Viewpoint: Don't deny techs CEs for pharmacists

April 17, 2006

Technician-only CEs bore us, and the topics are rudimentary andrepetitive.

As a pharmacy technician with a degree in chemistry and an instructor of technicians, I feel that CE programs for pharmacists should not be closed to technicians. At the same time, techs should not be required to take CEs that are designed for pharmacists. Rather, there should be a range of CE activities available to meet the diverse needs of technicians with a variety of educational backgrounds.

If a technician can handle the advanced information purveyed in a CE program for pharmacists and pass the test, what is the problem with the tech becoming more educated? I personally know at least 50 techs around the country who also take pharmacist CEs. We all learn from them. Technician-only CEs bore us, and the topics are rudimentary and repetitive. This is not learning or continuing education but rather stagnation!

I have attended many live CE programs for pharmacists. I have learned a lot about low molecular weight heparins, ACE inhibitors, COX-2 inhibitors, and HIV drugs from these programs. I can honestly say that if I had not attended such classes, I would not have had the information, knowledge, and education that I need to be the best pharmacy tech instructor that I can be. Attending these classes has even enabled me to earn the National Educator of the Year award from the National Pharmacy Technician Association in 2002. I believe I can impart very technical information in an easier-to-follow manner to my tech students than most pharmacists can because I am a tech myself and I have benefited from CE programs for pharmacists.

If a tech thinks a CE program is too difficult, I believe the tech will not take the CE. I have done this. I know that only a few techs have attended the live pharmacist CEs that I have, since most felt that they were too advanced for them. Most techs will not waste their time studying a CE that is not understandable to them.

While technicians are not going to prescribe or counsel patients, they should be included as members of the healthcare team. A well-educated technician could spot possible drug interactions, duplication of therapy, or other problems and pass this information along to the pharmacist. Pharmacists should embrace technicians who can point out such trouble spots to them to avoid drug errors. After all, the technician is often the first and last pharmacy staffer patients see. Some patients may be more comfortable talking about their symptoms with technicians, whom they may see as nonthreatening. The mentality that just because techs are not going to do the counseling, they should not be privy to additional information is ridiculous.

Studies have found that technician duties today have changed from "clerical and custodial" to "increasingly cognitive." Some technicians are performing clinical duties such as order entry, drug preparation, patient education, and even discharge planning. These practices require technicians to be more highly trained.

A better trained technician can not only better protect the public but also the pharmacist. The bottom line is this: Education is the key to success. If we measure success by patient safety, then continuing education should be mandatory and it should reflect the duties and cognitive functions of technicians.

THE AUTHOR is Pharmacy Technician Program Director at the American Institute of Health Sciences, Long Beach, Calif.