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North Dakota Technician Champions National Certification

Mar 08, 2019

This article is part of a series featuring ASHP’s pharmacy technician members and their valuable contributions to the profession. Check out ASHP’s Pharmacy Technician Forum for more information about efforts to advance the pharmacy technician workforce, as well as ways for pharmacy technicians to become more involved in ASHP.

 

Diane Halvorson, CPh.T.

AS A YOUNG ADULT, Diane Halvorson, CPh.T., never intended to become a pharmacy technician. But now, more than 25 years later, she has a gratifying career and is an influential figure in the field. As Lead Pharmacy Technician at Vibra Hospital Pharmacy in Fargo, N.D., Halvorson is a staunch advocate for improving technician certification and education programs.

Successful Technician
Halvorson began working at a hospital pharmacy more than two decades ago. As a single mother, she needed to find a way to support her son. Halvorson was lucky enough to learn the pharmacy technician trade on the job. She didn’t have any experience, but back then the job of a pharmacy technician was “very basic,” she said. She mostly managed the prescription medication stock.

Over time, her boss (the pharmacy director) took notice of her attention to detail and ability to manage her time and work efficiently. “As pharmacy evolved, I evolved along with it,” she said. “I became a sponge and started attending conventions, conferences, and any continuing education I could to expand my knowledge. The support of my peers and leaders gave me the confidence to excel.” When she began serving on the North Dakota Board of Pharmacy in 2011, she realized it was time to become certified.

“I have taken every opportunity to gain the knowledge and understanding of pharmacy and have evolved into the person I am today,” she said

National Standards for Techs
As a member of ASHP and other national and state pharmacy organizations, Halvorson was appointed by the governor of North Dakota to serve a second term on the North Dakota State Board of Pharmacy, with a goal of implementing education and certification programs in the state. The position has provided a forum to speak out about the need for standardizing pharmacy technician training across the nation.

Currently, there is no standard training or certification on a national level to become a pharmacy technician. Education and certification requirements to earn a CPh.T. degree vary by state. Some states may require more training than others, additional exams, or recertification.

But standardization in the profession is needed now more than ever. Pharmacists are now working in more clinical roles, but prescriptions still need to be filled. “Pharmacy technicians should have the credentials and knowledge to fulfill this role safely and accurately,” said Halvorson.

Expanding Tech Education
Halvorson and many of her colleagues would like to see pharmacy technicians undergo the same rigors of training that pharmacists face. “I feel we should have a national standard that establishes a way to ensure all pharmacy technicians have a baseline knowledge when entering the profession,” said Halvorson. “While our education would not be as detailed as the pharmacist, our process should mirror the process of the pharmacist.” The process would include the completion of an exam that verifies the baseline knowledge, she added.

Halvorson is an advocate for improving technician certification and education programs.

Some of the strictest requirements in her field exist in her home state of North Dakota, where pharmacy technicians are required to receive their education from an ASHP/ACPE accredited program. They must take a national certification exam to demonstrate their knowledge of the field, and they may only earn their certification in the state after meeting those requirements.

Hospital pharmacies in North Dakota are also required to have a quality assurance program to track prescription errors. “If you have a near-miss or a mistake that reaches the patient, you need to document it,” said Halvorson. “Was this an isolated incident? Was there a product problem or process problem or personnel problem?”

Technician Advocacy
Donna Kisse, CPh.T., is a pharmacy technician who has gotten to know Halvorson through their service together in North Dakota’s Northland Association for Pharmacy Technicians. Kisse and other colleagues admire Halvorson for the advocacy work she’s taken on toward a goal of consistent, national certification requirements for pharmacy technicians.

“Since pharmacists are taking the lead in clinical patient care roles, pharmacy technicians must be leaders in supporting standardized qualifications to ensure pharmacies are safe, efficient, and have productive work environments,” said Kisse.

Halvorson became involved with ASHP through the Pharmacy Technicians Stakeholders Consensus Conference steering and advisory committee. “For me, being a member of ASHP has elevated my overall knowledge and fundamental understanding of the opportunities of expansion of the scope of practice that a pharmacy technician can achieve,” she said.

The ASHP Pharmacy Technician Forum, which launched last year, has also been integral to her efforts. She currently serves on the forum’s Patient Care Quality Advisory Group committee.

Halvorson began her technician career more than two decades ago and currently serves as the Lead Pharmacy Technician at Vibra Hospital Pharmacy.

Reducing Prescription Errors
Halvorson hopes that all states will move toward following strict training guidelines like those in North Dakota. By not standardizing pharmacy technician training, Halvorson said the profession is putting the safety of patients in jeopardy. “The consumer believes that any person behind the pharmacy counter has education, that those people know what they’re doing, and that they have a minimum education.”

She recalled an incident that made headlines years ago. It involved Emily Jerry, a three-year-old girl in Ohio who died in 2006 as a result of a hospital pharmacy technician error. At the time of the toddler’s death, Ohio didn’t register pharmacy technicians or require any training or licensing to do the job. In 2009, Emily’s Act was signed into law. The legislation requires that pharmacy technicians be at least 18 years of age, register with the State Board of Pharmacy, and pass a Board-approved competency exam. It also includes requirements related to technician training.

“Humans make errors, and that’s why in a pharmacy you have a check and balance,” Halvorson said. That safety net wouldn’t exist without Halvorson and other passionate pharmacy technicians.

By Jessica Firger

 

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