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The University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

UM to unveil pharmacy technician training program

The people in white coats behind the pharmacy counter can do a lot more than count pills, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore wants to make it easier for them to actually use those other skills.

The University of Maryland School of Pharmacy is introducing a new program, PharmTechX, for licensed pharmacy technicians who want to learn more advanced skills, such as helping compile patients’ medication histories and setting up robotic technology to fill prescriptions.

It’s becoming more critical for technicians to have those enhanced skills, several people said, because pharmacists — the ones with four-year doctorate degrees — want to spend more time providing clinical services to patients, such as immunizations and medication therapy management.

“So by training these techs, it will set the pharmacists up so they’re ready to be available for patients,” said Dr. Jill Morgan, a professor, a practicing pharmacist and the director of the PharmTechX program, which will launch July 1.

Pharmacists are increasingly taking on greater roles in the health care system, thanks in part to the Affordable Care Act, which is producing greater demand for clinical services, as well as concerted efforts by pharmacists’ associations to “push the profession forward,” Morgan said.

“Let’s say I’m [a pharmacist] doing medication therapy management,” she said. “I’ll ask a patient about all their medications, all the pharmacies they go to. That can take a lot of time. But if the technician is trained properly, they could gather all that information beforehand so when I walk into the room, I can analyze it and work through it with the patient, looking for drug interactions, making sure they understand their medication …”

School of Pharmacy officials hope about 20 students will enroll for the first cohort, although the program — which will be delivered primarily online — can accommodate as many as 50, Morgan said.

PharmTechX is not suitable for people who just received their pharmacy technician license; work experience is required. The program is comprised of three certificate programs costing $1,000 each, Morgan said. Students who enroll in July could complete the first certificate by December.

Pharmacy technicians complete a two-year training program to become licensed. For those who work in community pharmacies (both chains and independent stores), their duties include greeting patients who are picking up or dropping off prescriptions, entering that information into the computer and putting the medication into the bottle.

The on-duty pharmacist then has to verify that each prescription was filled properly and that the patient isn’t taking other drugs that could result in a harmful interaction. Technicians who work in hospital pharmacies are given similar levels of responsibility.

But training technicians to take on greater responsibilities will clear the way for pharmacists to practice to the “full extent of their license,” said Natalie Eddington, dean of the School of Pharmacy.

Eddington said PharmTechX is “one of the first” programs of its kind nationwide. Other programs offer “continuing education” sessions for pharmacy technicians, who are required to log 20 hours of CE every two years, but Eddington said PharmTechX is more rigorous.

The program was designed with input from MedStar Health, the University of Maryland Medical System and the Johns Hopkins Hospital, Morgan said.

“About a year and a half ago, we went to them to get a sense of whether they had a need for this,” Morgan said. “And we found out they all wanted more advanced training opportunities — they wanted techs who could do more than what they’re doing now.”