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WHS Cultivates Future Pharmacy Technicians

Photo of WHS Pharmacy Technician class Waller High School (WHS) is dedicated to offering students a variety of Career and Technical Education (CTE) opportunities. About 85% of WHS students are enrolled in one or more CTE courses. One of the courses they offer is the Pharmacy Technician program, which is known as Pharm Tech for short. A Pharm Tech is a certified healthcare professional who performs pharmacy-related functions and works hand-in-hand with a pharmacist. They are responsible for assembling and supplying medicine to patients, providing medical information, and managing supplies. WHS has offered this program for nine years. It is taught by Natalie Miller, who also leads WHS’ EMT course.

“Programs like pharmacy tech are extremely important for our students. They leave high school with not only a certification but job-related experience and can immediately go into the workforce,” Miller said. “Whether the students decide to pursue this career long-term or as a college job, they are prepared.”

In order to be eligible for the Pharm Tech program, students must follow the Health Science Career pathway. The pathway requires them to take Principles of Health Science, Medical Terminology, and Health Science Theory courses. Students begin the pathway as freshmen. In their junior year, they apply to take Pharm Tech as a senior. For the application, they submit three teacher references, disciplinary records, class rank, attendance, and a statement about why they wish to take the course.

“I decided to enter Pharm Tech because I want to enter the medical field as a profession,” Senior Felisa Arellano said. “Maybe it will influence my career choice."

There is limited space available in the Pharm Tech course. Miller consults with the Health Science team and school counselors to narrow down applicants. This year, because of high demand, Miller expanded from one class to two.

Throughout the year, students learn federal and state laws pertaining to the pharmacy industry, drug classifications, ethical and legal issues, aseptic technique, career opportunities, and pharmacy operations. Students are made aware of the high level of dedication it takes to be successful in the program. On top of keeping up with all other classes and grades, they are memorizing the top 300 drug names, practicing interpreting prescriptions, learning advanced pharmacy math. In the end, the work pays off with students being eligible to sit for the board exam and become certified pharmacy technicians.

“These students work really hard in this program. This is a college-level class, that is typically a 2-year program in a college setting...these students are completing it in high school,” Miller said. “They are rock stars!”

Students are also required to complete 50 clinical hours as part of the curriculum. This is a requirement set by WHS to ensure students receive hands-on experience. For clinical hours, WHS has partnered with Walgreens pharmacies. Students visit the pharmacies twice a week during their Pharm Tech class and spend an hour working before returning to school.

“I really do enjoy the program because we get hands-on experience by going to the pharmacies and doing things that actual pharmacy technicians do,” Arellano said. “Helping out in the pharmacies helps me get a feel of what it’s like to be in the medical field.”

The partnership with Walgreens began seven years ago when Miller reached out to surrounding pharmacies in hopes of getting clinical hours for students. Walgreens pharmacies in Cypress and Magnolia were quick to answer the call and support students.

“Walgreens pharmacies have by far been the easiest and most supportive organization to work with. They work so well with the students and really take the time to show them the skills needed,” Miller said. “Many of the Walgreens pharmacies will actually hire the students as a pharmacy technician trainee while they are still in high school!”

As Waller ISD grows, Miller hopes to expand the Pharm Tech program to allow for more students to have access to the course and more partnerships among local pharmacies.

“One of the things I love most about teaching is seeing the kids’ faces light up when it all comes together. Knowing that all their hard work has paid off,” Miller said. “They become more confident not only in class, but the pharmacies report back that the students are progressing and really taking initiative.”