I’m from New Jersey. There are a plethora of hospitals in our state. Large ones, small ones, major medical complexes, and smaller specialty facilities. We have a multitude of retail pharmacies, also. There are many larger chain pharmacies—sometimes several different ones within blocks of one another. There are also smaller independent pharmacies sprinkled along the way.
We also have other pharmacy opportunities in our state. We have pharmaceutical industries, long term care facility pharmacies, supermarkets, and department store pharmacies in New Jersey.
Yet no matter which pharmacists or pharmacy employees that I speak with, they all have the same issue. They wonder why they can’t find good pharmacy technicians.
Now I know what one of their problems is. I’ve discussed it in a previous article. It’s money. These pharmacies want the best, highly trained, most educated, and thoroughly skilled technicians that are available. And they’re willing to pay them the bare minimum—or perhaps a dollar or two over minimum wage.
But regardless of money, there are still very few people in New Jersey who want to become pharmacy technicians.
Obtaining A License
The requirements for becoming a pharmacy technician vary from state to state. Some states require their pharmacy technicians to be certified, Other states do not. Some states require their pharmacy technicians to have some sort of formalized training. Other states do not. Some states require their pharmacy technicians to be licensed or registered with their particular state. Others do not.
The requirements for becoming a pharmacy technician in New Jersey are pretty simple. The candidate 1) fills out the online application, 2) pays the necessary fees, and 3) sends in the required documents. Once everything is properly completed and accepted, the candidate gets fingerprinted by an approved facility. An additional fee is required.
Having satisfactorily completed these requirements, the candidate’s pharmacy technician license or registration is granted. The license/registration is good for two years, after which it must be renewed.
In some cases, certain pharmacies, hospitals, and companies may have requirements that involve additional training and certification. Quite often, these may lead to better job opportunities.
However, these additional requirements are optional in New Jersey. A person can practice as a pharmacy technician in New Jersey without these additional requirements.
Dwindling Pharmacy Technician Admissions
I worked in a career school for eight years. I was a full time pharmacy tech instructor for four years. Then I migrated over and became a career services representative for four years. As a career services representative, I helped pharmacy technician students (as well as students from other disciplines) find jobs.
As I said, I was a pharmacy technician instructor for four years. Then the pharmacy technician admissions dwindled. However, I was very lucky. I was able to reinvent myself. While I was a pharmacy technician instructor, I digressed from the usual pharmacy courses and taught classes about cover letters, resumes, interview skills, and thank you notes. My students greatly appreciated these sessions. It also served as a good foundation for my career services representative position.
But I was really concerned that pharmacy technician admissions were down (in fact, admissions were down in other disciplines as well). Why pharmacy? Okay, the money wasn’t where it should have been. But the jobs were there in New Jersey. I mean most employers would have given their eye teeth for an educated, trained, and licensed pharmacy tech. Why weren’t students flocking to take advantage of the pharmacy technician course that my school offered? The course would have provided a fine foundation and helped students achieve a successful pharmacy technician career.
Perhaps it was the length of the pharmacy technician program that scared prospective students away.
The pharmacy technician course at my school was very unique. Students attended class for four hours a day for five days a week (Monday through Friday). Two hours each day was devoted to teaching, followed by a two-hour lab. The program ran for seven months, followed by a 200 hour externship in a pharmacy setting.
Although externship was unpaid, it allowed both the employer and the student to “test drive” one another. If the employer was satisfied with the student’s performance and the student was happy with the pharmacy’s operation, then the employer would hire the student to a paid position. This happened quite frequently.
So I’m still very uncertain as to why the pharmacy technician course didn’t flourish.
Lacking The Necessary Initiative
But it wasn’t only admissions that were poor, it was the initiative of the students that attended the school that was somewhat lacking. As I stated previously, the jobs were there. There were several pharmacies, stores, hospitals, and long-term care facilities that wanted to partner with our school. These places wanted every pharmacy technician student that graduated to come to their facility and complete their externship.
Why? Because that way the facility would have gotten first dibs on every pharmacy technician student that graduated.
After all, every pharmacy wanted outstanding pharmacy technicians. And what better way to evaluate the caliber of the pharmacy technician than to have these students complete their externship at their pharmacy.
The pharmacy technician graduate would work for 200 hours in their pharmacy. During that time, the graduate would be evaluated for their basic pharmacy education. The pharmacy would also determine if the graduate were a dependable, conscientious, and hard-working team player. Assuming the graduate possessed both the pharmacy knowledge and the soft skills, then the graduate was usually hired. If not, the graduate completed their externship and moved on.
Not Tolerating Lateness
I’ve said it many times, “Work is not school and school is not work.” But I’ve always believed that the dedication that a person showed to their classes and studies, translated into what they brought to the job.
I knew one pharmacy technician student who was always late. I was a career service representative and my cubicle overlooked the parking lot. Every day at 10:15 am, I watched him drive up for class. I knew that he was late because class started at 10am. So one day I decided to meet him in the lobby
“You’re late,” I said as he walked by me.
