Significant changes in the delivery of health care services within the United States have given pharmacists and pharmacy technicians opportunities to advance in their roles and responsibilities.
Significant changes in the delivery of health care services within the United States have given pharmacists and pharmacy technicians opportunities to advance in their roles and responsibilities. To meet their expanding professional obligations and allow themselves time to engage in direct patient care, pharmacists are delegating an increasing number of their responsibilities classified as “technical tasks” to pharmacy technicians.
This shift of roles raises several significant questions: how can the profession evaluate pharmacy technicians’ preparedness to engage in activities that have a direct impact on patient safety and well-being? Is the highly variable on-the-job training approach appropriate to provide sufficient knowledge depth and uniformity? What is the value and practicality of adopting a profession-wide, uniform standard for pharmacy technician education and training as a prerequisite?
The linear pathway for potential pharmacists to practice professionally includes graduation from an Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE)-accredited college or school of pharmacy followed by passing the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination and the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination. In contrast, no uniform, nationally-adopted linear pathway to working in a pharmacy currently exists for pharmacy technicians.
In 2009, the Council on Credentialing in Pharmacy (CCP) recommended that the profession establish national standards of quality for the education, training, certification, and regulation of pharmacy technicians in all practice settings to protect public health and safety and assist pharmacists in providing optimal medication therapy outcomes for patients.1 The CCP is a coalition of national pharmacy organizations committed to providing leadership, guidance, public information, and coordination for credentialing programs in, or relevant to, pharmacy.2
Of the 8 elements comprising the CCP’s Pharmacy Technician Credentialing Framework, 5 recommendations focused on pharmacy technician education:
Invitational conferences focused on pharmacy technician education and training, held as early as 19883 and most recently in February 2017,4 have emphasized the importance of a profession-wide endorsement of uniform standards and accreditation process for pharmacy technician education and training. Despite repeated opportunities for action, the pharmacy profession has still not wholly embraced a standardized framework for pharmacy technician education and training. However, opportunities for pharmacy professional organizations to champion the pathway to successful national implementation are palpable.
Of note, during the 1988 conference, participants suggested that the Joint Commission of Pharmacy Practitioners (JCPP) would be the appropriate group to lead the nationwide initiative.5 The JCPP serves as a forum on matters of common interest and concern to national organizations of pharmacy practitioners, facilitating effective representation of pharmacists on professional, educational, legislative, and regulatory issues through analysis, interpretation, communication and exchange of views on relevant issues.6 During the 2017 conference, the JCPP was again suggested as a possible champion for action and leadership. Regardless of who leads, action is needed across the profession. The clock is still ticking and is now approaching 30 years of definitive indecision.
In 2013, the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) announced that starting in 2020, all pharmacy technician candidates seeking initial PTCB certification would need to complete an American Society of Health-System Pharmacists/ACPE—accredited pharmacy technician education program. This profession-influenced program change was established to further support the pharmacy community by responding to the evolution of pharmacy technician roles and responsibilities. In January 2017, the PTCB suspended the implementation of the 2020 accredited education requirement to allow for additional engagement and deliberation within the pharmacy community.7 Consensus recommendations from pharmacy community discussions on education requirements for pharmacy technician certification will help guide future PTCB program policy and changes.
To forge this education requirement transformation, the pharmacy profession needs to be less consumed with practice sector dissimilarities and focus more on why we chose this profession: to have a positive impact on the lives of our patients every day. Our patients depend on us and trust us to keep them safe. By ensuring that all members of our pharmacy teams have the necessary educational background prior to engaging in patient care roles, we can indeed demonstrate why their trust is well deserved.
Miriam A. Mobley Smith, PharmD, FASHP, is the director of strategic alliances for the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board.