In A Down Job Market, There’s A Prescription For A New Career
Dr. Helen McCarthy, R.Ph, Pharm.D.
Owner and Founder, Pharmacy Technician Enterprises, Inc.
There are no arcs of electricity crackling in the air or bubbling beakers of phosphorus-colored chemicals flowing through glass tubes, but there is serious work being done in the laboratory and classroom at Pharmacy Technician Enterprises, Inc. (PTE), a Lake Ronkonkoma-based school founded in 2004 by Dr. Helen McCarthy.
Dressed in a crisp white coat, Helen, a pharmacist, explains, “I’ve always appreciated [working with] a well-trained pharmacy technician, but I felt I could teach this course better.” She presented her business plan to Gloria Glowacki at the Small Business Development Center at Stony Brook University, who suggested that Helen submit her plan to the Suffolk County Women’s Business Enterprise Coalition. Helen received the coalition’s highest award in December 2003, and just one month later began hosting her classes at Dowling College with the help of their director, Diane Impagliazzo. In May 2008 she opened her permanent PTE location in Lake Ronkonkoma. “Both of these women were indispensible mentors to me and instrumental in my success,” says Helen.
You’ll find graduates of Helen’s school behind many busy counters at retail pharmacies across Long Island. Certified Pharmacy Technicians (CPhT) work under the license and supervision of a pharmacist. PTE provides technicians hands-on training using realistic lab exercises including pharmaceutical calculations like counting medications and labeling bottles, pharmacy recordkeeping, and pharmacy law and ethics. They also perform administrative duties such as inventory management, stocking shelves and answering phones. They refer any questions regarding prescriptions, drug information or health matters to the pharmacist and are not permitted to counsel a patient.
According to Helen, right now New York State doesn’t require technicians to be certified but she helped draft a bill (Senate Bill 5034) that was sponsored by Senator Charles Fuschillo, Jr. (8th Senate District, NY) that is now pending in Albany. The bill would require pharmacy technicians to be high school graduates, 18 years of age or older, pass an examination and be registered.
“We are the first and longest-running school on Long Island and the only one that is taught by a pharmacist,” Helen says proudly. Students are required to complete 96 hours of instruction and a 96-hour unpaid externship. Helen designed the course for adults who don’t have time to go to school for a long period, with the average age between 35 and 55. Helen observes, “I’ve definitely seen a change in the demographic,” saying that there are more men enrolling, although many of her students are mothers returning to the workforce or those who are being retrained after being laid off from their jobs. “This is a good job for someone who wants a career or work part time,” she says.
It takes six years to become a pharmacist, Helen explains, and only five schools in New York State offer that course of study, with none located on Long Island. Helen speaks at local high school career events to let students know that if they are planning to be a pharmacist they should prepare in advance of high school graduation. “It’s important to talk to students in their senior year if they want to be a pharmacist and to apply early to St. John’s in Queens [the closest school to Long Island]. I’ve gotten some of my [PTE] graduates into pharmacy school,” she says proudly, adding that including CPhT training on a college application is often considered a plus.
Helen is currently exploring the possibility of an addition to her curriculum: Opiate Overdose Responder (OOR). “The oor is given a ‘Narcan kit,’ which contains a vial of Narcan, a syringe with attached needle, a pair of gloves, alcohol pads and a face-shield [to perform rescue breathing]. The responders would be taught how to do rescue breathing, how to prep the patient, how to draw up the Narcan into the syringe and how to administer it,” Helen explains.
In light of the huge increase in heroin addiction on Long Island, it makes sense to have trained responders to provide this treatment. Currently there is very limited training available in Nassau or Suffolk for non-medical personnel to learn how to use the lifesaving drug, which blocks the brain receptors that heroin activates, instantly reversing an overdose.
“The responder can carry the Narcan kit and they can save a life,” Helen says.
Helen’s students must be able to take directions and be precise. Details are crucial. “I spend a lot of time [with my students] covering pharmacy law,” Helen says about her strict requirements for accuracy. “This is my business and my reputation.”
For more information go to www.pharmacytechu.com or call 631-588-TECH.
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