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What is it like to be a pharmacy technician in America?

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Kathy Finsterle
Kathy Finsterle


YESTERDAY I had the pleasure of sitting down with Sarah who recently graduated from a Pharmacy Technician program in her home state of Florida, and now works at a retail pharmacy in Austin, Texas.

Students are often weary after they first graduate from a program – about their job prospects, what they can expect, and what their future career is going to look like. I interviewed Sarah to get some insight into the exciting world of Pharmacy Tech life after graduation.

BIO: Sarah, Austin, TX. Retail chain. One year.

Why did you decide to become a pharmacy technician?
I’ve always been interested in medicine – It’s saved my life a number of times. I originally wanted to be a pharmacist, but I’ve never been the managerial type, nor do I think I can live with myself if I made a critical mistake. Being a technician allows me to work with my passion in a role with slightly less pressure that still allows me to help people.

What is your educational background?
I did a few semesters at a state university, but still wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do with my life. I started working for a hospital in an unrelated job and got to meet some of the pharmacy technicians there, and they inspired me to take pharmacy technician classes at a vocational school.

What advice do you have for pharmacy technicians as they are starting out?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions!  When you make a mistake accept it, correct it, learn from it, and move on. If you wind up dealing directly with patients (retail, for example), try not to take what they say personally. They’re upset with the situation, not you.

What is the greatest reward working as a pharmacy technician?
Most of the time, it’s a simple business transaction, but every once in a while I get an opportunity to really make a difference in someone’s life. It might be as simple as showing empathy in a time of need, or as complex as helping someone figure out how to afford their expensive medication, but it makes my work feel meaningful. It really brings to mind the saying, “Service is its own reward.”

What has been your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge has been accepting that sometimes there really is no good answer. A mother spilled an expensive antibiotic, and the insurance wouldn’t offer an override for it. The doctor didn’t responded to faxes and phone calls requesting a refill for a maintenance medication that the patient really shouldn’t go without. A patient’s insurance raised their co-pay on a medication that they’ve been on for years, and now they can’t afford it. It’s tough when you know that you’re doing everything that you can for your patient, but you’re still not getting a positive outcome.

What is the day-to-day life like for a pharmacy technician?
As soon as I come into work, I focus on catching up on the prescriptions that were sent in while we were closed. After that, it’s a balance between taking care of patients at the counter and the drive thru, and filling out prescriptions. Once the daily order comes in, I focus on restocking the shelves and filling prescriptions that we didn’t have in stock the day before.

What are your job responsibilities?
At its core, it’s all about the patient. We type up and fill prescriptions, but most of the job is about customer service. In the drive thru, on the phone, or at the counter, we act as a guide in the complicated and sometimes overwhelming world of prescriptions.

What have you learned on the job that they did not teach you in school?
My textbook made prior authorizations sound reasonable. It’s an expensive medication, so they want the patient to try cheaper options first. That makes sense. I did not expect them to be as common as they are, to take as long as they do, or that some doctors simply wouldn’t bother with it. Every time they come up for acute treatments, like nausea medication or antibiotics, it makes my blood boil. I’ve seen one come up for ibuprofen!

What resources do you think would be helpful for pharmacy technician students?
RxList is my go-to website any time I have to look up something about a drug, but Epocrates is a really helpful app, too. But the best resources are the people around you. Especially if you’re on an internship, remember that you’re there to learn, and let that drive you.

How did you get your job?
I’m a pretty unusual case, because I got my jobs in both Florida and Texas without a proper interview. I did my internship with the chain I wound up working for, which really gave me a chance to show my work ethic. When I was completing the course, I spoke to the pharmacy manager at that store and she made me aware that one of her techs was about to leave. The only problem was it was part time.

I jumped on the chance anyway, and used it as a stepping stone to introduce myself to other stores in the area within the chain. I wound up floating more than I worked at my home store, and it really helped me grow as a tech. When the time came to transfer, I got my job by calling around to stores in Austin until I found one with an opening.

What did you do to stand-out from other people that were applying?
I like to think I had moxie!  But if I’m being fully honest, I think it was all thanks to my internship. I jumped in with both feet, and really tried to excel at it. On my first day, I was dealing directly with patients even though I was still asking a lot of questions.

Kathy Finsterle is based at the Heathrow campus at Remington College, Florida

Follow Kathy @Katfin407

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