JVS Chicago’s Pharmacy Tech Program

Pharm Tech1
A Free Shortcut to A Hot Healthcare Career

Even though unemployment numbers have steadily lowered, thousands of people are still looking and others must change careers. Technology and fluctuating markets have made career changes more common than ever. But the thought of going back to school is daunting for many, not to mention the cost of acquiring additional training or education.

How about a new career for free in 12 weeks?

That’s what Lynn Wunner discovered. Laid off from a long-term job when the family restaurant that employed her was sold, she was brushing up on her computer skills in a JVS Chicago class and saw a flier about JVS Chicago’s Pharmacy Technician training program. Offered free of charge to those who qualify under federal guidelines, the 12-week course results in state licensing and prepares technicians for a national certification examination.

“There are a number of agencies that can train you to be a pharmacy technician,” says Michele Ackerman, Assistant Director of Employment Services, “but JVS Chicago is the only local agency that does it for free.”

“I really enjoyed the training,” Wunner said. “I’ve always loved school, and this has been my most fun learning adventure. The JVS Chicago trainers are an excellent group of people. They made learning fun. I didn’t know what to expect; I came to the training a middle-aged person who hadn’t been in school for a long time. They were super-supportive. You can go to them with any kind of question.”

What is a pharmacy technician?

Pharmacy technicians help licensed pharmacists dispense prescription medication to customers or health professionals. Pharmacy technicians work in pharmacies, including those found in hospitals and grocery and drug stores. Most techs work full-time, but many work part-time. Because they handle drugs, most states, including Illinois, regulate pharmacy technicians and require passing an examination to become certified.

“Being a pharmacy technician is a career, not just a job,” said Ackerman, “and the health care industry is a great field to get into right now. It’s a relatively easy training, and you can choose full-time or part-time employment. And it’s viable; if you’re willing to work full-time, you can start working at up to $33,000 a year.”

The career of some pharmacy technicians can go a long way beyond counting pills.

According to Johnathan Gunn, an award-winning Coast Guard pharmacy technician, “I play a key role in all aspects of a patient encounter, including screening patients for a medical provider, drawing blood, filling/dispensing medication, counseling patients on proper use, and ensuring a patient is transferred to receive specialty care when it is not offered at our facility.”

Getting started

Acceptance into the JVS Chicago training program for pharmacy technicians isn’t automatic. To qualify, an applicant has to be 18 years old, have a high school diploma or GED and be eligible to work in the US. Male applicants must be registered with the draft board. An applicant can’t have defaulted on a student loan, be behind on child support or have a history of felony charges, because the State of Illinois won’t license those individuals.

“Enrollment takes time,” said Ackerman, “sometimes several months, and it includes a pre-screening, a test for reading level and an interview. Then a committee reviews the applicants and selects who will be admitted to the program.”

Motivation is critical to success in the program, according to Cindy Franklin, supervisor of pharmacy technician training at JVS Chicago.

“We ask that they study, come to class regularly and treat it like a job,” said Franklin. “People skilled in math find the classes a bit easier, but all types of motivated people have completed it. We have people fresh out of high school, others who have been out of school or the workplace for a while. Some students have bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees or even an occasional master’s degree.”

The training classes are 12 hours a week for 12 to 13 weeks depending on the holiday calendar. They are held at the Meyer Kaplan JCC, 5050 Church St. in Skokie. During the training, students must participate in an unpaid, 120-hour externship, usually in a retail pharmacy.

Seeking certification

To stay in the field, pharmacy technicians must get a state license and pass a national certification examination.

“JVS Chicago pays for a state license and prepares people for the national certification exam, which is not an easy test,” said Franklin. “I’m a pharmacist, and our instructor, Norman Howard, is a certified pharmacy technician. We help our students prepare for the certification exam, and our students pass at a higher rate than the national average.”

Ackerman said this year the program has trained 50 people and, to date, placed 40 of them in jobs.

Program Graduates Find Work

Wunner completed her externship and has accepted a position with CVS, where she is receiving additional training, “mostly about customer service, which CVS emphasizes.”

Joyonta Henderson, 24, is right on track, working a full-time position with Caremark in Mt. Prospect. She called the Pharmacy Technician training program “a blessing” and recommends it to everyone she can.

“Even though I was in a classroom, it didn’t feel like a classroom,” she said. “Norman and the case managers made it feel like a pharmacy setting, and Norman broke down the hardest lessons into understandable parts. I have a fear of tests—but the way he handled them, I did better than I expected. The small class size allowed me to be unafraid to ask questions. He made us feel comfortable. There was a lot of support from everyone on the JVS Chicago staff, so they had you ready to focus on your work. I really appreciated that.”

For full-time pharmacy technicians who get certified and experienced, Ackerman said the sky’s the limit.

“I know techs who are making more than $40,000 a year,” she said, “just a few years after becoming certified.”

If you are interested in the Pharmacy Technician training program, call 855.INFO.JVS or email info@jvschicago.org.

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