Pharmacy Tech Grads — ‘Ferraris in the Garage’

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While new rules will change the way Pharmacy Technicians are certified starting in January, new facilities and technology make South Texas College’s Pharmacy Technology Program the exceptional choice for pharmacy technicians entering the workforce.  

South Texas College Pharmacy Technology graduates have been prepared for changes in pharmacy for a long time, according to South Texas College clinical education director Roger Rodriguez.

Rodriguez says he believes upcoming changes by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) are bound to elevate the profession. New rules are set to change the way prospective pharmacy technicians enter the workforce, and South Texas College is in the best place possible to guide them.

“I had an old colleague who used to call our graduates ‘Ferraris in the garage’ because they have so much knowledge. These technicians are capable of incredible things, but we have to enable them to do it,” said Rodriguez, who is a 2010 graduate from the program at STC. “The PTCB changes will finally require students to go through school, and it’s going to really improve the overall status of a pharmacy technician.”

Gone are the days when a student could take the national exam to become a certified pharmacy technician and immediately enter the workforce without formal training. Beginning January 2020, the PTCB will require prospective students to complete an approved training program to be eligible for the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam.

This is welcomed news for STC’s Pharmacy Technology program, which has helped create standards that are miles beyond minimum workplace requirements. The goal, according to faculty, is to make students hyper-ready for work in a variety of settings, including institutional, retail outlets, and mail-order pharmacies.

Higher on the career ladder from pharmacy care representatives, whose responsibilities at local pharmacies include simple money exchange and retail tasks, registered pharmacy technicians are in essence assistants to the pharmacists themselves. Most are tasked with handling medication dispensing and preparation as well as health insurance matters.

The structure of the program at STC has been designed to include both the basic and the advanced curriculum levels advocated by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists and the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. Students are introduced to everything from simple patient communication and customer service before moving on to complex tasks like sterile compounding and medical therapy management.

Students currently enrolled in the program say they are already given the highest level of possible preparation for employment, and look forward to seeing other students afforded the same opportunity.

“This is a career changing program,” student Cecilia Alvarez said. “The flexibility allows for students to obtain a career while maintaining a home-life balance. The program has inspired me to also continue my education by pursuing a bachelor’s of applied technology in medical and health services management.”

Operating out of a brand new simulation hospital facility located on-site of STC’s Nursing & Allied Health Campus in McAllen, students are trained in a life-like pharmacy that is on par with anything they might find in the workplace.

From Pyxis automated medication dispensing systems to communication with pharmacy programs at STC’s simulation hospitals in Weslaco and Starr County, the only things not real are the medications themselves. In response, one registered lab assistant went so far as to simulate the colors of actual medications so students get as close as possible to working with the real thing.

While they are in the simulation pharmacy, faculty take a hands-off approach, but continuously monitor students through a network of cameras. The importance of this, Rodriguez said, is to enable students to think critically and problem solve on their own.

“A hospital simulation pharmacy allows us to do a lot of interactions with the nursing program, respiratory therapy program, and EMT programs,” Rodriguez said. “We do different scenarios that allow our students to interact with the other departments at our Nursing & Allied Health campus.

“This drives our program,” he said. “We teach the skills, and have them apply them in simulation scenarios before they go to the pharmacies for practicum.”

If Rodriguez is the mind portion of the program, faculty member Crystal Zuniga has to be the heart and soul.

Zuniga, who is also a 2010 graduate from the program, says her specialty involves patient interaction. Her years of work in a community setting have enabled her to convey an essential human aspect to students’ education.

“I worked in an independent pharmacy in Weslaco for years and enjoyed it very much as it had a pediatric clinic next door and we filled about 1,000 prescriptions a day. We wouldn’t close until the last patient left,” Zuniga said. “I love the fact that I had that one-on-one patient interaction, and the fact that I built personal relationships with them. I know at the end of the day that I helped them feel better.

“I tell students that it’s about family and home, and if you don’t have that mentality, it will be very difficult because you need to communicate with those patients, you have to educate them, and you have to comfort them because at the end of the day they have to know it will be OK,” Zuniga said.

For more information about STC’s Pharmacy Technology Program, please visit nah.southtexascollege.edu/pharm/ or call (956) 872-3049 for more information.