The pharmacy technician who chose another path

Emma Fielding


What is the secret to getting a first-class honours pharmacy degree?


Dedication and commitment! Prioritising, planning and having fun ALL at the same time! Good luck with that because it is a hard slog.


Could you tell us a bit about your pre-registration year to date?


I am completing the GP/hospital split placement. I have spent the first 5 months at a large teaching hospital with 15 other pre-reg students. We are completing a very well organised rotational timetable which has included blocks throughout the hospital sites such as paediatrics, psychiatry, oncology, aseptics, MI and clinical ward time. For the next 16 weeks, I will be based in two GP practices working closely with the pharmacist, shadowing their clinics before (hopefully) leading my own appointments. I will then return to the hospital for the final few months running my own ward, under supervision, which will conclude the 52 weeks.


What is the toughest lesson you have learned in your pre-registration year so far?


Two lessons in particular:


  • The hospital is training us to become band 6 pharmacists – not to pass a GPhC assessment. Therefore additional reading coupled with practising calculations at home is essential.
  • The switch from pharmacy technician to a pharmacist is more than just a title and I am making concerted efforts to think clinically and not technically, which is trickier than it sounds.


Why did you chuck being a pharmacy technician to study pharmacy?


I had worked as a PT in various roles, which back then, the roles were not as expansive as they are now. I, therefore, felt I had reached the limit to the role but I was still thirsty to learn more.


You are clearly capable of studying medicine so why did you choose pharmacy?


I never intended to work in pharmacy and definitely had zero intentions of studying at university. Both ideas would have seemed ludicrous to me, however, when I was trying to leave a job I truly hated I applied to anywhere, my first interview was successful which was a student pharmacy technician. I was fortunate to fall into a career that I loved and the rest, as they say, is history.


How long had you been qualified as a pharmacy technician before you decided to study pharmacy?


I had worked in pharmacy for about 5 years before starting the degree. During that time I had worked in private healthcare, hospital and community.


What did your educational route entail to become a pharmacy technician?


I became aware of a foundation year which was offered to prospective students who had not quite made the entry criteria for the MPharm, however, with my A-Level results I was unable to apply under those grounds. I could, however, apply under the widening participation scheme, using my GCSE results and NVQ3. I was cautious about applying and I, therefore, self-funded a distance learning A Level in Sociology to help gain confidence in studying again. When I completed the A-Level I then applied for the MPharm with foundation year. The first year was tricky because, at the time, all modules and tests had to be passed at 75%. Fortunately, I passed with flying colours and carried on to the MPharm.


In your view what is the difference between a pharmacist and a pharmacy technician?


Aside from stating the obvious, which would be the differences in training and qualifications. I feel the main differences are the thought processes whilst completing the same tasks. Both roles would consider the safety of the patient as the pinnacle consideration, however as a technician, I would be thinking about the item prescribed, is it stocked, where can I supply it from, if not from my main supplier then who…etc. As a pharmacist I consider the dose, is it correct, is the item licensed, do I need to check blood test results or kidney function etc. All members of the pharmacy, are integral in running a service.


You have worked as a pharmacy technician in prison. What was that role like?


During the degree I locumed in various prisons, working part-time during the week and full time during the holidays. I worked in a variety of prisons and the role differed per site. In some prisons I was dispensary based, dispensing items for offenders to either collect daily, weekly or monthly, depending upon their risk status. For the majority of my prison role I was a ward-based technician, I would oversee the medication administration for offenders who were asked to attend the pharmacy department to have their drugs administered ‘in-sight’. I found the work highly enjoyable and I have a passion for wanting to improve the availability of mental health pharmaceutical support.


What did you learn when working in a private hospital?


That private healthcare faces the same difficulties as the NHS, you cannot differentiate between the provision of healthcare from cost alone, the advantages are often due to reduced waiting times.


How do you see the role of the pharmacy technician, in general, developing in the coming years?


I feel the role will expand further and PTs will be upskilled further still, particularly within hospital sites.


Do you feel pharmacy technicians should be allowed to extend their role to become independent prescribers?


I do not feel there is a requirement for PTs to prescribe, if you are asking me about whether IP should be included within the MPharm undergraduate degree then that is a whole different ball game.


When you become a pharmacist do you think it will be important to work towards becoming an independent prescriber?


I do not think it will be long before the IP is either included in the undergraduate degree or it becomes an essential skill for all qualified pharmacists. With the NHS PCN/5 year plan, there is a requirement for pharmacists to prescribe.


