Pharmacy Technicians: Pharmacy Superheroes
Every October in the United States we recognize pharmacy personnel for the important work they do to improve patient care. Pharmacy technicians are key members of the healthcare team and on National Pharmacy Technician Day, we honor the hard work that they do. Many pharmacy technicians wear capes (metaphorically); their super powers in patient care are evident and essential every day.
Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians have a presence in many areas including, but not limited to home healthcare, retail pharmacies, hospitals, medication research and more. The work that is visibly done and what is accomplished behinds the scenes is what makes pharmacy services invaluable to the lives of current and future patients. Moreso, pharmacy technicians work side by side with pharmacists and other health care professionals to ensure optimal patient care.
Reflecting back, we saw that in the 1960’s and 1970’s, leaders in pharmacy began writing about the need for individuals to take over the administrative duties of pharmacies, which would allow pharmacists to better focus on decision-making and clinical work. There was some dissent, as many believed that training non-pharmacists would lead to patient safety issues. With the world of pharmacy changing to adopt new technology and handle increased patient and medication volumes, pharmacy technician roles have become absolutely critical to operational success for hospital and retail settings alike. ASHP led the charge by creating training programs to help differentiate the duties of pharmacists and technicians. In 1979, the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy launched the first pharmacy technician training program.
Since 1979, numerous pharmacy technician training programs have been created with the objective of educating technicians on pharmacy law, patient safety, generic and brand drug names, compounding --both sterile and non-sterile— and more. The first accreditation standards for these programs were created by ASHP in 1982. Finally, in 1995, the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) was created and began certifying pharmacy technicians. By 2018, PTCB had certified more than 670,000 pharmacy technicians.
A position that once was restricted to clerking in retail pharmacies and sorting medications in hospital pharmacies has grown substantially. Pharmacy technicians now serve in leadership roles in many areas of pharmacy including sterile compounding, patient medication access, information technology, purchasing and beyond. The role of the pharmacy technician has grown significantly since the 1960’s and continues to grow and change. Training programs and certifications are being developed to help tomorrow’s pharmacy technicians work at the top of their practice, which in turn helps pharmacists focus more on patient care.
As our population continues to age and grow, the role of the pharmacy technician will become more and more important. To advance the role of the pharmacy technician we must set a national standard for education. Increased knowledge will support the expansion of duties and will assist in recruiting new career technicians and in retaining our current workforce.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that pharmacy technician jobs will grow by over 11 percent by 2026. Pharmacy technicians will likely take on an increased number of management and training roles in all pharmacy settings. And, with the fast-pace of changes in pharmacy, roles are likely to emerge that don’t exist today.
Fun Fact, actor Chris Hemsworth, a.k.a. Thor, used to be a pharmacy technician. We all know movie Gods and superheroes are make-believe, but the reality is that those of us in pharmacy today are making a positive impact on the care of patients and the outcomes in their lives and that does make us real-life superheroes.