Clay Sprouse’s students recently begged for more than their allotted time in the Piedmont Technical College (PTC) pharmacy technology laboratory. They actually wanted to stay after hours. That was a first.
“My students stayed after lab class because they wanted to have more practice,” Sprouse said. “I have never had that happen before. When you get to that point of the day when it’s their time — it’s voluntary time — I can’t say no.”
The dedicated pharmacy tech lab at PTC has been transformed this year. Just after the program’s reaccreditation, PTC invested in recommended new equipment and upgrades, including a simulated drive-up window, an automated dispensing cabinet, a new medication cart, an incubator for fingertip testing and new prescription processing software.
“The lab needs to look and feel like a real working pharmacy. We have essentially a completely different lab from what we had before,” Sprouse said. “We have all the bells and whistles you would find in any hospital pharmacy.”
While in the PTC lab, technicians are required to wear uniforms, are assigned to certain sections of the lab, and given tasks just as they would be assigned on the job. Sprouse is well-acquainted with pharmacy operations, having worked for CVS for more than 10 years.
With extensive experience training others, he felt that teaching could be a natural fit. He now holds a master’s in education with an emphasis on curriculum instruction.
A ‘Goofball’ With the Right Stuff
Sprouse is passionately committed to his job. He says the main challenge is to keep the material fresh. With the obvious rapport he has with his students, he is succeeding in that endeavor. They clearly respond well to Sprouse’s playful energy and contagious enthusiasm.
“The class is a lot of fun,” said student Jordan Hampton. “Clay is a goofball, but he hits all the major topics and prepares us for what we will experience in the clinical setting.”
Hampton’s favorite part of the pharmacy tech program is working in the lab. “To go into the lab and see hands-on how it’s actually done, that cements the information in my head,” she said.
“I love teaching,” Sprouse says. “After doing this for seven years, I am guessing that I have graduated about 100 students. With a lot of them, I can see an immediate change in their lives. When they graduate and get that job, when they are finding a home in the pharmacy world, I know I have made a difference.”
Sprouse says the pharmacy world has changed a lot since he started as a technician in college. He is determined that his students will be prepared. In hospital-based pharmacies, for example, pharmacy technicians are assuming more responsibility, including medication reconciliation and meeting patients upon admission to log their medications and doses (essentially take a patient history). It’s a critical role because an estimated 33 percent of readmits to the hospital are caused by some medication event.
“If (hospital) pharmacists are out on the floor doing exit interviews, who is picking up the slack?” Sprouse asked. The pharmacy technicians. In retail pharmacies, pharmacists are busier counseling patients. Again, the pharmacy technician increasingly provides more support.
With the exception of narcotics, some 90 percent of prescriptions today are “e-scribed” (electronically submitted). This practice has greatly enhanced accuracy and safety. There also are measures in place to identify fraud or dangerous drug-seeking behaviors. “We need to train our students to identify the red flags,” he said. “We have to be on our toes.”
Over the years, Sprouse has nurtured relationships with pharmacy employers in the region. They often turn to PTC when they are searching for candidates to fill their technician positions. As the profession continues to evolve, Sprouse is confident that PTC can meet the need.
“Pharmacy technology is a living, breathing thing,” he said. “Because of some of the new tools we have to work with, I feel like it’s given me new life in the classroom to do an even better job of conveying to students what they will see out in the real world.”
For more information about the Pharmacy Technology program at PTC, visit www.ptc.edu/pharmacy.