Specializing as a pharmacy technician in intravenous medications (IV Meds) or oncology can provide an exciting, lucrative and critically important career path. This additional training can allow for a career as a specially trained pharmacy technician in which you can help contribute to improved patient outcomes and optimal patient care while having a rewarding career with a higher salary, the potential for increased extra pay and even, in some cases, sign on bonuses.
For example, according to Glassdoor.com the average hourly rate of pay for a oncology pharmacy Technician is $30 to $33 per hour which amounts to an annual salary of range of from $65,000 to $71,000 per year with from $572 to $623 in extra pay per year with a nationally known prestigious medical organization such as Kaiser Permanente.
In addition, the national average salary for a pharmacy technician with IV certification is $45,112 with an average maximum salary of $68,000.
What is Medical Oncology?
Medical Oncology (a medical oncologist is the physician specializing in medical oncology) is the specialty of medicine dealing with the medical treatment of cancer. As a pharmacy technician with a specialty certification in Oncology, you will work with a supervising Pharmacist preparing and distributing chemotherapeutic medications for patients who are getting cancer treatment either in hospitals or at outpatient oncology infusion centers.
What is Chemotherapy?
Traditional chemotherapy is a type of treatment used to treat cancer in which certain cytotoxic (cell killing) medications are introduced into the bloodstream to stop the out of control cellular division cells of cancer cells.
Different types of chemotherapeutic agents are used to treat different types of cancer.
Because IV chemotherapeutic medicines go directly into the bloodstream to circulate throughout the body, they can affect normal cells in different body organs as well as killing abnormal cancer cells.
Therefore, almost all forms of chemotherapy have side effects and can be toxic even at usual dosages.
Many Oncology patients are vulnerable to potential toxic side effects of chemotherapy because of their age or previous cancer treatments.
According to the American Cancer Society, some common side effects of chemotherapy include, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, anemia, hair loss, constipation, diarrhea, mouth, tongue and throat problems and immunosuppression.
What Special Skills are Required to be a Successful Oncology Pharmacy Technician?
Since chemotherapeutic medications are toxic they must be handled with great care and with great regard to accuracy. Oncology pharmacy technicians should have excellent mathematical, communication and organizational skills and have the ability to pay great attention to details.
This attention to detail can help oncology pharmacy technicians avoid potential problems for cancer patients such as incorrect volumes for pre-hydration, missing pre-medication orders, and the giving of chemotherapy doses that are too high and not adjusted for a patient’s clinical status.
Oncology pharmacy technicians should also be adept at using general office and medical software. All of these skills are important to help create a safe working environment with strict adherence to OSHA guidelines for the safe handling of both IV and oral chemotherapeutic agents at all times.
Pharmacy Oncology Certification
The National Pharmacy Technician Association (NPTA) provides a chemotherapy certification course that is available to certified pharmacy technicians, pharmacy tech students and pharmacists. Graduates of this course receive Chemo/Hazardous Drug certification which meets all State Board of Pharmacy Technician requirements.
Most hospitals and major medical facilities require a Chemo/Hazardous Drug Certificate and/or prior experience in Oncology in order to be hired as Oncology Pharmacy Technicians.
Prerequisites for the Chemo/Hazardous Drug Certification Program
In order to take the Chemo/Hazardous Drug Certification Program, applicants must have completed one or more of the following requirements:
- Graduation from or current attendance in a NPTA IV Certification course
- Completion of an ACPE approved course on sterile products/aseptic technique with at least 40 contact hours including hands on and didactic training
- At least 600 hours of documented practical experience in preparing sterile products/aseptic technique over the past year
The cost of the course is $498 for members and $598 for non-members.
NPTA Chemo/Hazardous Drug Certification Program
This program is divided into 10 home study modules. It requires one day of hands on training and 5 process technique validations.
After completion of the home- based module, participants are required to attend a one- day hands on training course at the NPTA Training Institute in Houston, Texas.
The NPTA Training Institute includes a sterile lab, an ante room and a “wet” lab for compounding. Course attendees receive an Official Certificate of Validated Training upon successful completion of the course.
Chemo/Hazardous Drug Certification Program Home Study Modules
The home study modules include:
- A Definition of Hazardous Drugs
- ASHP and other State and Federal Guidelines
- Risk Assessment
- Controls and Medical Surveillance
- Receipt, Storage, Labeling and Transport
- Biological Safety Cabinets
- Personal Protective Equipment
- Aseptic Technique
- Decontamination, Spill Control and Waste Disposal
After each module completion there is an exam requiring at least a 70% score to pass.
After completion of all 10 modules there is also a comprehensive final exam.
