White Paper on Pharmacy Technicians 2002: Needed Changes Can No Longer Wait

Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2003;60(1) 

In This Article

Introduction

The counting and pouring now often alleged to be the pharmacist's chief occupation will in time be done by technicians and eventually by automation. The pharmacist of tomorrow will function by reason of what he knows, increasing the efficiency and safety of drug therapy and working as a specialist in his own right. It is in this direction that pharmaceutical education must evolve without delay.

-- Linwood F. Tice, D.Sc.
Dean, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science (1966) [1]

Health care and the profession of pharmacy have changed enormously since Dr. Tice articulated this vision more than 35 years ago. The role of the pharmacy technician has likewise undergone substantial change. Technicians have increased in number. They may access a wide array of training opportunities, some of which are formal academic programs that have earned national accreditation. Technicians may now seek voluntary national certification as a means to demonstrate their knowledge and skills. State boards of pharmacy are increasingly recognizing technicians in their pharmacy practice acts.

Nonetheless, Dr. Tice's vision remains unrealized. Although pharmacy technicians are employed in all pharmacy practice settings, their qualifications, knowledge, and responsibilities are markedly diverse. Their scope of practice has not been sufficiently examined. Basic competencies have not been articulated. Standards for technician training programs are not widely adopted. Board regulations governing technicians vary substantially from state to state.

Is there a way to bring greater uniformity in technician competencies, education, training, and regulation while ensuring that the technician work force remains sufficiently diverse to meet the needs and expectations of a broad range of practice settings? This is the question that continues to face the profession of pharmacy today as it seeks to fulfill its mission to help people make the best use of medications.

The purpose of this paper is to set forth the issues that must be resolved to promote the development of a strong and competent pharmacy technician work force. Helping pharmacists to fulfill their potential as providers of pharmaceutical care would be one of many positive outcomes of such a development. The paper begins with a description of the evolution of the role of pharmacy technicians and of their status in the work force today. The next section sets forth a rationale for building a strong pharmacy technician work force. The paper then turns to three issues that are key to realizing the pharmacy technician's potential: (1) education and training, (2) accreditation of training institutions and programs, and (3) certification. Issues relating to state regulation of pharmacy technicians are then discussed. The paper concludes with a call to action and a summary of major issues to be resolved.

Many of the issues discussed in this report were originally detailed in a white paper developed by the American Pharmaceutical Association (APhA) and the American Socity of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), which was published in 1996.[2] For this reason, this paper focuses primarily on events that have occurred since that time. Other sources used in the preparation of this paper include Institute of Medicine (IOM) reports,[3,4] a report to the U.S. Congress on the pharmacy work force,[5] and input from professional associations representing pharmacists and technicians as well as from educators, regulators, and consumers.

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