Jesse Hogue, Pharm.D., BCPS, pharmacy education coordinator, Bronson Methodist Hospital, Kalamazoo
For the last several years, the Michigan Society of Health-System Pharmacists (MSHP) Organizational Affairs Committee has worked on charges revolving around technician training programs and American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP)/Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) accreditation of such programs. The scope of the charges has focused on monitoring the numbers of accredited and unaccredited programs, identifying barriers to pursuing accreditation and developing strategies to encourage accreditation. The MSHP position is well-aligned with the ASHP position, supporting accredited training and Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) certification. It is critical that we have well-trained, professional and competent pharmacy technicians as we seek to move our profession forward.
In our routine assessments of technician training programs, I think it is safe to say that we have not seen a rapid expansion of programs, accredited or not. A number of expected factors seem to have contributed, such as cost of enrollment and availability of training sites. Additionally, we believe that requiring inclusion of specialized, practice-specific skills, such as sterile compounding and retail billing, as part of the accreditation standard for training programs was a significant barrier to student enrollment and, thus, expansion of accredited training programs. Not having a uniform standard across states for technician training, education and practice has not helped, either, since it makes it harder to establish standardized training. I am pleased to report that there have been a couple developments in these areas that may help overcome some of the barriers.
In 2017, PTCB sponsored a stakeholder consensus conference in collaboration with ACPE and ASHP under the guidance of an advisory committee representing all major branches of pharmacy. The goal of the conference was to resolve unsettled issues related to pharmacy technicians. One of the main outcomes of the conference was that the group identified key points of agreement regarding entry-level requirements for pharmacy technicians. They also identified state variability in the regulation of pharmacy technicians as a risk for patients and the profession of pharmacy. The conferees agreed that a broad coalition should be created to pursue the recommendations of the conference and as a result a Stakeholder Advisory Committee was established. This committee has been working with the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) to update the Model State Pharmacy Act and Model Rules of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. At the 2019 NABP national meeting, a resolution was passed authorizing a task force of stakeholders to evaluate and make recommendations to NABP regarding the education requirements, practice responsibilities and competence assessments for pharmacy technicians – so progress is being made!
Another thing that caught our eye this year was a welcomed update to the national standards that serve as a guide for the development of ASHP/ACPE-accredited pharmacy technician education and training programs. If you are unfamiliar with these accreditation standards—in a nutshell they set the criteria for the evaluation of new and established technician training programs and they help ensure that pharmacy technicians gain the knowledge, skills and abilities needed for their important role. The revised accreditation standard that was approved in 2018 took effect for new programs this year and will apply to all accredited programs in 2020. The updated standard took into consideration a very large job analysis of technicians in the U.S. as well as over 500 public comments and was developed by a group that included educators, representatives of community, hospital and chain pharmacy practices as well as members of the Pharmacy Technician Accreditation Commission (PTAC, the collaborative of ASHP and ACPE).
The revised accreditation standard improved the emphasis on and clarity of the expected educational outcomes and the methods used to assess competency. More importantly for our charges, though, the new standards are divided into entry level and advanced, following the recommendations of the Pharmacy Technician Stakeholder Consensus Conference. This allows practice settings to have different education and training requirements based on the needs of the position, while assuring a core competency across practice settings. It also creates a framework for boards of pharmacy to develop entry level competency requirements as minimum standards with the ability to add advanced level credentials based on employer/practice setting requirements. The bottom line, in my opinion, is that the new standard will be more acceptable nationally across practice settings which will provide incentive for new programs to be started. As an added bonus, PTAC has developed a Model Curriculum for Pharmacy Technician Education and Training Programs. This tool is a great asset both for new programs, as well as existing programs, seeking to update their curriculum to meet the new standard. The Model Curriculum can actually be used as a template, since it includes the required Key Elements for each of the standards and corresponding competencies along with examples of learning activities for each portion of the program.
Having a well-trained, competent technician workforce is essential for progressive pharmacy practice. It is important to have a standard for the education requirements, practice responsibilities and competence assessments for pharmacy technicians. The newly revised ASHP/ACPE Accreditation Standards for Pharmacy Technician Education and Training Programs provides an excellent framework for the education and competency assessment for both entry level and advanced technician roles. The tools and momentum are there to overcome the previous barriers that existed; it will be exciting to see what progress is made in the near future!