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Teaching Pays Off for Pharmacy Technicians

Kate Traynor

Pharmacy technician students at the Collins Career Center in Chesapeake, Ohio, receive hands-on training from an unusual source—certified pharmacy technicians who are also paid preceptors.

Before 1999, on-site training for pharmacy technicians enrolled at the vocational school was provided by unpaid volunteers working at community or health-system pharmacies. Collins still relies on volunteers to provide most of the experiential training for pharmacy technician students, but last year Anthony J. Womack, director of the pharmacy technician training program at Collins and of Home Care Pharmacy in Ashland, Ky., decided to try something different.

"I didn’t feel students got the full amount of attention from the preceptor" at all of the volunteer experiential sites, said Womack. So he obtained administrative approval for two of his part-time instructors—both certified pharmacy technicians—to bring students to their daytime work sites and get paid for doing it.

"We tried this just as an experiment," said Womack. So far, "the reactions are very good, very positive," he added.

The technicians receive the same hourly wage in their preceptor roles as they do when teaching at the vocational school. "It’s pretty good wages," said Womack.

One preceptor works at a nursing home pharmacy, and the other at a hospital pharmacy. Under the guidance of the preceptors, technician students learn about the intricacies of pharmaceutical compounding, intravenous admixture preparation, and unit dose dispensing.

How do students react to their hands-on training? "They love it," said Womack. "They get a lot of one-on-one attention they wouldn’t normally get" in a traditional program.

He said an important difference between the paid preceptor program and the volunteer system is that volunteer instructors may not be well-versed in Collins’ teaching goals.

The paid preceptors typically bring one or two students into the pharmacy during a rotation. Because Collins has only two paid preceptor positions, not all students can participate in the program. About a quarter of Collins’ students were taught by the paid preceptors last year.

The initial experiment of paying technicians to serve as preceptors has worked so well that Womack said he would like to expand the use of paid preceptors.

Womack advised schools interested in setting up paid preceptorships to follow Collins’ example by starting slowly. Such a program is obviously more expensive than one that relies on volunteers, and funding must be obtained with the blessing of school administrators.

The results, said Womack, are well worth the effort.