Chemo/Hazardous Drug Certification Program Training and Technique Validations
There are 5 Training and Technique Validations required for Chemo/Hazardous Drug certification. These are conducted at the NPTA Training Institute in Houston, Texas and include:
- Aseptic Hand Washing and Garbing
- Decontamination and Deactivation of a Biological Safety Cabinet (BSC)
- Hazardous Ampule Manipulations
- Hazardous Powder Vial Manipulations
- Hazardous Liquid Vial Manipulations
Pharmacy Technician Oncology Job Description
When working as an oncology pharmacy technician in a hospital or in a hematology/oncology practice, you will be responsible under the supervision of a Pharmacist for preparing and distributing chemotherapy admixture preparations for oncology patients.
This job description includes:
- Entering chemotherapy orders
- Gathering predetermined clinical data from patient lab results and patient health records
- Performing calculations
- Completing documentation on request forms for drug funding
- Obtaining the best possible patient medication history
- Preparing chemotherapy
- Maintaining a sanitary work environment
- Maintaining patient areas
- Managing and restocking pharmaceutical inventory
- Ordering supplies
- Keeping records of patient doses
- Keeping records of drug mixtures
- Labeling medications
- Mixing medication solutions
- Using specialized equipment
- Maintaining a sterile environment
- Assisting pharmacists, physicians and nurses in chemotherapy administration
- Receiving and unpacking drug shipments of hazardous drugs
Studies Show Oncology Pharmacy Technicians can Save Oncology Pharmacists Critical Time
According to a 2010 Canadian study referenced by NIH trained Clinical Support Pharmacy Technicians entered chemotherapy orders faster than Oncology Pharmacists and without significant errors.
This in turn saved the Pharmacist 30 minutes per day which he was able to use for direct patient care.
Pharmacy Technician Specialty Training in IV Meds
As discussed earlier, successful completion of Training in IV Meds is a required prerequisite for pharmacy Technician chemo/hazardous drug certification.
IV certification by itself can provide for a career as an IV Certified pharmacy Technician in a hospital pharmacy or outpatient facility.
As an IV Certified Pharmacy Technician you will work under the supervision of a Pharmacist preparing such essential IV products as IV Piggybacks, Enteral (for tube feeding into GI tract) and Parental (through IV access into a vein) nutrition.
Other duties include supervised preparation of Epidural injections, narcotic infusions and controlled analgesia.
An IV Certified Pharmacy Technician is responsible for calculating doses, correctly mixing IV medications, following sterile guidelines and maintaining a clean work room.
Additional job duties include processing prescriptions using computer software, labeling and reading doses, monitoring storage and inventory of medications and supplies.
NPTA Program for IV Certification
NPTA provides a nationally recognized program for IV certification for Pharmacy Technicians.
This program is similar in structure to NPTA’s program for Oncology certification and is available to Pharmacists, Certified Pharmacy Technicians and Pharmacy Technician students.
The course has 9 home study modules and includes 2 days of hands-on training.
The modules include important information critical to patient safety such as:
- Defining sterile compounds and understanding the need for sterile products
- Explaining the importance of sterility of products administered by a parenteral route
- Distinguishing between the different forms of parenteral administration
- Determining what type of parenteral administration should be preservative free
- Explaining how laminar flow biological safety cabinets help control the risk of infections
- How to calculate the amount of active ingredients needed for each preparation
- Calculating the volume of active ingredients to add to an IV admixture
- Calculating the volume of electrolytes to add to TPN (Total parenteral Nutrition)
- Determining the rate of flow for IV Meds
- Dilution techniques and calculations
- Understanding microbial contamination
- How to prepare ampules, vials and IV bags before placing them in the airflow hood
- Understanding the difference between tonicity, osmolarity and osmolality
- How to manipulate needles, filters and syringes
- How to reconstitute a sterile product
- How to Automix a TPN
- Pediatric dosing
- When to use small volume and large volume IV bags
- Safety procedures for handling chemotherapy agents
- How to clean a chemo spill
Hands-on Training, Technique Validation and Course Cost for IV Certification
Hands on training and process technique validation is conducted at the NPTA Sterile Products Institute at the NPTA Training Institute in Houston, Texas.
The cost of the course is $648 for members and $698 for non- members.
Certification requires 8 Process Technique Validations and a score of 70% or higher on all module exams.
Course attendees receive an Official Certificate of Validated Training upon successful completion of the course.
The Process Technique Validations include critical skills involving IV medications such as:
- The proper method for aseptic hand washing
- Horizontal and vertical laminar airflow hood care
- The correct method for vial and ampoule manipulation
- Hazardous vial and ampoule manipulation
Pharmacy Technician specialty training in IV Meds and/or Oncology can enhance job satisfaction and advance your Pharmacy Technician career while providing a prestigious, challenging, stable and financially rewarding position. Many top- level medical centers, hospitals and oncology infusion centers give preference to when hiring and an increased salary to Pharmacy Technicians who have continued their Pharmacy Technician training and education by obtaining specialty training and certifications. Graduating from a nationally accredited Chemo/Hazardous Drug Certification Program or a nationally accredited Certification Program in IV Meds can give you the training necessary in order to help provide the best and safest pharmacy care to those patients who require either intravenous or chemotherapeutic treatment.