Pharmacy Apprenticeship Program Beginning in Belleville

Due to a nationwide pharmacy technician shortage, Ryan Birk, pharmacy director at Memorial, said our Memorial team wanted to support new pharmacy technicians with the highest level of training through a federally registered apprenticeship program.

In partnership with Southwestern Illinois College (SWIC), the pharmacy apprenticeship program is in its beginning stages at Memorial. This is the first type of program in the St. Louis area for pharmacy technicians.

Pharmacy technicians are critical team members supporting safe medication mixing/compounding, which allows medications to be available for our patients and care team. Our pharmacy technicians safely prepare medications for patients, talk with patients to ensure an accurate patient home medication list, and ensure timely medication deliveries.

“We recruit, interview and hire three people twice per year to be a part of BJC, and we support each person through the program by compensating, mentoring, and training them as part of a federally-funded grant,” Birk said. “We can also support their tuition, which is beneficial for the student.”

Students who complete the 16-week course at SWIC and pass the Pharmacy Technician Certification (PTCB) exam receive a national pharmacy training certification, federally registered apprenticeship certification, 15 hours of college credit toward other college advancements, and all the benefits of being a BJC employee.

Birk said the apprenticeship program is for individuals with little to no medical or pharmacy experience who want to get their foot in the door to work in pharmacy and healthcare.

“Students will start in pharmacy, of course,” he said. “Inside of pharmacy, they will have the opportunity for additional growth levels and positions, such as gaining responsibilities by becoming a pharmacy technician one, two, three or four. It’s a great foundation if you want to go forward in healthcare and grow a career.”

Current program apprentice and Memorial staff member, Malinda Cooks, said being in the program has already benefitted her education and career tremendously.

Photo: Malinda Cooks, Pharmacy Technician at MHB

“I wanted to join this program because it was a perfect opportunity to expand my knowledge in pharmacy, to assist the patients better by understanding the importance of the medications, and to help me become a certified technician after passing the Pharmacy Technician Certification exam,” Cooks said.

She said her experience inside the program so far has been positive, and the instructors have been very willing to do what it takes to make sure the students succeed. Cooks said she highly recommends this program to anyone thinking about the healthcare field.

“I especially recommend this program to people without pharmacy experience,” Cooks said. “It gives them the opportunity to learn about the top 200 medications, laws, pharmacy calculations and terminology all while getting hands-on experience during rotations.”

Melissa Epps, pharmacy technician program coordinator at SWIC, said she’s never seen a pharmacy apprenticeship program like this before as it is a newer concept in training healthcare workers.

“The concept has been used for years in different industries and sectors of the workforce,” Epps said. “The benefits of the joint apprenticeship program are that it provides healthcare workers with a strong educational background and an on-the-job training program to prepare and sustain the next generation of healthcare workers without the student having to take on a large amount of educational expenses.”

Aside from being hugely beneficial to the students completing the program, this program is also a benefit to Memorial.

“This program will develop a high-quality pharmacy technician team,” Birk said. “That is the biggest benefit to the hospital – getting people into healthcare in a shortage environment and building a team to support our current team.”

Birk said the next steps for the program are to expand the number of possible apprentices to more than three at a time and to be able to include more hospitals in Illinois. We are especially hoping to expand the program across BJC. The key traits for a candidate are reliable transportation, self-starter, problem-solving ability, commitment to learning, customer service and conflict resolution focused, accuracy and focus in a busy environment, prioritization, organization, time management and being a team player.

If you have questions about the Pharmacy Apprenticeship Program, contact Ryan Birk at [email protected]