This fall, COVID-19 has placed extra responsibility on University student pharmacy technicians as their in-hospital work helps contribute to the safety of the Charlottesville community. However, for some aspiring technicians, COVID-19 mitigation measures have halted progression toward on-site pharmacy technician work.
In addition to spending long hours handling drug prescriptions on site and finding the time to excel in rigorous academics during off-hours, student pharmacy technicians have also been challenged to remain dedicated to their work in an environment they least expected. Their constant exposure to shifting trends in COVID-19 cases has inspired their increased awareness and concern for the University community. But before they were hired for their technician positions, these students engaged in a long training process for certification.
Second-year College student Noah Hester initially became interested in in-patient pharmacy technician work as a step towards his medical school pursuits. Typically, in-patient pharmacy technicians compound medicinal drugs and refill the Pyxis, a drug dispensing machine, under the guidance and expertise of licensed pharmacists in a hospital setting.
Hester said that there are three main stages in attaining a hired position. First, candidates must receive an education through Board of Pharmacy-approved online courses. Hester spent much of his spring semester and summer completing the course while the nation went into quarantine and lockdown. Next, he passed the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam, which for him was held online via special software since testing locations had closed.
“It was remarkable how quickly the [Pharmacy Certification Board] got that up and running and allowed people to be certified,” Hester said.
Finally, he was ready to begin the application process and was ultimately hired for an inpatient technician job. However, due to COVID-19 mitigation measures, the hospital has delayed Hester’s on-site training.
Nevertheless, for student pharmacy technicians currently on-site, the transition from the application process to commencing work in the hospital has been particularly eye-opening.
The importance of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians has been especially evident to Jenay Lynch, third-year College student and inpatient pharmacy technician.
Lynch began working as an inpatient technician the week of Sept. 21, and the flexibility of her online University classes has allowed her to immerse in an eight-day on, six-day off schedule. To handle her full-time college and full-time work commitments, Lynch says it’s always important to find motivation.
“I have seen an increase in workload and momentum,” Lynch said. “[But] I know I’m working towards something … It is all about mindset.”
Lately, Lynch and other medical personnel at the University hospital have been working towards maintaining the health and safety of patients and co-workers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The continued use of personal protective equipment, such as surgical masks and bunny suits, accounts for some of the precautionary measures that the hospital has taken both prior to and during COVID-19 to ensure a sterile and clean environment. The hospital has also been mindful about providing virus-related updates and education via weekly team huddles for hospital employees. For Lynch, the huddles are a supportive way to stay informed about COVID-19 patient numbers and the progress of possible vaccines.
However, it was not until Lynch was on site in the COVID-19 unit did she truly internalize the severity of the virus.
“I’ve actually had to personally deliver drugs to the COVID units,” Lynch said. “So you’re seeing people actually on ventilators and in negative pressure rooms, and you’re in units where doctors and nurses can’t leave in the same clothes they came to work in. You … see that it’s real.”
The University hospital has been receiving around two or three COVID-19 cases per day. The hospital recorded a record number of nine hospitalizations Nov. 29, according to the University COVID-19 tracker, and as of Friday, there were 38 hospitalized COVID-19 patients. When viewed from the context of U.S.’s national trends, Lynch recognizes that the numbers in Charlottesville are significant.
“Even though we hear these high numbers of cases [at U.Va.] … this is just one hospital compared to the multiple hospitals we have all over this nation,” Lynch said.
As a healthcare worker, Lynch has experienced the tension of COVID-19 from the viewpoint of a first responder. However, as a student, Lynch hopes for a safer and healthier future by keeping a positive mindset.
Similarly, Hester recognizes how COVID-19 has introduced a new solidarity among medical personnel.
“I feel like people in the hospital have almost united,” Hester said. “We’ve got to destroy this disease — we’ve got to destroy this pandemic.