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Central Oregon Community College preps students for careers in the fast-growing pharmacy tech field

 - COCC's Pharmacy Technician program launches a new cohort in the fall.

Things are looking extra healthy in the field of pharmaceuticals. That's due in large part to the number of baby boomers — people born between 1946 and 1964 — who are reaching older age in an era of advanced medical technology. By 2030, boomers are expected to double the country's senior population to a robust 70 million. As the drug industry surges to support quality of life and treat things that come with senior living, such as chronic disease, the need for support services has grown, too. The pharmacy technician field has ridden that wave: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it's a profession expected to grow by 7% between 2018 and 2028, outperforming the average growth of other occupations. Pharmacy technicians are integral to connecting patients with treatments. They prepare and package medications, from drugs that battle cancer to those that punch out a persistent cold. They calculate prescriptions — mixing, measuring, weighing — and fill orders. Techs help map out a patient's overall medication plan to safely and effectively integrate all prescriptions. It's an interactive, on-your-feet kind of career that blends technology with people skills. At Central Oregon Community College, the pharmacy technician program is now in its 11th year. It's the only accredited program east of the Cascades in Oregon. "This is a great way to be in the medical field but not have direct patient care all the time," said Stephanie O'Bryan, the program's director. "It's a good living, and you can go anywhere in the United States," she added, referring to the national certification achieved through the one-year program. Currently capped at 16 students, the program launches a new cohort each fall, with some of the classes offered in hybrid and online format to serve remote students. Come spring, the students are ready to embark on two practicums where they apply their skills in industry settings: 120 hours in a retail pharmacy setting and 120 hours in an institutional pharmacy setting. They also do a brief stint with PacificSource Health Plans, for an insurance perspective, plus a stint with a compounding pharmacy and a home infusion pharmacy. By the end of the school year, graduates of the program are workforce-ready. The "office" for a pharmacy technician might be at a drugstore or in a hospital. Some work in home health or in medicine compounding. O'Bryan herself previously worked at St. Charles inpatient pharmacy and with Option Care, a home infusion pharmacy. The state of Oregon ranks fourth in the nation in average hourly wage for pharmacy technicians at $19.67. O'Bryan explained that a number of regional employers are routinely in contact for new hires. "There's a huge demand," she explained. That's part of the reason Cassie Vega, who graduated in 2017, chose the career path. "My husband's aunt is a pharmacy tech and she has never had a problem finding a job, so when I looked into the program I figured this might be a good career choice," she said. "I've also always wanted to work in health care."Vega, who works for Option Care, sees a reward in "just being able to call a patient and hear how our medications are helping them." Each state has different laws when it comes to working as a pharmacy tech. When students first start the COCC program, they get their Oregon Board of Pharmacy's technician license. It lasts two years and allows them to work in the state. At the end of the program they sit for their national exam and, with a passing score, can go to any state with their certification to seek employment; some states require additional licensing. "There are so many ways you can go into it," ?O'Bryan said. "So if you're more of a people person you can work in a retail setting, and if you like mixing IVs and helping patients get better, you might like a hospital better. Or if you just want to be on the telephone and talk to patients, insurance might be the way to go. There are so many opportunities and different avenues you can go down." The potential for career advancement includes everything from supervisory roles to added certifications for offshoot specialties, including being an IV technician or working in chemotherapy. "The program at COCC really helps you see what type of pharmacy is best suited for you," Vega said. "It exposes you to knowledge and experience that prepares you for whichever career choice you make." For more details on the pharmacy technician program, visit or call the Madras campus at 541-550-4100.

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