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3/20/2001

Scholarship Program Eases Technician Shortage

Kate Traynor

A Florida cancer treatment center has devised an innovative plan to overcome problems finding and hiring adequately trained pharmacy technicians.

Employees at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer and Research Institute in Tampa can apply for a scholarship that pays for their pharmacy technician training at Henry W. Brewster Technical Center, nine miles away.

Brewster turns out good technicians, says Richard Witas, M.S., pharmacy operations manager at Moffitt. "We’ve hired a few of their grads over the past few years," he says. "They were all very good employees, and they were trained very well."

Moffitt’s pharmacy technicians need special skills, notes Witas: "We’ve always had our technicians making [intravenous] chemotherapy. They’ve been involved in that since the beginning, and do an excellent job." But hiring technicians who know how to prepare sterile products is more difficult than it used to be, says Witas, since many technicians have left the institutional environment to pursue opportunities in home health care.

Witas knew that current Moffitt employees often applied for technician positions in the pharmacy but did not have the requisite skills to work there. Since Moffitt lacked the resources to set up an in-house technician training program, Witas worked to create a scholarship program that would enable Moffitt employees to enroll at Brewster.

In addition to paying for tuition and related fees, the scholarship program, which started last year, pays recipients a stipend for working part-time in the Moffitt pharmacy. The stipend helps the employees avoid financial hardship during their training period, Witas says. This arrangement, which he likens to a work-study program, helps reinforce skills that the students learn in school.

Of the 14 employees who applied for the Moffitt-funded scholarships, two are now enrolled at Brewster. "They’re doing very, very well," Witas says. "They’re the two best people in the program."

Neither technician candidate had what Witas describes as a "real pharmacy background." But both employees had established a solid work record during the three to four years they worked at Moffitt. Witas says he hopes to retain these employees beyond the program's two-year work commitment and continue the scholarships as long as his institution will support them.