You have had a number of pharmacy technician roles over the years. Which was your favourite and why?


I have found all roles enjoyable but by far my favourite roles have been working within the prisons, I have enjoyed the challenges and direct patient care.


What is your advice to pharmacy technicians thinking of becoming a pharmacist?


It is a huge personal commitment but if you have a thirst to learn more and the ambition to return to your studies then go for it !!


Are you a member of any professional organisations and why?


I am a member of the RPS since starting my pre-registration year, initially, this was because I really wanted a hard copy of the MEP, BNF and BNFc. However, the website provides lots of great resources relevant to all pharmacy roles and the monthly PJ has been very interesting.


There are lots of self-declared leaders in our profession. Which pharmacists or pharmacy technicians have inspired you in your career?


Whilst I have worked with many, many, many great people, a locum pharmacist called Kim, who I worked with in a small independent community pharmacy in North Norfolk gave me the confidence to apply to university. Kim was also the kind lady who visited me at home during my first year to explain the basics of chemistry to me, raiding my fruit bowl to model apples and satsumas as atoms and nucleus’. My dear friend Julie, working as a PT in the prisons, inspires me by her constant unwavering support to me and also, her own commitment to her job, often going above and beyond to ensure patients receive their medication on time. Lastly, Debbie, a pharmacy assistant also working in the prisons, has shown me what an integral role pharmacy assistants have, her kindness to staff and patients speaks volumes.


What’s next for you?


Hopefully, I pass the GPhC assessment and will be successful in securing a B6 role, the difficulty lies in knowing which sector this will be in.


You can find Emma Fielding on Twitter by clicking here. 



Innovative pharmacy technician tackles opioid crisis

Alyssa Stanlake


Alyssa Stanlake is a Canadian pharmacy technician who works as an operations manager in a community pharmacy in Whistler. Alyssa works for Pier Health, a community pharmacy which specialises in supporting people who have an addiction and mental health problems.


She was awarded the honour of Canadian Pharmacy Technician of the Year 2018 after being nominated by her employer.


In the relatively short time that Alyssa has worked for them as operations manager, she has introduced a scheme whereby patients and residents can access naloxone kits free of charge. She has also instigated training so that everyone who has a kit knows how to use it.


Alyssa explained to me how she has saved many lives and educated a community as a consequence of this project.


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New qualification for pharmacy technicians has been submitted to GPhC

Skills for Health has announced that a new qualification for pharmacy technicians has been submitted to the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC).


Commissioned by Health Education England (HEE), the development has brought together seven organisations to collectively develop a new level 3 diploma for the pharmacy technician workforce. The qualification development commenced in March 2018 and a consultation was held in July 2018. The final qualification was submitted to the GPhC at the end of February 2019 in the first part of a two-stage recognition process. Awarding organisations will attend a qualification recognition event at the GPhC on 11th April.


A successful stage 1 outcome will allow the Level 3 Diploma in the Principles and Practice for Pharmacy Technicians qualification to be submitted to Ofqual by the awarding organisations, after which each one will have their qualifications recognised individually by the GPhC.


The qualification has been developed to meet the GPhC Initial Education and Training Standards (IET) for pharmacy technicians published in October 2017 and will support education providers with developing models of delivery to meet local workforce requirements across sectors. This qualification will be delivered over a two-year period to meet the requirements of the statutory regulator and will be available to learners from 1st February 2020.


Ellen Williams and Liz Fidler, HEE Project Leads said:


“We are delighted that this qualification has been submitted to the GPhC and look forward to the outcomes of the recognition event in April. This qualification will provide a solid foundation for pharmacy technician training, and on recognition by the GPhC, it will enable pre-registration pharmacy technicians to register with the professional regulator.”

Meet the author: Cathy Geeson describes the relevance of the newly developed MOAT tool in modern pharmacy practice

Cathy Geeson was the first pharmacist to receive a Clinical Doctoral Research Fellowship from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). Her research involved the development of a prediction tool to help hospital pharmacists identify patients at highest risk of preventable medication-related problems.


The newly developed Medicines Optimisation Assessment (MOAT) tool has potential to predict those patients most at risk of moderate or severe preventable ‘medication-related problems’ a recently published study has found.


The findings of this research were recently published and Cathy was kind enough to join us on the podcast to explain the results and the implication in practice.



If you prefer to never miss an episode you can subscribe on your preferred podcast platform. Just click on the links below to get going.


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

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