A student in a classroom watching an instructor fill a prescription bottle

New partnership brings pharmacy technician training to VIU

December 14, 2022
Author: Eric Zimmer

Access training for this high-demand field on the Island

Pharmacy technicians play “an essential role for medication systems,” says Island Health’s Director of Pharmacy Operations, David Forbes.

Now, a new partnership between Vancouver Island University (VIU) and Selkirk College in the BC Interior will help train more people to work in this highly in-demand field.

The partnership is part of the BC government’s goal to expand allied health seats right across the province, and earlier this year it provided $3.5 million to BC post-secondary institutions to help make this goal a reality. In BC, the allied health workforce provides a range of preventative, diagnostic, technical and therapeutic care, as well as clinical support services.

This means Vancouver Island students will have access to Selkirk’s 15-month program, which has existed for 20 years and is nationally accredited, without needing to relocate. 

The theory portion of the program will be delivered online by Selkirk, and VIU will deliver the lab portion of the program out of the Cowichan campus in Duncan. Students will apply to the program through Selkirk and will receive their diploma from Selkirk as well, but they can transfer credits to VIU if they wish to further their post-secondary careers. The program also includes two separate, 180-hour practicums – one at a pharmacy in the community and one in a hospital. 

“The Pharm-Tech program at Selkirk prepped me for my job,” says Serena Ross, who works at Gold River Telepharmacy in Gold River, BC, as the town’s only Registered Pharmacy Technician.

Licensed since 2018, Serena works with pharmacists from the company’s central location on Quadra Island. Her day-to-day duties involve typing/entering prescriptions into the system, filling medications, performing final checks on medications, being the main point of contact for patients asking questions about their medications/what they have available for refills, and demonstrating to patients how to use all sorts of medical devices, including blood glucose meters, epi-pens, inhalers and everything in between.

“I could probably pick out 10 things an hour that I do that connect directly back to what I learned in school,” says Serena. “The knowledge parts of the course that we do online are some of the best basics you can get for information. The lab portion – being in the classroom practicing what it is like to work in a pharmacy – was so vital. It gives you a really good chance to see firsthand what some of the things you will be doing in pharmacy will look like.”

With a dad and step-mom who are both licensed pharmacists, Serena has always had an interest in this type of career.

“My original plan was actually to go to pharmacy school, but after a year at UBC doing chemistry, I decided that particular route was not going to work for me,” she recalled. “I talked to my dad about what to do next and suggested trying the pharmacy tech program through Selkirk.”

Serena said the most rewarding part of her job is “being able to go home at the end of the day and know that I have helped someone. Working in a pharmacy can be a very difficult job some days. We deal with people who are sick or unwell, or dealing with a family member or loved one who is ill, and we know that can be trying and taxing and some patients can be kinder than others. But for those patients who walk out the door saying thank you and showing gratitude for your help – or seeing them come back a few days later and telling you how much you helped, it is one of the best feelings in the world.”

For those ready to start their career path, Serena advises people to dive in and “enjoy the ride. It’s fun, stressful, eventful and no two days will ever be the same. There are always new patients, new medications, new issues. It is a job that will keep you on your toes and always learning.”

It’s a sentiment that is also echoed by Forbes: “We have seen our pharmacy technicians involved in technology implementation, informatics and countless other projects related to medication systems. Island Health Pharmacy fully supports the Pharmacy Technician program at VIU and looks forward to welcoming students at our sites for practicum rotations.”

And ultimately, he adds, “we look forward to program graduates finding employment in our organization.”

Applications are now open for the program’s next intake, with classes starting in July 2023.

Related Posts

Got an article idea for the blog? Email students@viu.ca.

Sign up for our blog