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Originally published in The Georgia Straight.
Pharmacy technician Despina Staikos had always had a passion for science, so it made sense for her to enroll in a university biochemistry program.
But after a while, she concluded that this wasn’t going to lead to a career, so she left university and found a job as an assistant at a pharmacy. That’s when she realized she could develop a career in that industry.
Staikos heard great things about Vancouver Community College (VCC) from her peers, so last year she enrolled in the 30-week, full-time certificate program to become a regulated pharmacy technician.
Prior to her graduation in July 2017, she did her practicum at Royal Columbian Hospital. She quickly found a job at Vancouver General Hospital and also works at the B.C. Cancer Agency.
“We had this prestige being VCC students because people in the field know that VCC students are held to a really high standard,” Staikos says. “We receive a really high level of education.”
Pharmacy technicians are licensed by the College of Pharmacists of B.C., so Staikos is permitted to prepare, process, compound, and conduct final checks on prescriptions. She can also take patient histories.
“I absolutely love what I’m doing right now,” she says. “I’ve never had a bad day at work.”
One of her VCC instructors, Wayne Rubner, says the program consists of 22 weeks of classes and an eight-week practicum. There are 20 seats for each program, with one running from September to April. Another starts in January, and a third intake occurs in May.
Rubner points out that about 60 percent of the students’ training is activity-based, with much of this taking place in simulated community and hospital pharmacies at VCC’s Broadway campus.
“We’ll do some theory in the morning, and then in the afternoons they’re in the lab filling prescriptions and preparing intravenous medications like they would do in a retail pharmacy like London Drugs or a hospital pharmacy like St. Paul’s,” Rubner says. “What we try to do here is set up our learning environment to be a simulated workplace as much as possible.”
There's also an eight-week practicum in a community or hospital pharmacy. This hands-on education gives students the skills to ensure products are prepared safely and accurately.
Rubner and other instructors in VCC’s pharmacy technician program are pharmacists; the program advisory committee is made up of employers and people who accept students on practicums.
“They meet with us a couple of times a year and give us feedback on things they would like us to teach more of or something new that has come up,” Rubner says. “So we can keep our program current and relevant.”
The pharmacy technician program is part of VCC’s School of Health Sciences.
“You can come into our program directly from high school if you meet all the entrance requirements,” Rubner adds.
Staikos says that all of those who graduated with her had no difficulty finding employment in the field. And she’s happy to report that there are opportunities at the B.C. Cancer Agency to branch out into different specialties, such as being a technician for clinical trials or drug evaluations.
“Right now, I’m in the process of being trained to mix chemotherapy, which is something that is really interesting to me,” Staikos reveals. “So I’m going to build on that and see where that takes me in the next five years.”
Visit our campus and chat with VCC instructors and students in health sciences, culinary arts, auto trades, and more. Register now for our Fall 2018 open house, Experience VCC, on Oct. 24 from 3 to 6 p.m.