UF pharmacy technician training broadens career options

Pharmacy technician jobs, once sought after by younger workers, are attracting older workers as new licensing laws take effect. While economic uncertainty and unstable job markets linger, many workers, not ready to retire, now see these jobs as stable and fulfilling second careers.

The change in demographic became apparent after the first year of the University of Florida College of Pharmacy’s 14-week training program for pharmacy technicians. Program Development Coordinator Judy Riffee, R.Ph., began teaching pharmacy technicians at the college’s Gainesville campus in 2008 — before new legislation was proposed.

An experienced pharmacy educator in the UF College of Pharmacy division of continuing education, Riffee expected a class of young adults. Now, she is finding most of her students to be 40- to 60-year-olds, well-educated and eager to get back into the job market in a meaningful way.

“The education and work experience of my current class ranges from librarians and engineers to health care and finance professionals. The common thread seems to be a downturned economy that is greatly affecting job retention and taking many people out of the workplace for which they were originally trained,” Riffee said.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts pharmacy technician jobs to increase substantially, by 31 percent nationally over the next seven years. The department’s 2010-11 Occupational Outlook Handbook also noted a favorable job market for those with formal training or certification.

The DLS Handbook, revised every two years, reported this job forecast:

“As cost-conscious insurers begin to use pharmacies as patient-care centers and pharmacists become more involved in patient care, pharmacy technicians will continue to see an expansion of their role in the pharmacy.”

Becoming a pharmacy technician wasn’t something that Phillip Lofthouse, 47, had considered before. Now a graduate of the UF pharmacy technician program, he is working at the inpatient pharmacy at Shands at UF medical center.

“Getting medications to patients is a big thing — it’s the best thing I ever did,” said Lofthouse.

UF offers its training course twice a week, either in a Florida classroom setting, or nationally, online through video-recorded lessons by Riffee. All students also complete an 80-hour pharmacy externship near their location.

The first U.S. pharmacy college to train technicians, the UF course meets the Florida Pharmacy Board’s newly adopted 2011 training requirement for all Florida pharmacy technicians.

The new law no longer accepts previous work experience for licensing. Beginning Jan. 1, 2011, an accredited training program such as UF’s is now the only way to meet the Florida Board of Pharmacy’s education requirement for technicians.

The UF course was developed to prepare students for taking either of two national certification exams. Though taking the exam is not required in Florida, UF’s students are encouraged to do so upon completion of the program, Riffee said. All of her students who have gone on to take the exam have passed, she added.

Since January, the UF program has expanded to include more cities in Florida, with additional live classes added in Orlando, Jacksonville and Tampa. The UF course is extending even further with another Jacksonville class beginning May 10 and a new Fort Lauderdale class beginning June 1. Subjects covered include pharmacology, pharmacy law, inventory management, prescription reading and interpretation, pharmaceutical calculation, and sterile compounding.