He turned and spoke, “ My instructor doesn’t care. So why should you?”
He was right. The pharmacy instructor didn’t care. She had several students who were late for class. And it was apparent that she didn’t do anything about their lateness.
“It’s disrespectful and sets a bad example for YOU,” I stated. “If you think it’s okay to be late for class, then you might think it’s okay to be late for work.”
The student shrugged, said nothing, and continued on to class.
A couple months later, the student got a job as a pharmacy technician at a long term care facility. On his second day of work he was 15 minutes late. His boss called him into the office.
“Why are you late?”asked his boss.
“There was traffic,” replied the student.
“And that’s the last time you can ever use a lateness excuse,” replied the boss, “I expect you to be here on time from now on.”
I was told that the student was never late again.
The best response to lateness that I encountered came from one of the other instructors. This instructor knew her class started at 10am. So at 10:05am, she promptly locked her classroom door.`
If a student arrived after 10:05am they would find the door to the classroom locked. Then the instructor would meet the student at the door.
“You’re late,” said the instructor.
The student was usually remorseful. In addition, they did not have a good excuse for their lateness.
“I know,” replied the student, “I’m sorry.”
“Okay, I’ll let you in this time,” answered the instructor, “but the next time you’re late, I’m giving you an assignment from the textbook. And you’ll have to sit in the library and complete it before I let you back in class.”
A student was rarely late a second time for the class
Being Selfish To Oneself
There was a lot to learn when it came to becoming a pharmacy tech. A pharmacy technician needed to learn pharmacy math, pharmacy laws, and all about the types of prescriptions. They needed to have a knowledge of body systems and what the drugs did in the body. They needed some hands-on experience and education about mixing and preparing medications. And they needed to have good soft skills, telephone etiquette, and be able to work under pressure.
In other words, there was a lot to learn. With an average course, tests were usually given every three or four class periods. There was a lot of material that the student needed to know in order to pass the test. Thus the student had to study. It was very difficult to pass the average test without studying.
I used to tell my students that they needed to study. There was just too much material and things they had to know. So they had to study every day. And in order to do this— I told my students that they had to be selfish.
Most of my students were always there for others. These others may have been work colleagues, friends, or family members. And my students always gave 100-150% for these others.
I had students that were there for their spouses. Or they picked up and dropped off their kids somewhere. They may have brought their parents to a doctor, or taken them shopping, or delivered something to them on a regular basis.
I had students who were extremely dedicated to their job. They were often there when the boss needed them and they always tried to help their fellow workers.
So I told my students that sometimes they had to be a little selfish. They had to find at least one hour each and every day to study.
They had to tell everyone that this was their time. That they were good individuals and would always try to be there for everyone
But they needed to study. My students had to tell everyone that they were entitled to this one hour each day. It was something that my students needed to do which was beneficial to them.
Most of my students did not heed my advice. Perhaps they were lucky enough to pass a couple tests or a course or two. But it was extremely difficult to absorb the vast amount of materials needed to pass a major exam or certification test.
And thus only a small number of students were successful when it came to achieving a successful pharmacy technician career.
Struggling With Math
When I taught students to become pharmacy technicians, my course was divided into two parts: pharmacy theory and pharmacy math. Most students had a greater difficulty with pharmacy math. And it wasn’t the specialized math, but instead the basic math. It was things like multiplying and dividing, estimating the correct answer, and computing fractions.
The problem that my students encountered with math was as follows:
- Math had a lot of concepts. At times, math was very rigid. It had to be performed in a certain way. The numerator was always on top of the denominator. The distributive policy always multiplied the outside number times the inside values. You could never divide by zero.
- Math was filled with formulas. There was a formula to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit. The area of a circle was Pi times the radius squared. The Pythagorean Theorem stated that in a right triangle, that the sum of the two shorter sides squared equaled the longer side (hypotenuse) squared. If a person did not know the formulas, they would not have been able to correctly solve the problem.
- Math had many rules. There were twelve inches in a foot. There were three teaspoons in a tablespoon. And 120 milliliters equaled four ounces. One could never deviate from these rules.
- Finally, math was very unforgiving. A problem was either right or wrong. There was no partial credit. No close answers. And no missing the answer by a decimal or two. A wrong answer could cause harm and even death.
Perhaps my students did not learn math properly when they were in grade school. Or perhaps, they were too dependent on calculators for the answers. Regardless, most students that I taught really struggled with math.
In closing, I don’t know if it were the problem with the schools or the problem with the students that caused the lack of pharmacy technicians in New Jersey. Surely they were both to blame.
However, it’s the pharmacy facilities that were the big losers. For they have not gotten the high caliber of pharmacy technicians which they desired for their facility.
Daniel Shifrin, R.P., M.S. is a recently retired pharmacist who enjoys sharing his insights about hospital pharmacy. He is proud to own one of the largest collections of Pharmacy Stamp First Day Covers.