Pharmacy Tech Talk: Expert Discusses the DEA, Controlled Substances as Pharmacy Technician

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Barbara Kirkaldy, BS, CPhT, pharmacy regulatory specialist at Novant Health, discusses her role in the pharmacy and alternative career paths for pharmacy technicians.

In an interview with Pharmacy Times, Barbara Kirkaldy, BS, CPhT, pharmacy regulatory specialist at Novant Health, discussed her role in the pharmacy and alternative career paths for pharmacy technicians.

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Q: Can you start by explaining your position and role in the pharmacy?

My job title is pharmacy regulatory specialist. My specialty is the [Drug Enforcement Administration] (DEA), the Board of Pharmacy, anything to do with controlled substances, and I started in this position probably about 10 years ago; it started out as a brand-new position. There were no regulatory specialists, or any quality assurance coordinators at the corporate level. Each of our facilities, they had their own people that were auditing and monitoring their facilities at their level, and then the vice president of pharmacy at that time, really supported creating a corporate level.

Q: What kind of qualifications and trainings were involved for your role?

When I started in this position, it had a different title, I was called the current quality assurance coordinator. The requirements at that time, since it was a brand-new position, the job description hadn't really even been written on what the duties required were going to be. So at that time, the qualification was you had to have an associate degree in pharmacy technology, you had to have a working knowledge of controlled substances, laws, regulations, board of pharmacy, you had to have some experience with utilizing any of the Microsoft programs like Excel, especially Excel, Word, PowerPoint, some experience in leadership. It wasn't the highest on the priority, as this position doesn't really lead anybody, but they wanted to make sure that you had some experience and leadership in that you could talk on a somewhat equal basis with anybody that was in leadership and above.

The position kind of evolved, I went from being a quality assurance coordinator, where I was overseeing anything that had to do with the Joint Commission, with URAC, with the Board of Pharmacy, anything to do with the DEA, the Department of Health and Human Services, to the position I'm in now, where this position, they require you to have your associate degree in pharmacy technology, you have to have your controlled substance certification through [the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board] (PTCB). They prefer that you would have a bachelor's degree, and then they want 3 to 5 years’ experience as a pharmacy technician. The requirements are a little different, but mostly the same.

Q: Why are alternative and specialty career paths for pharmacy technicians important for them and pharmacists?

From my experience, I think that it's important to the technicians because the technicians need something that they can have ownership of that that something that shows them that this isn't the end, and it's not just a paycheck. This is a career, that this is that there are directions that they can go that in the past technicians were never able to go. I've seen technicians that have gone from being a technician to doing the Tech-Check-Tech where they have more responsibility there.

I just read an article not too long ago about a technician that manages a retail pharmacy. She's not a pharmacist, she didn't have a BA, but she has worked her way up and the knowledge and the responsibility to actually manage a pharmacy. I think technicians need to know that that this is a career, and it can be their career.

Q: How has the changing landscape of pharmacy impacted the various roles of pharmacy technicians?

I have been a technician since 1982, so I can tell you that there has been a tremendous change in the landscape from when I started. I think that technicians when I started, and maybe you don't want to hear this, all we did was count tablets and capsules, and we typed up the labels for prescriptions and answered phones. That's pretty much it, back when I started.

Today, technicians they check each other's work, they talk with the patients and get the patient's [medication reconciliation] histories. They're required to, well varies state to state, but technicians mostly are required to have some type of certification, whether it's through PTCB, or another accreditation board.

Q: What advice would you offer to pharmacy technicians who want to look into alternative career paths?

If I had to talk to a technician today and give them any kind of advice, I guess it would be get your education, but not just a formal education, but when you're working as a technician, ask questions, volunteer to help, take on new projects that you might not have thought to take on in the past. That's how I got where I was. I got my work done and asked my pharmacy leader “What can I do to help you?” and she gave me more and more responsibilities, which helped me to learn and to acquire the abilities I needed to take on higher responsibilities, advanced roles.

I guess I would also encourage them to look at other paths. When I started there, there was no pharmacy regulatory specialist technician, there was no medication reconciliation technician, things like that. Somebody had to bring that up, somebody had to push for it and encourage it for technicians. My recommendation is look around you. What can you do to improve the hospital system or the health system that you're working at? Is there something that you see that your system, your hospital system, or your pharmacy is not doing that maybe you could be doing that would help take some of the load off of the pharmacist and allow them to be more available clinically. If you see something, push it, make sure you have why you feel that it would work, and then give them ways to make it work, give them alternatives to take a look at get your name out there, let them know that, “Hey, I'm looking at this. I think this would work. Let's try it, why don't why don't we pilot it at one of our facilities.” The more you get yourself out there, the more responsibility you take on, the more you learn, the more valuable you become, and the easier it will be for your leadership to help you move up to the advanced positions.

Keep in mind that the advanced positions that are out there today weren't always out there, somebody brought it up, somebody created them, and so there are positions out there that haven't been created yet that you could help facilitate and encourage your hospital system to create. Your hospital system creates it, somebody else is going to see it. I tell you pharmacy world is very, very small. I've gone as a diversion specialist and as my prior title, the quality assurance, I've had to go to some of these conferences throughout the United States for diversion prevention, and I always find it interesting when I meet people that I knew in the past. So networking is great, if you could find out a way to network, become involved in the technician certification advisory committees, become involved in national associations, get to know people and learn how to network. I guess that would be my recommendation. Don't think that there's nowhere to go. There are all kinds of different directions that you can go. You can work at a hospital pharmacy, you can work for an insurance company, you can work at a retail pharmacy. I've seen technicians work at long term care facilities. There's just a whole lot more directions to go now than when I started.

Q: Anything else you would like to add?

I think that the pharmacy, the career, whether you want to be a pharmacist or be a pharmacy technician, I think that the career is ever evolving. There is not going to be a point where this is your job, and this is all you do, and nothing ever changes. A whole lot can change. A lot has changed it in just like the last 5 years, so in a more broad way, I think that don't be afraid to look for opportunities. Don't be afraid to take them.

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