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Sep 25 2019

October 15 is National Pharmacy Technician Day!

What would our pharmacies be like without the hardworking technicians who dedicate their professional lives to assisting patients and ensuring safe, accurate disbursement of prescription medications?

Pharmacy technicians are regularly described as “indispensable,” “essential,” and “critical,” to today's pharmacy operations, and are taking on expanding roles in hospital, health-setting and retail pharmacies nationwide. "In many ways," Pharmacy Technician Certification Board CEO Everett B. McAllister, MPA, RPh told Pharmacy Times, “technicians are the backbone of the pharmacy operation, and they are instrumental to a successful pharmacy."

It's fitting then, that we take a day – October 15 – to celebrate the nation's 420,000 pharmacy technicians, and thank them for their dedication and tireless hours of service.

In doing so, let's look at how the role of the pharmacy technician is changing. According to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) current responsibilities include:

  • Screening prescription orders for accuracy and completeness
  • Preparing prescriptions: retrieve, count, pour, weigh, measure, and sometimes, mix the medication
  • Performing calculations
  • Preparing medications used to treat cancer
  • Performing medication reconciliation
  • Assisting in the management of investigational drug studies, and 
  • Using technology to help maintain accurate patient records, prepare and package medications, and place orders.

Let's also consider the historical path of the pharmacy technician profession.

  • Pharmacy "assistants," which were the precursor to today's technicians, began appearing in pharmacist-owned-and-managed pharmacies as far back as the early 19th century. These individuals were generally unpaid and spent their time helping pharmacists with various duties. "Pharmacists simply did not see the reason in paying an additional salary to an individual just for assistance when they felt they could do the position themselves," noted a historical overview of the profession prepared by the CCI Career Training Center.
  • The "pharmacist technician" profession was officially recognized in 1975, when the American Society of Hospital Pharmacists (now known as the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists [ASHP]) initiated training programs "that sought to differentiate the duties of pharmacists and technicians."
  • The first pharmacy training program was established in 1979 by the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy.
  • Later, in 1995 ASHP helped create the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) which has become the nation's preeminent organization in certifying U.S. pharmacy technicians.
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were more than 420,000 pharmacy technicians working in the U.S. during 2018, with a "faster than average" employment outlook.
  • Today 45 states regulate pharmacy technicians, with 19 states requiring national certification. As of August 2019, PTCB lists more than 288,000 active PTCB-Certified pharmacy technicians in the United States.

It wouldn't seem right, to recognize National Pharmacy Technician Day, without mentioning some of the profession's more notable members. Legendary crime novelist Agatha Christie volunteered as a nurse in an English hospital during World War I, which required certification as an apothecary's assistant (Source: Science Friday, Kathryn Harkup). Former U.S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey dropped out of the University of Minnesota for a period to help out at his family's drug store. Humphrey later went on to obtain a degree in pharmacy, and actively worked  as a pharmacist before turning his sights to politics. (Source:  Pharmacy Times). And Walgreens drugstore founder Charles Walgreen got his start as a teenager, working as a pharmacist's assistant in a local drugstore in Waco, Texas, after an accident left him unable to participate in sports (Source:  Walgreens.com).

So, while individuals may take many paths to get there, we celebrate the individuals who have chosen the pharmacy technician profession. Today's technicians are helping to improve healthcare services, and enabling better patient outcomes, and we salute you all!



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