Pros and Cons of Becoming a Chemotherapy Technician
A chemotherapy technician is a pharmacy technician who helps a pharmacist prepare the drugs used to treat cancer. It is important to find out the pros and cons of working as a chemotherapy technician before deciding if this job is for you.
|Pros of Becoming a Chemotherapy Technician|
|Faster-than-average employment growth predicted (20% from 2012-2022)***|
|Satisfaction of helping to treat patients with cancer**|
|Work in a well-lighted and ventilated environment**|
|Cons of Becoming a Chemotherapy Technician|
|Average yearly pay of approximately $31,000***|
|Must wear gloves (double gloves), shoe covers, masks, hair nets and gowns when preparing drugs*|
|Work in a stressful, fast-paced environment in which mistakes may result in serious health problems***|
|Job is physically taxing (standing for long periods, lifting and bending)***|
Sources: *Vanderbilt University Medical Center, **Ensuring Quality Cancer Care Through The Oncology Workforce (book), ***U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Job Description and Duties
A chemotherapy technician is a pharmacy technician who helps a pharmacist prepare the drugs used to treat cancer. They may work in pharmacies, hospitals, grocery stores and department stores. A pharmacist receives the prescription outlining the drug to use, the dose, administration method, fluid to use to deliver the drug and the length of treatment, along with the date. The pharmacist keys the information into the computer. The chemotherapy technician is responsible for compounding the treatment drugs.
To make the chemotherapy, the technician uses a biological safety cabinet. This piece of equipment allows the technician to mix the chemotherapy drugs in a sterile environment. Additionally, it protects the technician from the strong drugs he or she is using. The technician first looks at the label to see what is required and gathers the necessary supplies (chemotherapy containers, alcohol wipes, syringes and needles). The technician measures out the precise amount of chemotherapy using the syringe and then places the medication in a syringe or a bag of the required fluid. The tech labels the bag or syringe. Other duties include maintaining the safety cabinets, assisting other healthcare professional if needed, ordering clinical supplies and keeping track of the inventory.
Salary Info and Career Prospects
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary of a pharmacy technician was about $31,000 as of May 2014. Chemotherapy technicians might experience excellent job prospects as indicated by statistics from the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which predicted a 48% increase in the number of cancer cases from 2007-2020. Furthermore, the BLS expected an employment growth faster than average at 20% in the 2012-2022 decade for pharmacy technicians.
What Are the Requirements?
To become a chemotherapy technician or pharmacy technician, you need a high school diploma. It's not necessary to complete formal education beyond high school. Generally, pharmacists train their chemotherapy technicians on the job. Vocational schools and community colleges do offer certificate programs in pharmacy technology that generally last about a year, if you want formal training. Most states have regulations for pharmacy techs, though these vary. Some states require a licensure or registration. For example, the state of Massachusetts requires pharmacy technicians to register. Technicians must have a high school diploma and can choose between completing 500 hours working as a trainee or completing the National Pharmacy Technician Training program.
The state of Massachusetts determines the scope of practice for pharmacy technicians, certified pharmacy technicians and interns. The state administers a test an intern must pass to become a pharmacy technician or the pharmacist may submit his or her own test to the state to test the intern. On the other hand, the state of Michigan does not regulate pharmacy technicians. It's important to check your state's requirements before proceeding.
Chemotherapy Technician Skills
Chemotherapy technicians need to be detail oriented and able to multitask. Working as a chemotherapy technician requires math and computer skills and knowledge of programs such as Microsoft Word, Power Point and Excel. Additionally, they need to be proficient with automated dose-dispensing machines and software, such as Pyxis or McKesson.
Job Postings from Real Employers
Employers advertising for a chemotherapy technician generally ask for a certified pharmacy technician with chemotherapy experience. The following excerpts are from open jobs posted in May 2012:
- A physician practice in Washington, DC, advertised for a pharmacy technician/oncology technician to work as a pharmacy tech as well as prepare chemotherapy, along with the necessary documentation. Tech will be responsible for pharmaceutical calculations, inventory control, record keeping and chemotherapy admixture. Tech must have experience with IV admixture, along with an understanding of strengths and forms of drug dosage, drug trade and generic name equivalents, aseptic techniques and chemotherapy regiments. Candidates need a high school diploma, and employers prefer candidates who are certified pharmacy technicians.
- A cancer center in South Carolina sought a mixing pharmacy technician to mix chemotherapy drugs, monitor inventory and fill prescriptions. Applicants must be National Pharmacy Technician certified.
- A hospital in Colorado was looking for an oncology pharmacy technician who has a high school diploma and is certified as a pharmacy technician. Applicants must have oncology and admixture experience, along with knowledge of hazardous waste. Among other duties, technician will be responsible for preparing medication orders, such as chemotherapy.
How to Stand out
While in high school, consider volunteering or getting a part-time job in a hospital, health clinic or community pharmacy. Certification is voluntary, but many employers require it, and obtaining certification will help you stand out from other candidates when applying for a position.
The National Healthcareer Association offers the (ExCPT) Pharmacy Technician Certification. To take the exam, you must have a high school diploma and have worked for a year as a pharmacy intern or finished a training program. The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) also administers a certification. Candidates must have a high school diploma and pass the exam to be certified.
The National Pharmacy Technician Association (NPT) offers the Sterile Product or IV (aseptic techniques and preparation of sterile products) and Chemo (hazardous drugs handling) certifications.
For the sterile product certification, students complete home training modules, then go to the training institute in Houston to complete hands-on training and validation of their skills. Students seeking chemo certification must have completed the IV certification course from NPT or an ACPE (Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education) 40-hour course in aseptic techniques or accrued 600 hours working in aseptic techniques. Students complete ten home-based modules as well as one day of training at the Hazardous Drugs Training Institute in Houston.
Other Career Paths
Working with dangerous drugs is not for everyone. If you've decided it's not the job for you, but you're still interested in the medical field, you might consider becoming a medical assistant. As a medical assistant, you take patients' histories, give injections, help with examinations and schedule appointments. You need a high school diploma and will likely be trained on the job. Medical assistants made a median salary of about $29,000 as of 2012. The job outlook for medical assistants is excellent with a predicted employment growth of 31%, much faster than the average from 2010-2020, according to the BLS.
Perhaps you're looking for something that pays a little better, but doesn't require a lot of education. If you're willing to enroll in a community college or vocational school to earn an associate's degree, you may become a clinical laboratory or medical technician. The program includes clinical lab and science courses. You may have to obtain certification and/or licensure. Laboratory technicians test tissue and bodily fluids (blood and urine) for abnormalities. The BLS predicted that employment for medical technicians would grow by 15% from 2010-2020. Lab technicians made a median salary of about $37,000, as of May 2011.