Pharmacy technicians are the backbone of any pharmacy. They work closely with pharmacists to dispense medications to help keep patients healthy and safe. The primary responsibilities of a pharmacy technician typically include preparing, packaging, and labeling pharmaceuticals, which are then carefully reviewed by the pharmacist for accuracy before being dispensed to the patient. Pharmacy techs carry out crucial inventory, administrative, and customer service tasks in the pharmacy.
Technicians also play a vital role in education. Many pharmacy technicians work as instructors in academic settings, such as training programs and certification courses. Here’s a look at how you can use your training as a pharmacy technician to help others.
How to help educate the next generation of pharmacy technicians
As pharmacy technicians take on advanced responsibilities—like medication reconciliation (“med rec”) and vaccine administration—specialized training has increased beyond the basic Pharmacy Technician Certification Board exam.
Many technical schools and colleges offer pharmacy technician education programs. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) accredits pharmacy technician education programs that include a minimum of 600 hours of instruction and span at least 15 weeks. The courses available in these programs include instruction on medication measurement, math, recordkeeping, pharmacy law, and ethics.
Experienced pharmacy technicians can enter academia to educate their peers and develop tomorrow’s pharmacy technicians in these types of courses. Just as licensed pharmacists instruct student pharmacists (and nursing and medical students learn from their senior counterparts), pharmacy technician students learn best from experienced pharmacy technicians.
“In order for these courses to be relatable, students have to have something or someone tangible to relate to,” says Shayla Smith, CPhT, a pharmacy technician in Austin, Texas. With more than 18 years of experience, Smith is able to share what she’s learned with her students in a way that someone without pharmacy experience couldn’t.
“Each class usually covers a different area, such as brand and generic drugs, pharmacy law and state-specific laws, mathematics, how to read a prescription, proper labeling, etc.,” Smith says. She also explains the benefit of setting up scenarios to help students build confidence in their growing knowledge.
Pharmacy technician roles are growing and evolving. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many states authorized pharmacy technicians to administer vaccines with proper training and certification. This expansion of the field makes it all the more important for techs to receive proper education and mentoring.
Experienced technicians in the pharmacy can serve as mentors for new technicians and even pharmacy interns. “The majority of new technicians and students want to see themselves in their more experienced peers in hopes to one day become just as experienced and succeed at that higher level,” Smith explains.
Why is more education better for pharmacy technicians—and patient care?
Some states require certification and training for pharmacy technicians, while others do not. There have been movements to standardize pharmacy technician certification nationwide, but individual states currently determine requirements.
Patients receive better care when pharmacy technicians have the skills and confidence to perform their daily tasks accurately and efficiently. The entire pharmacy runs smoother (and with less mishaps or possibility for errors) when the whole team is trained and educated properly.
A study from 2017 assessed the clarity of pharmacy technicians’ roles in the United Kingdom. A team of researchers interviewed staff from different types of educational institutions, healthcare facilities, and community pharmacies. The interviews revealed concerns about whether the education and training standards for pharmacy technicians were meeting the needs of current pharmacy practice. Some educational topics were considered unnecessary or overemphasized, while others, like professionalism, needed to be improved. Hospital staff felt that technician training should provide more clinical information, while community pharmacy staff thought the clinical requirements for pharmacy technicians were too advanced. Some interviewees suggested pharmacy technicians’ roles in community pharmacies must be more clearly defined.
The investigators also surveyed more than 600 pharmacy technicians. Most respondents were female, and a higher proportion were trained in community pharmacies rather than hospitals. Hospital technician respondents were more likely to agree that their workplace roles were clearly defined compared to their community pharmacy counterparts.
The researchers concluded that there is a need for more education among pharmacy technicians to better adhere to regulatory standards. And while the study was performed in the U.K., the findings are relevant to U.S. pharmacies as well.
U.S. research has shown some exciting advantages when there’s a focus on education for pharmacy support staff. One study found that educating pharmacy technicians on the importance of medication adherence led to improved adherence and patient outcomes. Likewise, pharmacy technicians trained to complete medication reconciliations led to positive results for patients.
Another study combined student pharmacists and student pharmacy technicians for an interprofessional session. After graduation, pharmacists and techs work closely, but they don’t often get many opportunities to do so during their education. When these students worked together in this study, they reported that the “event enhanced learning and confidence in working together to provide interprofessional care.”
Pharmacy technicians are vital in maintaining proper care in the pharmacy. In addition to the traditional roles, techs can help support community pharmacists in adherence outreach initiatives and promote medication adherence programs. For instance, pharmacy techs can gather medication histories, update patient profiles, and schedule patients for medication therapy management (MTM) appointments. They can also help screen patients for vaccines and provide immunizations.
But for all of this, adequate training is necessary for techs to perform their roles properly. While different avenues exist to earn a pharmacy technician certification, there is no standard training or route that all technicians must take. By educating technicians and encouraging standards for training and certification, pharmacy technician instructors in academic positions can lead to better patient health outcomes.
“As educators or pharmacy technicians in on-the-job training roles, we should always stress the importance of providing patient care that makes patients feel seen, heard, respected,” Smith says. “Their health and safety will always be a priority.”