If you want to be a nurse, Become a Pharmacy Technician first!

Anna is a longtime friend and colleague. We worked together in the inpatient pharmacy at Riverview Health where I was her supervisor. I watched her work tirelessly in her efforts to reach her goal of becoming a nurse and celebrated with her every step of the way. Starting in a very different position, Anna worked her way up the ladder at the hospital throughout the last 14 years. In this interview Anna talks about how working as a pharmacy technician helped her in her goal to become a nurse.



Katie: Wow! Here we are discussing your role as a nurse and how you used to be a pharmacy technician, which feels like a lifetime ago. It’s hard to believe that our friendship started with me as your supervisor. Can you talk a little bit about what that was like?


Anna: It does seem like forever ago! As a supervisor, you were very connected, encouraging, and organized. You were dedicated and kept things running smoothly. You were also VERY excited, learning about your role and bringing the team together.


Katie: [laughs]. Tell me about your road to becoming a pharmacy technician. How did that happen?


Anna: Well, I guess it would begin with being a single mom of four. I knew I wanted to become a nurse eventually and in 2008 I took a position in housekeeping at the hospital just to get my foot in the door. I worked in housekeeping for 8 years, cleaning both the lab and the pharmacy areas. The Pharmacy Director approached me in 2016 and asked me if I’d consider taking an inpatient pharmacy technician position. He knew that while I was still taking my core classes, my ultimate goal was to get into pharmacy school and thought the position would be beneficial for me.


Katie: And you accepted the position - how long did you work as a pharmacy technician and what did that role look like in the hospital?


Anna: I was a pharmacy technician in the inpatient pharmacy for four years. Hospital pharmacy technicians spend their days filling omnicells, packaging medications, delivering medications to the floors, completing med history on patients, and making IV’s and chemotherapy medications. I was trained in all of those areas; so, I did all of the above.


Katie: What was the process like - going from pharmacy technician to nurse?


Anna: I worked full time as a pharmacy technician, taking classes as I could between being a mother and working. I generally took up to 4 classes at a time, so it took me almost six years to reach my goal.


Katie: Were there any specific nursing classes that you felt were easier for you because you were a pharmacy technician?


Anna: Definitely Pharmacology, which is the study of medications - you learn about different classes of medications and what they are for, side effects, dosing, and more. I had an advantage over some of my fellow students because I worked as a pharmacy technician and knew valuable information about several different medications already. My Lab class was also easier because I was a pharmacy technician. Because I already spent my days using syringes and needles, reconstituting medications and drawing them up, spiking IV bags, and priming lines; something we did in the IV room for more expensive medications and for chemos; I had an advantage in that class as well.


Katie: How would you say the benefits would differ for a pharmacy technician working in retail pharmacy vs. a pharmacy technician working in hospital pharmacy?


Anna: Well, I never worked in retail pharmacy, but obviously pharmacy technicians in retail aren’t going to get as much experience and handling of the medication and IVs. They aren't going to be mixing medications…all things a hospital pharmacy technician does daily.


Katie: There are outpatient hospital pharmacy technicians and there are inpatient hospital pharmacy technicians. How would you say that these differ in terms of benefits?


Anna: There again, outpatient pharmacy is like retail pharmacy; regardless of whether or not it’s in a hospital setting. Pharmacy technicians in that role are going to be spending time dealing with insurance companies and filling prescriptions, instead of seeing firsthand the diseases and illnesses that go along with them.


Katie: How did working as a pharmacy technician in a hospital help you become employed as a nurse?


Anna: I eventually worked my way up over the years and I feel like between my different roles and positions in the hospital, I’ve been able to make great connections and get to know different people in different areas of the hospital along the way. I also feel like my work ethic has paid off - it’s helped me to grow within the company and move up throughout the years.


Katie: Can you explain the different ways in which you currently work with pharmacy technicians today in your role as a nurse and why these are important?


Anna: As a nurse I communicate via phone calls and messages with the pharmacy technicians on a daily basis regarding medications that are needed for my patients and the timing of those medications. It’s really important for a nurse to have the patient's medications delivered on time and correctly to the omni cells; so, what’s going on in the pharmacy definitely affects the nursing staff. I would also mention that when pharmacy technicians are completing med recs (med history) on patients, this saves me time as a bedside nurse with a million other very important things to do. If the pharmacy technician is doing their job correctly, that part is done for me. I don’t have to speak with the patient or their family members about the medications they currently take, I don’t have to call their primary care physician, or spend my time on the phone with their pharmacy verifying these medications; so, this is really important and very helpful.


Katie: What advice would you give to pharmacy technicians hoping to or working towards becoming a nurse?


Anna: Use the opportunity as a pharmacy technician to meet and get to know the pharmacy staff, including the pharmacists and director! Get to know the lab, other nurses and doctors, CNA’s, the ER staff, Radiology, and physical therapy staff - as a nurse you’ll work with them and as a student, you’ll learn from each of them!


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