication.
- Technicians need to be well-aware of the laws which govern the administering of medication and the filling of prescriptions according to the directions as set out by practitioners .
- Laws will vary from state to state, but there are some laws which apply to all states.
- Ethics as they pertain to this field of work.
- One such law governing the manufacturing process of prescription drugs in the United States is the federal Prescription Drug Marketing Act of 1987.
- Students will become familiar with how certain drugs are prepared, manufactured in bulk, stored, packaged and distributed.
- They will be made aware of the safety measures to be taken in ensuring that the medication abides by state laws and are not exposed to harmful chemicals which can corrupt their ingredients.
- This course will also introduce students to the practice of compounding sterile medication.
- Students will be given an introduction to medicines manufacturing, which many of them may specialize in at a later stage.
- Students will be introduced to the genetic and non-genetic reasons for why certain patients react to certain drugs as they do.
- They will be given knowledge about drug side effects, how to counteract them and how to use alternatives in order to avoid causing harm to a patient.
- This course of study will also indicate how drug manufacturers use this knowledge to ensure that the medicines they manufacture are safe for the masses.
- This term refers to a kind of in-service training where students will work for periods ranging from 2 days to about 2 weeks, in a pharmaceutical environment.
- They will experience day-to-day interaction with pharmacists, patients and customers in a retail or hospital setting.
- This gives them a chance to put their theoretical knowledge to work and to practice some of the skills they will have been equipped with.
- Some pharmacy technician schools also prepare students for their careers by providing them with advice on how to formulate successful résumés and how to conduct oneself during professional interviews.
The Benefits Of Investing In A Formal Pharmacy Technician Training Program
In some states, certification and training is not always compulsory although it seems to be an industry standard that those who are formally trained and certified appear more favorable and employable.
The benefits of studying and receiving pharmacy technician training are far-reaching, and include:
- Enhanced confidence levels for technicians starting their first pharmacy technician jobs because they have been familiarized with subject matter and have a strong foundation of knowledge upon which to build their practical experience.
- More advancement opportunities in terms of being promoted to supervisory levels within the industry in which they work.
- Opportunities to branch off into other fields of pharmaceutical work due to their exposure to advance terminology and procedures .
- Opportunities to specialize in certain areas of the industry and become chemotherapy technicians or nuclear pharmacy technicians for example.
- Opportunities to earn higher salaries at an entry-level than non-certified technicians.
As with any job in the medical field, the process of learning is ongoing, as the following statement clearly suggests: “- Any national
standards for education and training of pharmacy technicians will
not eliminate the need for additional, site-specific training that focuses on
local policies and procedures.” (Sanford ME, Faccinetti NJ, Broadhead
RS. Observational study of job satisfaction in hospital pharmacy technicians.Am J Hosp Pharm. 1984; 41:2599-606.)
On-the-job training will continue well into the technician’s first few years of employment and in this time they will come to understand and know in an intricate way, how the pharmaceutical industry operates.
An encouraging prospect is provided by the United States Bureau of Labor statistics: “Employment of pharmacy technicians and aides is expected to increase by 25 percent from 2008 to 2018, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.” For aspiring technicians, this means that even within a fragile economic climate such as the present, they can still fulfill their pivotal roles in society and become vital parts of one of the most lucrative and expanding industries in the world.