Mary Ann Stuhan
Pharmacy Programme Manager
Health Careers and Sciences
Cuyahoga Community College
Pharmacy technician education and training has expanded in both depth and scope as technicians assume additional responsibilities. Classroom instruction and laboratory experience expose students to the concepts and reasoning that support pharmacy practice. True proficiency in the workplace, however, can be gained only by application of the principles mastered in the classroom to real-world situations and tasks. A college-level curriculum for pharmacy technicians must, therefore, include a clinical experience component, and such a component, by its nature, requires the cooperation of the college faculty, students and professionals at the practice sites.
Students matriculating in the Pharmacy Technology programmes at Cuyahoga Community College are generally seeking practical education that will result in career skills and gainful employment. The college educators strive to impart such an education within the guidelines established by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), which provides programme accreditation and a Model Curriculum for Pharmacy Technician Training.(1) These outcomes, however, can only be achieved with the cooperation of directors and personnel at experiential sites, which must also benefit from the collaboration if they are to fit the demands of providing clinical experiences for college students into an already heavy workload.
For the experiential component of technician education, Cuyahoga Community College has assembled an extensive network of practicum sites spanning a variety of pharmacy practice settings, including hospital (inpatient and ambulatory), community (outpatient), managed care and IV admixture facilities. The College has executed a Clinical Experience Agreement with each site or its organisation, detailing the duties and responsibilities of college, students and site personnel during the students’ experiential terms. (In many instances, multiple medical education programmes, such as nursing, medical assisting, radiography and others, offered by the college are included under the same agreement.) In all cases, the college provides a clinical experience manual, customised for the practice area and detailing the activities in which students should become experienced. Students are required to purchase liability coverage under the college’s blanket insurance policy. The college preceptor, in consultation with the Program Advisory Committee, certifies that each site is under the direction of a licensed pharmacist and conforms to professional practice standards and applicable federal, state and legal regulations and licensing requirements. All institutional sites maintain accreditation by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.
Enlisting the support of experienced professionals in the educational process yields obvious benefits to the college (ie, an expanded instructional pool), but, in order to maintain the school/site relationship, the practicum rotations must also yield value to the practicum facility.(2) While some programmes have found that financial reimbursement is sufficient and others have relied on providing access to College facilities or continuing education programmes, our experience has been that the main benefit that accrues to clinical experience sites is the opportunity to train and observe qualified prospects in the specific activities of their institution before making a commitment of salary or employment. Similarly, students who are spending a great deal of time working without pay should be able to document acquisition of specific skills at the completion of their practicum experience. While 220 to 660 hours of workplace experience in two to three different settings (to include at least one hospital and one community practice site) are required for graduation, it is important for our graduates to be able to provide details to prospective employers of the practical skills they have learned during that mandated time.
Within the past year, we have expanded our experiential education programme, with creation of a clinical experience collaboration with one of the largest hospital facilities in our area. It is expected that this will further our mutual goals of achieving maximal outcomes for the Community College, Hospital Pharmacy recruiting efforts and students who are seeking employment opportunities. The community college manager and the hospital training specialist compared, combined and extended their didactic, laboratory and on-the-job training objectives to create a comprehensive practicum and educational experience. The programme was based on a series of documents created to provide each professional with the necessary guidelines and information to accomplish their individual objectives. Placement at the large hospital site gives students abundant opportunities to practise and prove competency in many technician-related tasks. Comprehensive observation and evaluation strategies were developed that met college standards, yet at the same time provided hospital pharmacy administrators with documentation regarding the “recruitability” of students gaining experience at the site.
Educators who specialise in fieldwork have concluded that much of the value in these experiences is participation in activities that lead to success.(3) The students who participate in our model venture are guided in developing a portfolio that documents clinical experience achievements. Portfolio credentials detail skills and standard procedures followed during the students’ experiential training, communicating the level of proficiency that the students reach in each functional area. These portfolios are used upon graduation when the students apply for positions, either at the sites where they gained their experience or at comparable facilities.
Directed collaboration between community college educators and professional worksite trainers for the instruction of pharmacy technician students has resulted in benefits to all three groups involved. Those on the teaching side are able to draw on the expertise of their hospital-based colleagues in completing the education of their students. The hospital can now screen and “pretrain” qualified candidates (of known educational background) for employment. (To date, they have recruited two of the three students assigned to that site.)
Students complete their goals and are able to document both their formal education (with College credits and degrees) and their experiential training with a portfolio adapted to the modern employment search.
- American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. Model curriculum for pharmacy technician education. 2nd ed. Bethesda: ASHP; 2001.
- Myhra JR. Roles, responsibilities, expectations, and goals of preceptors and students. Preceptor’s handbook for pharmacists. Bethesda: ASHP; 2005;111-22.
- Keck CJ. Raising the bar on the practicum – some surprising benefits of fieldwork. NISOD Innovation Abstracts 2005;27:1-2.
American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, Technician Resources
Cuyahoga Community College Pharmacy Technology Program
Pharmacy Technician Educators Council
Exceeding Expectations for Education Excellence. Annual meeting of the Pharmacy Technician Educators Council. 13–16 July 2006, Sheraton Station Square, Pittsburgh, PA, USA.
Director Medical Training
Bidwell Training Center, Inc
1650 Metropolitan St Suite 200
Pittsburgh, PA 15233