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Pharmacy Tech at Chantilly Academy

Students get real-life experience as interns in pharmacies.

New to The Chantilly Academy this year, the Pharmacy Technician course has proven a huge success. All 51 students in three classes had internships with pharmacies and, at the end of their studies, they became licensed pharmacy technicians.

“IT’S AN AMAZING opportunity,” said teacher Jenny Majeske, shortly before the end of the school year. “All my students blow me out of the water on a daily basis with their knowledge of the world around them and their understanding of life and how medications affect them and their peers.”

“They’re all very driven to do well in this class and they all chose to be here,” she continued. “So there’s a big difference in the way they react to the information I present them; there’s definitely an interest.”

Majeske, 28, has been a pharmacy technician, herself, for eight years and also works in that field at Inova Alexandria Hospital, so she could share firsthand knowledge with her students. And the students obtained further experience during their own internships at local pharmacies — 48 were at CVS and three were already employed elsewhere.

Junior Emma Rixmann took the class because she plans a career in the medical field and knew this course would be a good place to start. “A lot of the medical professions don’t get a lot of pharmacology,” she said. “And we’ve also learned a lot about the laws and rules of pharmacies – which I’ve really been able to apply in my clinical internship.”

For example, she learned about the pseudo ephedrine law. “Because all the cold and cough products are behind the counter now, you have to check the patient’s ID,” she explained. “They must be over 18. You also note how much they’re buying, and they have to sign a log because of some people using ephedrine to make [crystal] meth. I also learned that narcotics have to be dispensed by a pharmacist.”

Rixmann said pharmacy technicians have to read “scripts” (prescriptions) “really carefully” and have to learn all the doctors’ symbols and abbreviations for things such as the time of day a medicine is to be administered, the quantity and how it should be given (i.e. with meals or on an empty stomach).

“WE ALSO learned about hospital pharmacies and inpatients,” she said. “[Those pharmacists] deal a lot more with intravenous and intramuscular medicines and long-term medications, rather than short-term. Infants, teens and elderly patients receive different dosages, and those pharmacists [must also consider] drug interactions because people there are very sick.”

Rixmann found it interesting because, since April 2006, she’s worked for Virginia Surgery Associates in Fair Oaks, assisting with clerical work and phones and helping the nursing office with patient records. Her pharmacy internship began in May and was with the CVS on Centreville Road in Chantilly. Students worked two-hour sessions, eight times each.

“I work in the production area, counting and labeling medications for the pharmacist to check,” she said. “Everything that goes out of the pharmacy is verified and checked by her.” Rixmann also worked the cash register in the customer-pickup area. “I’d give them their prescriptions and ask their first and last names, date of birth and address,” she said. “Then I’d verify it on the prescription bag and ask if they had any questions for the pharmacist.”

Usually, customers would ask how their new medication would interact with other drugs they’re taking, so Rixmann would consult the pharmacist. Then she’d peel off the label from the bag, place it on a special, pickup log and have the customer sign his or her name next to it, acknowledging who’d picked it up. Rixmann enjoyed her work and said things especially got busy between 5:30-7:30 p.m., during the after-work rush.

She said the hardest thing was juggling many different things at once, but “You have to be calm and multi-task and make sure you do your job. And if they eventually hire me, it’ll be a job I can do at another CVS when I go away to college.” She said CVS pharmacists Ellen Councelman and Heather Nguyen were “really nice and helpful,” even if they were busy.

Eyeing a bachelor’s in EMS (emergency medical services) and a career as a paramedic, Rixmann said her Pharmacy Technician class is valuable for anyone considering entering the medical profession.

“SOME PEOPLE think there’s lots of math and science, but we don’t focus on that because we’re not studying to be pharmacists, but pharmacists’ assistants — technicians,” she said. “It’s more practical things.”

Junior Eric Vuong took the class to see if he might like it for a career. “I learned what medicine is and does, how it affects different parts of your body and how it’s both good and bad,” he said. “And knowing abbreviations is good — I can read prescriptions now.”

He worked at the same CVS as Rixmann, usually Thursdays and Saturdays. “It really shows you the role of a pharmacist and how it’s busy, hectic and hard sometimes,” he said. “So I can see why they really need people there; it’s a good learning experience.”

Vuong counted pills and tablets, measured liquids and put them into bottles. He also typed labels and placed them on the bottles. “Finding them is hard,” he said. “They’re arranged alphabetically according to drug name, with the generic drug — which has a different name — beside it. And the shelves are organized vertically, instead of horizontally.”

He said many of the medicines have similar names, “so you have to be careful to get the right one. Vuong said the toughest part was deciphering the handwriting of some of the doctors so he could correctly type the directions for the prescription bottles. The best part was “being there and seeing how a pharmacy works. I’d like to do something related, like maybe sell pharmaceuticals for a drug company.”

Junior Jenni Hall took the class because she thought it would be interesting, and her parents want her to go into the medical field. And, she added, “My mom takes a lot of medications, and I can help her understand her prescriptions. And from the class, I’ve gotten a deeper understanding of pharmacies and what drugs do.

She was one of six students with internships at the Greenbriar CVS and usually worked Saturday afternoons. “It’s a very friendly pharmacy,” said Hall, who hoped to work there this summer, as well. “The people understand you’re new and are willing to give you time to adjust, and they explain things thoroughly.”

EVENTUALLY, she’d like to attend a medical or pre-pharmacy school — although she’s also interested in both creative writing and fashion design. And she said her class at The Chantilly Academy helped her a great deal during her orientation at CVS. And now, she said, “Whenever my parents have a question about their medications, they can ask me and I can either tell them or ask someone. There’s also a ‘Physicians’ Desk Reference’ in class — the A-Z on all medications.”

Hall said she’d recommend the Pharmacy Technician class to anyone interested in learning about drugs, the pharmaceutical field or the medical profession.

Joan Ozdogan, career-experience specialist with The Chantilly Academy, said all the young, pharmacy-tech interns received rave reviews from their employers. Said Ozdogan: "They all received outstanding ratings from the pharmacists who supervised them and were recommended them for hire."

Calling the program a "fabulous opportunity," she said there are 6,200 CVS pharmacies in the U.S., so qualified students can find one to work in, wherever they are. And once they completed the final exam for the class — which is the Virginia State Pharmacy Technician Registration Exam — they became licensed, pharmacy technicians able to work in retail pharmacies, hospitals or HMOs.

Since the academy has a formal partnership with CVS to accept its student interns, students could choose to work in the CVS closest to their homes. "We could not have had a better partner," said Ozdogan. "They've been so patient with our students and encouraged them to obtain further education to become pharmacists. And in exchange, they gained great talent from here."

Teacher Majeske, herself, will attend pharmacy school this fall at Idaho State University, and she said her experience teaching at Chantilly "definitely launched my desire to finish and get my degree. They didn't have anything like this when I was in high school; these kids are an inspiration to me."

"When they came back excited about what they learned and did on the job, it made me proud of what I've taught them and proud of them," continued Majeske. "I could see the light in their eyes and their pride in themselves and what they could do."