“It is one thing to come to work and do your basic duties and do it well, but another to do all of that and more to show that you have the desire, drive and ability to go above and beyond”.
This is what Melissa Fingas, Registered Pharmacy Technician had to say when asked what she thought pharmacy technicians should know in order to expand their roles. She received this advice from a former manager and it has guided her throughout her career.
Melissa is a graduate of the first pharmacy technician class at NorQuest College to be accredited. When she received her diploma in 2008, registration as a pharmacy technician was still voluntary. She then accepted her first position at a community pharmacy and at that time it didn’t matter that she had a diploma – everyone was an assistant. She started applying for different positions looking for the right fit and eventually moved into the field of compounding. She spent the majority of her career as a pharmacy technician at Crestwood Apothecary Pharmacy where she eventually split her practice with part-time work at the Cross Cancer Institute.
In her current role with Alberta Health Services (AHS), Melissa has experienced how regulation helped change her scope of practice and contributed to her being able to do the work she does. Melissa holds a provincial position under the Drug Information, Utilization & Stewardship portfolio of Pharmacy Services at AHS. In her role, she helps manage the drug libraries of the several different infusion SMART pumps used to administer medications and parenteral fluids throughout AHS. Right now she is involved in developing the principles related to the safe use of infusion pumps and how drug libraries are being created. She is developing a master template for a drug library that will standardize the limits used in drug libraries and allow them to align with the AHS Provincial Parenteral Monographs. This will ensure that all pumps contain the same information so that nurses and other healthcare professionals using the pumps will experience a level of standardization in regards to dose, rate, and concentration.
Another part of her role that is still evolving involves answering questions from healthcare professionals about medications and their use. She answers questions like “Does a product contain latex?” or “Can a tablet be crushed?” She does not answer the questions which require the clinical judgement of a pharmacist, but there are many types of questions that involve relaying information from a manufacturer about a product or even helping to interpret technical information from resources. Searching Micromedex® for IV compatibility is one example of how Melissa does this.
Answering drug information questions might be one area of her role that is still evolving but it is also an example of how the expanded pharmacy technician scope can be put into practice. Prior to her hire into the role, all activities related to the provision of drug information were handled by pharmacists. Melissa believes that one of the reasons her position now exists is because pharmacy technicians are now regulated health professionals. She has experienced pharmacists being cautious about her scope of practice, but she has also seen growth in the level of trust her pharmacist colleagues have in her ability, as a pharmacy technician, to effectively answer drug information and practice related questions.
When faced with uncertainty about the pharmacy technician’s role Melissa feels that simply sitting down and having a conversation about why/why not something is applicable to a technician can help move practice changes along. It’s also important for pharmacy technicians to continue to learn, especially if there is desire to expand their practice into any non-traditional pharmacy technician role. “There are always things that we don’t know and skills we don’t yet have, but if you can demonstrate the willingness and ability to learn that will take you places”. For AHS pharmacy technician staff there is an abundance of information located on the organization’s internal Drug Information website page. Melissa has found it very helpful exploring the information and services available through the Knowledge Resource Service portal (a tool available to AHS staff). For pharmacy technicians who do not work for AHS, her advice is to familiarize yourself with the resources available to you – the CPS/RxTx, Micromedex®, Lexicomp®, etc. – know how to use them and what information can be found where.
Melissa says that working in a non-traditional role she sometimes misses the front-line work as a pharmacy technician, so she takes an occasional weekend shift at Crestwood Apothecary Pharmacy. Although she works full-time, Melissa balances work with things like playing music (bass), reading, and her three cats Wink, Winston and Wayne. She recently discovered she can do free online courses through the public library and is currently completing one about Earth climate change.
When asked about what aspirations she has for her practice, Melissa says she is happy in her current role but would consider new opportunities if they arose. She feels that “If you don’t at least take the chance to try something new then you’ll never really know if it was meant for you”.