The mortar and pestle displayed prominently in many pharmacy logos, and on many pharmacy counters, is a reminder that pharmacists are more than just pill-pushers. They can also formulate or "compound" medications to order, to meet special needs or to create exact dosages. That's especially important in hospitals and a few other settings, where pharmacists prepare medications for injection or intravenous use. Intravenous medications must be prepared following special sterile procedures, and getting certified in IV preparation is important for those pharmacists.
IVs and Sterility
The human body has a range of natural defenses against infection. Any contaminants on medications taken orally, as pills, syrups or lozenges, must survive a range of digestive enzymes as well as the stomach's high acidity. That's not the case with drugs administered intravenously, which provide bacteria and other potentially harmful organisms with an express lane into the blood stream. That gives them a head start in their war against white blood cells and the rest of the immune system, and can cause serious problems for patients whose health and immune systems are already compromised.
The U.S. Pharmacopeia lays out standards for almost everything related to medications. For pharmacists two of the USP's most important chapters are 795, which covers compounding non-sterile medications, and 797, which covers preparation of sterile medications for IV use or injections. IV certification programs for pharmacists and other health care providers must meet USP 797's requirements. These include subjects such as appropriate facilities and equipment, proper aseptic technique, the properties of sterile products and quality control considerations.
One of the major providers of IV certification for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians is the National Pharmacy Technician Association. Its program is divided into two segments, one for self-study and one delivered at the NPTA's own training facility. There are nine self-study modules, each covering one area of USP 797 regulations. Each has its own exam, and you'll have to earn a mark of at least 70 percent on each module. To complete your certification you travel to the NPTA Training Institute in Houston, Texas, for two intensive days of instruction and testing. Sessions are held most weeks, throughout the year.
Other Certification Options
Similar programs are offered by a range of private training organizations across the country, as well as universities and technical or community colleges. Delivery can be in a classroom setting or by distance learning, depending on the individual school. Before choosing one, it's prudent to check with local employers to evaluate which organizations or institutions have the best reputations. A dubious certification does little good at the job interview, and has the added disadvantage of costing you money.
- American Medical Association: Health Care Careers Directory -- Pharmacist
- U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention: About USP
- New Mexico Board of Pharmacy: USP 797 -- A Road to Compliance
- National Pharmacy Technician Association: IV Certification
- TRINU Healthcare: Sterile Pharmaceutical Compounding for Pharmacists & Technicians
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.