YVC Voice

  /  Feature   /  Community Caretakers
Pharmacist counting pills

Community Caretakers

As the Yakima Valley faces a shortage of pharmacy technicians, YVC aims to meet increasing demand

When starting a new prescription, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the detailed instructions of when to take the medication and what the side effects may be.

It’s a feeling that Anadelia Tapia ’17 understands well. Her parents didn’t speak English as their first language and she remembers the moments they would struggle because of that.

Now, the Yakima Valley Memorial pharmacy technician keeps in mind her parents’ struggles as she helps her patients.

“There are patients that come into the pharmacy and don’t know exactly what’s going on,” Tapia said. “They just get out of their appointment and have their prescription handed to you. As a pharmacy technician working in the window or if you’re a pharmacy assistant you get to community with patients and explain to them what’s going on, what’s the process and filling their prescription so they’re in good health.”

“With our population of older people growing, pharmacies are facing increasing demands. And the challenge here is particularly acute given the diversity of our community.” – Stephanie O’Brine, Allied Health Instructor

With an aging population leading to increased demand for prescription medications and new medications for more diseases becoming available, the demand on pharmacies continues to grow.

Yet pharmacies in the Yakima Valley and across the nation are having difficulty finding enough pharmacy technicians like Tapia — health care workers who provide an essential role in helping pharmacists prepare medications and in helping patients understand how to properly use those medications.

The shortage of pharmacy technicians in the Yakima Valley makes it harder to serve and advocate for patients and to dispense and bill medications in a timely manner says Stephanie O’Brine, an instructor in YVC’s Pharmacy Technician program.

“With our population of older people growing, pharmacies are facing increasing demands,” O’Brine said. “And the challenge here is particularly acute given the diversity of our community and the need for pharmacy technicians who are prepared to serve our Spanish-speaking population.”

Pharmacy technician student and instructor
Pharmacy Technician Instructor Stephanie O'Brine, left, with student Gabriela Arevalo in YVC's new pharmacy technician laboratory, which includes a mock retail space where students gain hands-on experience.

O’Brine noted that pharmacy technicians play an essential role in a high-quality health care system and that the career also offers people an opportunity to enter a well-paid and stable profession.

The media annual wage for pharmacy technicians in Washington state is among the highest in the nation at $46,400 as of May 2020 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment of pharmacy technicians also is projected to grow 4% from 2019 to 2029 as increased demand for prescription medications leads to more demand for pharmaceutical services.

Instructor and student in lab
Arevalo practices using a pharmaceutical dispensing machine as O'Brine observes.

Even as the need for pharmacy technicians is on the rise, filling the available openings is a challenge for pharmacists like Todd Kean of Village Pharmacy Services in Yakima, which regularly hires graduates of YVC’s program.

“There is a consistent need for new pharmacy technicians that are capable and eager to learn,” Kean said. “The YVC Pharmacy Technician program is one of the first places we contact in search of quality applicants.”

YVC offers a pharmacy technician certificate course of study that can be completed in one year of study or an associate of applied science degree that can be completed in two years. The program combines convenient online instruction, laboratory simulations and supervised experiential practice. A new laboratory in YVC’s West Campus gives students an opportunity to work with modern equipment in an innovative space that reflects real life outpatient and inpatient pharmacy practice.

Student and instructor prepare syringe
Arevalo practices preparing a syringe with O'Brine.

Tapia noted that being able to work directly with patients is one of the greatest joys in her career.

“You kind of get connected to them when they come each month to pick up their prescription,” she said. “I feel accomplished. I feel like I’ve helped them in a way and they now understand and they’re always happy to come back and see you.”

Applications for YVC’s Pharmacy Technician program are accepted through August 1 for individuals to start the program in the Fall Quarter. For more information about the program email, call 509.574.4913​​ or visit the Pharmacy Technician program website.