Once upon a time -- back in the days when soda fountains were a fixture
of every pharmacy -- the most stressful part of a pharmacy technician's
job was trying to pour a float and type a prescription label at the same time.
"When technicians first started working in pharmacies, they were merely
clerks," says Arizona pharmacy technician Bob Silverman. "The clerks just
typed prescriptions when they weren't working the soda fountain. The
pharmacist did everything else."
A lot has changed in the world of pharmaceuticals since the days of the
soda fountain. Strict new medical standards have put greater demands on pharmacists
to provide more counseling and education. That leaves less time for the actual
filling of prescriptions, record keeping and other important responsibilities.
Added duties for the pharmacist mean more work for the technician, who
is now more educated and experienced than ever before.
"Every single task that was once the domain of the pharmacist is now completed
by the tech -- except for patient counseling, which by law is still the responsibility
of the pharmacist," says Silverman.
Taking on all this added responsibility was a big change, but people in
the industry rose to the challenge. Unfortunately, says retail pharmacy assistant
Ruth Tucker, other people weren't as quick to follow their lead.
"Many of the people I talk to or meet at work think I'm just a cashier
who gets to wear a white coat. They don't realize they wouldn't
have that prescription if I hadn't ordered the medication," says Tucker.
Tucker doesn't really mind people not giving credit where credit is
due -- it was a rewarding job, not prestige, she was looking for when she
chose her career path.
"I knew this wasn't a glamorous job when I got into it," she says.
"It's the satisfaction of being able to provide a customer with a positive
experience, even though being at a pharmacy usually means something unpleasant
is going on in their lives."
Because pharmacy assistants have such an important role in the actual management
and day-to-day running of a pharmacy, they're often called upon to do
the challenging work of setting up a pharmacy.
As a pharmacy technician for the U.S. military, Bob Silverman has had first-hand
experience with this challenge -- intensified a million times! He was responsible
for setting up a hospital pharmacy in the Middle East during the Persian Gulf
"It was my job to set up a pharmacy in Bahrain [outside of Saudi Arabia]
for a 400-bed hospital before the Gulf War," Silverman says. "This meant dealing
with different cultures and customs, as well as the efforts involved to obtain
the necessary medications."
Since Silverman's was the first pharmacy to be up and running in that
area, none of the necessary pharmaceutical stock was available. The nearest
warehouse for stock was in a town 20 miles away. That meant Silverman had
to travel 20 miles each day to pick up and make his own medication for the
"Being halfway around the world in a war zone away from your family is
unsettling, to say the least," he says. "But being in those kind of circumstances
-- no stock at 54 C -- and getting the job done made me realize that I am
good at this work."
With lives at stake, being a good pharmacy technician is definitely something
to be proud of, and people in this field say you don't have to be in
a war zone to feel like you're making a difference.
"There's an enormous satisfaction in knowing you have helped people
obtain medication that will make them feel better, take away their pain or
just improve their quality of life," says Tucker.