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Externship component helps pharm tech program grads get hired
Aug. 15, 2014
The Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training projects that openings for pharmacy technicians will increase by 49 percent in the next decade. An average wage of $15.50, flexible hours and a challenging, dynamic work environment are just a few of the reasons why students continue to flock to CCRI’s Pharmacy Technician II program on the path to those jobs.
Extensive classroom experience isn’t the only thing that sets CCRI students apart when it comes to getting jobs in this growing field, said Susan Caressimo, who has coordinated the program since 2008. In 2011, the program added an externship component, allowing students to gain hands-on experience after obtaining the proper national certification and state licensure.
“This has made a dramatic improvement in the program, from our perspective as well as our students’ perspective. They’re getting hired,” said Caressimo. “The word has gotten out that our students are thoroughly prepared; they are able to hit the ground running. Our relationships are very positive out there both in the community pharmacy and hospital setting.”
Caressimo said that sometimes students find employment directly following their externship with the pharmacy in which they were training. One of those students is Adam Marcotte, a West Warwick firefighter who came to the program to build a second career. As one of the top two students in his class, he was able to gain a coveted externship at the Providence VA Medical Center, where he now works in the outpatient pharmacy.
Although you don’t have to have any previous medical training to complete the program, Marcotte said his work as a certified cardiac EMT, as well as the fast pace of the pharmacy environment, helped him excel in his pharmacy studies and career.
A veteran of the Marines, Marcotte said that he enjoys the interaction with the patients at the VA as well as the knowledge that he is able to help people. Unlike his work as a firefighter, where every job is different, Marcotte said his work as a pharmacy technician is a nice change of pace in that there’s an exact process to the work – a process that he felt exceptionally prepared for thanks to his training at CCRI.
“The instructors are very professional and knowledgeable. And what you learn is not just book work. You learn how things are actually done, and it gives you an advantage when you hit the working world,” he said.
“There’s nothing like hands-on training,” said Diane Bickel, who coordinates the externships at the VA in her capacity as assistant to the chief of pharmacy.
Bickel said that at the VA, students are required to complete 160 hours of training in their externship, in part because being a pharmacy technician in a hospital setting means working with both inpatient and outpatient populations with different needs, potentially encompassing frequent prescription adjustments, IV medications and chemotherapy among other considerations.
“We try to make sure their training is well-rounded,” Bickel said, noting that in addition to Marcotte, the VA recently hired another CCRI student soon after her externship. “CCRI students are prepared very well.”
Patricia Cyr, who supervises CCRI students placed at the Walgreens Pharmacy on Oaklawn Avenue in Cranston, echoed Bickel’s sentiments. She has been supervising externships for about four years, and helped students get jobs in other Walgreens locations. “It’s a quality program,” she said. “It’s pretty much the only technician program that I work with. You can tell [the students] really want this position.”
Pat Giammarco is another recent program graduate who found employment in the field quickly after her externship at South County Hospital. “I like the energy and community feel at a hospital,” said Giammarco, who enrolled in the program when her hours as a full-time employee of Weight Watchers were reduced.
Although her enrollment in the program came at a personally challenging time – her mother died a week before Giammarco began classes – the compassionate and engaging faculty kept her going. “It was a great personality fit,” she said of the program. “It was a fun class.”
At the request of one of her former instructors, she has returned to speak to current students, giving them tips on finding work in the field. “Bring your personality, and bring your enthusiasm,” she said she tells them. She also speaks about the value of perseverance: “Don’t be afraid. I went beyond what I thought I could do, and it was sheer determination,” said Giammarco, who began her new career at the age of 54 and couldn’t be happier about it.
“I get to do something worthwhile, and it makes me feel good inside. I’m not just putting in time and getting a paycheck. I’m proud of what I’m doing,” she said.
Caressimo said that the program typically takes three months to complete, with classes covering basic pharmacology, drug interactions, pharmacy practices and settings, calculations and conversions, as well as some medical terminology, anatomy and physiology.
Describing the curriculum as “intense,” Caressimo said students must meet with her prior to enrollment to take an assessment test that covers basic English, reading and math. The next session will begin Sept. 9 at the Knight Campus in Warwick. For more information, contact Caressimo at 401-455-6070 or visit the program's Web page.