Scope of Practice: Pharmacy Intern Versus Pharmacy Technician

JULY 11, 2014
Joseph L. Fink III, BSPharm, JD
May an aspiring pharmacist who was hired as a pharmacy technician be terminated from employment for performing functions that would be permissible for a pharmacy intern, but not for a pharmacy technician?
May an aspiring pharmacist who was hired as a pharmacy technician be terminated from employment when he undertook to perform functions that would be permissible for a pharmacy intern to discharge, but are not within the authorization of a pharmacy technician?

An individual in a Northwestern state applied for and gained admission to an accredited college of pharmacy in March of the year in question. In June of that year, prior to commencing classwork in the professional degree program, he was hired by a health system under its “standard 90-day introductory period” policy. The personnel policies of the employer state that a person hired in that way is not subject to the firm’s policies governing termination. Under the relevant policies, his employment could be terminated without explanation, without investigation into complaints, or in other ways that might differ from the treatment accorded long-term employees.

Following receipt of notification that he had been admitted to the PharmD degree program, the individual filed an application with the state board of pharmacy to be a pharmacy technician and another to be a pharmacy intern. The employer and employee did not dispute that the individual was hired as a pharmacy technician, not as a pharmacy intern, because he had not yet commenced his professional education program. The employer did hold open the possibility that he could later transition into a position as a pharmacy intern.

The soon-to-be pharmacy student stressed that he was recognized by the board of pharmacy in both roles. Proceeding on his own without an attorney, what is known as “proceeding pro se,” he filed a lawsuit for termination of employment and differentiated those roles for the court this way: an intern is essentially a “pharmacist in training who is permitted by law to perform most of the tasks a pharmacist can while a technician, on the other hand, cannot perform many of those tasks…” such as counseling patients and transferring prescriptions. It was also noted that “Importantly, unlike an intern, technicians do not have assignment mentors who oversee their work directly.” The health system had a policy that “technicians are not permitted to perform intern functions under any circumstances, nor any other function that requires discretion.”

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