Pictured above is pharmacy technician Norma Hansen (bottom left) alongside her pharmacy peers.
Over the past two years, Ontario has seen an increased strain on its healthcare system. To meet Ontario’s healthcare demand and support the pharmacy profession, in early 2021 a temporary legislative exemption under the Regulated Health Professionals Act enabled pharmacy technicians to administer the COVID-19 vaccine.
To further support Ontario communities and enhance access to vaccines, the College submitted draft regulations to government to enable pharmacy technicians to administer the influenza vaccine. Experience with the COVID-19 vaccine demonstrated pharmacy technicians have the knowledge, skills and judgement to safely administer the technical components of the influenza vaccine. Approved by the government in November 2021, the expanded scope of practice recognized the demands of the flu season on pharmacies and provided additional capacity to support Ontario communities.
Pharmacy Connection chatted with four pharmacy technicians to share their stories on the impact of the expanded scope of practice and how they, along with their pharmacy peers, increased access to care to support a healthy Ontario.
Before becoming a registered pharmacy technician, Lorraine Strong worked as a registered nurse. Strong was first introduced to pharmacy when she was given the opportunity in her nursing position to run her workplace pharmacy under the supervision of a pharmacist.
For Strong, pharmacy combines her nursing knowledge, patient care experience and problem-solving skills in a way that makes every day both challenging and rewarding. And with pharmacy technicians now able to administer the influenza vaccine, Strong has experienced one of the most rewarding moments of her career.
“Administering the flu and COVID-19 vaccinations has become the highlight of my career,” says Strong. “I love the personal interactions with both my regular patients, as well as meeting new people in the community.”
By increasing access to vaccinations, patients no longer have to travel long distances to regional immunization clinics, and some find it more comforting to receive care from their familiar pharmacy professionals at their community pharmacy.
In addition to influenza vaccines, Strong and her team have administered over 3,800 COVID-19 vaccinations throughout the pandemic. With this increased workload, Strong learned the value of solving problems quickly and gained a new appreciation for how effective teamwork can contribute to an efficiently run pharmacy.
“I definitely feel that I am contributing greatly to the functioning of the pharmacy and to the well-being of our patients,” says Strong. “I can only wonder what new experiences the future will bring for pharmacy technicians.”
Like Strong, Norma Hansen began her career path in nursing. After deciding it wasn’t the right fit, Hansen looked to pharmacy. She knew she wanted to be in a medical field, enjoyed hospital pharmacy and the opportunity to work alongside other healthcare professionals.
When the opportunity to administer COVID-19 and influenza vaccines became a possibility for pharmacy technicians, Hansen quickly applied to complete her injection training.
“Administering vaccinations gave me a chance to return to my nursing roots and I enjoyed the learning opportunity that the role expansion provided,” says Hansen.
Hansen began working with the hospital’s Director of Pharmacy and Hospital Vaccine Team to develop policies for the preparation and administration of COVID-19 vaccine and she supported the implemented of a vaccine clinic for healthcare workers and frontline personnel.
“The hospital pharmacy technicians who completed the required injection training were able to put their new skills to use to support vaccination efforts,” says Hansen. “The clinic was so successful that a hockey hub-style clinic was developed by local Public Health where pharmacy technicians worked preparing vaccines and immunizing patients.”
The expanded scope of practice provided additional capacity to support communities across the province. Hansen and her peers also worked at mobile clinics that reached rural and Indigenous communities, and at local clinics immunizing children.
“I am very proud of my contribution to the fight against the global pandemic,” says Hansen. “It has given me the opportunity to educate and provide a safer world for all.”
Pharmacy technicians are an integral part of any healthcare system, and Jennifer Singh is honoured to be part of the team.
Completing her injection training and serving on the frontlines during flu season and the pandemic helped boost Singh’s confidence as a healthcare professional and opened doors in her career.
To ensure safe, quality care is top priority, pharmacy technicians who choose to practice to the full scope of their profession must complete an injection training course approved by the Ontario College of Pharmacists and register their training with the College.
“I was in demand during the peak of the pandemic to assist in the preparation and administration of the COVID-19 vaccine,” says Singh. “Being on the frontlines supporting patients has increased my job satisfaction.”
With Singh’s new skill set and experience she recognizes the breadth of career options available for pharmacy technicians, from community and hospital settings to sales, research and public health.
“Pharmacy technicians made a huge impact on the ability to administer injections to the community, especially during a pandemic,” says Singh. “We have been instrumental in protecting patients and stepping up as a vital partner in the circle of care.”
After working for over 10 years as a pharmacy assistant, Laura Helder realized the amazing opportunity offered by becoming a registered pharmacy technician. Helder became registered as a pharmacy technician in 2014 and hasn’t looked back.
“The scope of practice has expanded so much and continues to do so, that pharmacy technicians are looked upon to fill new roles to best support our patients,” says Helder. “Administering flu and COVID-19 vaccines has taught me that this profession is a continual learning profession. There will always be something new to learn.”
Giving pharmacy technicians the authority to administer flu vaccines provides patients with greater access to care and improves workflow by enabling pharmacy technicians to use their education and training more effectively.
Administering vaccines has also given pharmacy technicians a way to connect with patients on a new level. Helder and her pharmacy colleagues vaccinated over 100 patients a day, helped put patients at ease and answered any questions they had. Helder found most patients expressed gratitude they were able to be receive their influenza and COVID-19 vaccines at a pharmacy level, making it a one-stop-shop to pick up their medications and receive vaccinations.
“Being able to help our patients with an expanded scope has been very rewarding,” says Helder. “I like that we’re able to take on more tasks that can improve the pharmacy workflow and best serve our patients.”
In addition to patient care, the expanded scope of practice has positively impacted other areas of healthcare by giving pharmacists, nurses and doctors more time to focus on the clinical aspects of their jobs.
Completing the injection training has allowed Helder to gain a valuable new skill and made her position more involved and engaging. She can’t wait to see how the profession will further evolve.
“As pharmacy technicians, we have come so far in such a short amount of time,” says Helder. “I am really excited to see where it goes next.”