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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Pharmacy technicians fill growing market need

By Linda White
Special to The Toronto Sun


In today's busy pharmacies, hundreds of prescriptions can be filled in just one day. As pharmacists spend more time talking to their customers about how different medications may interact and possible side effects, they are increasingly dependent on pharmacy technicians to ensure things run smoothly.

"Pharmacy technicians have become an essential component in pharmacies ... They're a vital part of the pharmaceutical team," says Dr. Bernie DesRoches, manager of continuing education and pharmacy technician programs at the Ontario College of Pharmacists (OCP).
Heather Armstrong, a pharmacy technician who works at Guardian Medical Centre Pharmacy in Brooklin, Ont., says the job is very rewarding: "In this fast-paced world, it's nice to be able to take a little time to offer comfort to someone."


"Pharmacy technicians have existed for many years, but have not always been known as pharmacy technicians," he says. "In the early days of pharmacies, it was common to find someone helping the pharmacist."

In the early 1970s, the OCP undertook a pilot project with community colleges to create a pharmacy assistant training program. Known today as a pharmacy technician program, it's now also available in private career colleges.

The profession isn't currently legislated and pharmacists may still choose to train their own technicians. But successful completion of a post-secondary program is widely accepted as a pre-requisite.

"It is recognized as a means of getting someone with appropriate skills and training into the dispensary," DesRoches says. Pharmacy technicians can become certified by successfully completing a voluntary exam through the OCP. The College recently completed a framework for pharmacy technician competencies that could lead to potential regulation in the years to come.

"The college's goal is to work towards an expanded role for technicians that will enhance the professional resources in a pharmacy," DesRoches says. "Any potential change to add regulated pharmacy technicians would be on a voluntary basis and (would) not be imposed on any technician or pharmacy practice setting."

With the current shortage of pharmacists, the need for skilled pharmacy technicians is strong.

"They're in high demand, not just in Ontario, but nationally," DesRoches says. "A lot of pharmacists don't have the time to do everything that needs to be done. It's a bonus for them to have someone with basic skills."

Training programs have evolved along with the profession. "There has probably been more significant changes in the last five to six years than in all the previous years," says Yvonne McRobbie.

Co-ordinator of the pharmacy technician program at St. Clair College in Windsor, she has been teaching pharmacy technicians for the past 25 years.

"To me, it's a very exciting time for technicians and those training to be technicians," McRobbie says. "They've really come into their own. Years before, maybe they weren't as appreciated as they are today. Pharmacists really can't operate a pharmacy without a well-trained technician. "Pharmacies are bigger and usually the volumes are bigger," she says. "One pharmacy may be filling 900 prescriptions each day. They need efficiency ... Technicians help ensure prescriptions are prepared in a timely fashion, allowing the pharmacist time to speak with the patient."

That's why there are benefits to completing a diploma. "Pharmacies don't have the time to train a technician," McRobbie says. "An education gives technicians portability and allows them to pick and choose where they might work."

Students at St. Clair College complete placements in both retail and hospital settings. "The practical component is a huge component of learning," McRobbie says.

The career is a rewarding one, says Heather Armstrong, a pharmacy technician at Guardian Medical Centre Pharmacy in Brooklin, Ont. She graduated from Centennial College in 1997, has worked in several retail settings and chose to become certified.

"It's a nice indication of your skills when you're speaking to prospective employers," Armstrong says.

A former teacher, she welcomed an opportunity to use her math and science skills while helping others. "I often see children who are sick and not happy," Armstrong says. "In this fast-paced world, it's nice to be able to take a little time to offer comfort to someone."

THE ROLE OF THE PHARMACY TECHNICIAN:

Assisting the pharmacist in the preparation of prescriptions: Dispensing (labelling, measuring and packaging) prescriptions, compounding specialty prescriptions, ensuring information on prescriptions is complete, and establishing and maintaining patient profiles. In hospitals, tasks include replenishing medications for nursing units, emergency boxes and cardiac arrest kits, and preparing intravenous mixtures.

Clerical activities: Preparing and reconciling insurance billings, preparing invoices and maintaining drug information files.

Inventory management: Monitoring stock levels, preparing and placing orders, rotating stock and monitoring expiry dates.

Communicating with customers, physicians and suppliers.

(Linda White (linda.white@rogers.com) is a freelance writer based in Brooklin, Ont.)



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