by Janet Hawkins and Carol Jonson
Amy Williams got sick as a child, it wasn’t her doctor who made her feel better, it was her pharmacist. "I always knew I wanted to be a pharmacist, "Williams says. "He was the one who gave me medicine and answered my questions about it. Back then I didn’t recognize the doctor’s role, I just knew that after I saw the pharmacist I started to feel better."
In 2003, Williams will be another step closer to her goal when she enters the University of Michigan School of Pharmacy. Until then she’s working part time as a pharmacy tech at Bixby Medical Center in Adrian, Michigan, and Herrick Memorial Hospital in Tecumseh, Michigan.
"Being a pharmacy tech is a great way of meeting people and a great first step for career advancement," Williams says. "In one year you can have a great paying job in a clean environment, What more could you want?"
Williams’ choice of careers is welcome news. Statistics show that there are 12,000 openings available for the 7,000 pharmacy techs who graduate each year. The numbers also reveal that three billion prescriptions are filled at outpatient pharmacies each year, with that number expected to double in a few years. It’s a combination of better success in treating chronic illnesses with medications and an aging population. The question is, who will fill those prescriptions?
Skilled techs in demand
The shortage of pharmacists has created a greater demand for skilled pharmacy technicians. That’s because they’re now assuming more responsibility behind the counter. According to Ron Lukasiewicz, who began OCC's pharmacy tech program — one of the original academic programs for pharmacy techs in the nation — pharmacy techs in an outpatient pharmacy now "take the prescription from the patient, read it, get it ready to fill, have it checked by the pharmacist, fill it, have the pharmacist verify that it is correct, then dispense it to the patient."
"In a hospital setting, pharmacy techs run unit dose programs. Some larger hospitals have robotics programs that dispense medications. In that case, techs would be responsible for maintaining the robotics originally set up by the pharmacist," he explains. "Techs have to have some education to handle all this, and today they also need experience in drug administration under supervision," Lukasiewicz adds, noting that OCC's program is the only one offering students a classroom opportunity to learn about the administration of medications.
Pharmacy career has many paths
A skilled pharmacy tech has many career options. According to the American Pharmacy Association, pharmacy techs find employment in chain and supermarket pharmacies, independent pharmacies, hospitals, mail order services, managed care organizations, long-term care facilities, research institutions, pharmaceutical manufacturers, colleges and universities.
Many students in pharmacy tech programs go on to become pharmacists. OCC students interested in this career path have a unique advantage, according to Lukasiewicz: "We've worked closely with the Wayne State University (WSU) School of Pharmacy to make sure our core curriculum matches up with the level of their coursework." This means, he says, that after two years in OCC's program, and with a good grade point average, OCC pharmacy tech students can "easily matriculate" to Wayne’s School of Pharmacy on their way to a pharmacist’s degree. "Some of our students have decided to go on to medical school, and one has become a brain surgeon in California," Lukasiewicz says.
Credentials important to the industry
Nearly 20 years ago, OCC had one of the first pharmacy tech programs advocating the certification of its graduates. Michigan was actually the first state to implement a certification exam for pharmacy techs, and OCC students do very well on it, with a 98 percent pass rate.
Since 1995, the pharmacy industry has also offered a national industry certification exam. More than 104,000 technicians nationwide are certified, but many more are not.
Lukasiewicz believes that the industry is headed toward such mandatory certification, and says that already many employers — especially the supermarket and chain pharmacies - will pay for their employees to become certified. Not only have well-trained technicians become very important to risk management, they’re another set of eyes to ensure accuracy and quality control. And there’s an additional benefit, Lukasiewicz points out: "Certified pharmacy techs also earn more."
According to Salary.Com, a Pharmacy Technician I working in
the metro Detroit area can earn between $21,560 -$29,350,
depending on experience and employer.
If you’re considering a career in pharmacy technology, add
in the following facts from
V. 20, No. 9, September 2000:
The need for pharmacy technicians is expected to grow 40 percent by 2004.
Professionals will have to learn about more than 10,000 new drugs in the next few years as a result of the Human Genome Project.
By the year 2005, more than 30 percent of Americans will be over 50 years old, generating greater demand for prescription drugs, disease-management programs and special services.