PTCB pushes for national tech certification standard

November 20, 2006

The position of pharmacy technician has grown and evolved dramatically over the past 11 years. And, as technicians grow in importance at many chain and independent pharmacies, so too has the technician certification exam.

Recently, the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) announced that it has arrived at a major milestone, reaching 250,000 Certified Pharmacy Technicians (CPhTs). "A good technician can make or break a day in practice, and we see a really bright future for the profession," said Melissa Murer Corrigan, R.Ph., PTCB's executive director and CEO.

Recognizing the increasing importance of technicians and the need to develop standards for the profession, PTCB was formed in 1995 by the American Pharmacists Association, ASHP, the Illinois Council of Health-System Pharmacists, and the Michigan Pharmacists Association. In 2002, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy also joined the founding organizations. Since that time, the certification exam has been adopted by 30 states, although there are CPhTs in all 50 states.

One of the primary reasons certification has grown so significantly has been the support of many chains. "All the major chains have embraced the PTCB certification process," explained Corrigan. "Employers want to manage their risk."

Albertsons strongly encourages technicians to take the exam-regardless of whether it is required by the state. According to Patrick Wickham, corporate technician trainer at Albertsons and a member of PTCB's stakeholder policy council, the company will pay for the exam and also provides training that is designed around the exam. "We encourage it, whether technicians go through our internal program or take it on their own," he explained. "It is important to have a national standard. For the profession it sets a bar across the board."

What's more, the exam has become more than just a marker of what technicians know; it is seen as a key step in the development of the pharmacy technician profession. The certification process, Wickham noted, "builds confidence for the technicians. They feel they're worth more and have invested more in their profession. It cements the fact that it is a profession, instead of a job. When I became certified, I felt confident that I could be more of an asset to the pharmacy. There's more to being a tech than counting pills."

"The professionalization of technicians is essential when you look at the pharmacy team," added Corrigan. "Certification is a key tool that helps the entire pharmacy team. In hospitals, for example, you have a great use of automation. The technicians can work with automated systems to help the entire team." She also noted that there is evidence that certification helps reduce technician turnover, further strengthening the pharmacy team.

Yet despite the national scope of the test, technician regulations vary considerably across the country. While 30 states make use of the exam in some respect, they do not have consistent policies. Some states require training, some require continuing education, and some require the PTCB exam. For multistate chains especially, this can be a significant headache.

Technician certification appears to be gaining additional momentum. Training programs have grown in the past six years in a number of professional and academic settings. "When we first started, there was some formalized training in the hospital setting, but in community settings, it was more of an apprenticeship," explained Corrigan. "Now training programs are growing across the country in all practice settings. Programs prep for the test, which requires a general background in pharmacy issues, but also train for specific settings."