INA, Ill. (Nov. 16, 2016) - With just its third semester wrapping up, the Rend Lake College Pharmacy Technician Program is making waves by providing students with an opportunity to enter a rapidly expanding and evolving field. Pharmacy Instructor Shelly Bethard is helping lead the charge, putting her experience in the lab and as a student to prepare people for the work force.

Bethard had a roundabout road to the classroom. She explained that she had always wanted to teach, but life threw in some twists and turns before she finally found herself in front of the classroom.

“My educational background is I attended three-and-a-half years of Pharmacy school at St. Louis College of Pharmacy. Then, I had a few hiccups in life and moved back home. So, when I came back, I finished my associate degree here at Rend Lake College. That was in 1998,” she explained.

Following her education, Bethard was able to find a position at Crossroads Community Hospital where she has been employed in the Pharmacy Department for 21 years. As it turns out, a few of Bethard’s coworkers at the hospital also taught in RLC’s Allied Health Division and encouraged Bethard to apply for an opening teaching in the new Pharmacy Program.

“It’s a lot different being on that side of the classroom,” Bethard joked. “I still see myself as young, but I see these students who are right out of high school or in their 20s, and it’s pretty easy to see yourself out there in those desks and remember what it was like.”

Pharm1WMarkeidra McGee from Mt. Vernon weighs out powder as part of the hands-on experience taught by the RLC Pharmacy Technician Program. Click on the image for a larger view.

She said that experience of being where her students are has helped her appreciate what she’s doing in front of the class. Her two decades in the field has helped her know the challenges they will come up against in the job market.

“Knowing where I was at that point in my life and knowing where I am now helps me be more encouraging and understanding with them. I feel like I’m well equipped to help guide them. There is a lot to take in and process, but we do a really good job of guiding them through all the ins and outs of the job,” she said.

“Pharmacy is such a great and varied field. It’s a workplace that offers a lot of hands-on action. I think that’s really rewarding. You can work in a hospital setting or in a retail setting and both offer a unique set of experiences and challenges.”

Another aspect of the business is the ability to develop lasting relationships with patients, families or customers.

“You see these people out and about in the community, and they know who you are. You’ve built a connection with them. That’s really rewarding. They see your hard work and your positive attitude and recognize that. You are kind of a spokesman for the entire field every time you interact with someone.”

Bethard also said that many of the settings that she has experienced offer the constructive environment of working in a close-knit team. The entire staff in the department is dependent on each other to make sure things get done and that things transition smoothly as the day progresses.

Pharm2WKelcy Smith, Benton, builds an IV Piggyback as part of her training as a Pharmacy Technician at Rend Lake College. Click on the image for a larger view. 

In RLC’s Pharmacy program, students study the history of pharmacy, the retail aspects of the profession, including offshoots like insurance and billing, various drug forms used by hospitals, how the drugs are administered, some pharmacy-related calculations and all the other knowledge needed to pass the certification exam to become a Pharmacy Technician.

But, students aren’t limited to stopping after their certification. Bethard said she has had students express interest in continuing on to pharmacy school to become pharmacists because they enjoyed the subject matter and the profession so much.

In addition to hospitals and retail pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS, doctor’s offices, nursing homes and assisted living facilities might employee a pharmacy department.

Bethard said retail positions offer pharmacy technicians a great opportunity to get their foot in the door of the profession. She explained that given the numbers of retail positions available, it’s a good place to start. Some technicians really enjoy the retail aspect and the steady workflow of that particular setting, while others look to move on to a medical facility to work in that side of the field.

This is the second year for the program. The entire program is offered in a night class format, making it a viable option for both new students and working adults looking for a possible career change. Classes run every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night with clinical hours varying by clinical site. Something that Bethard was able to take advantage of herself while completing her own education.

“RLC made sense for all the right reasons," said Bethard. It was in-district for Bethard, offering a close-to-home option for advancing her education and career. "Also, as an adult, the ability to complete a degree through night classes was a huge advantage,” she expressed.

“At the time, I had a one-and-a-half year old, and I needed to be able to work and go to school at the same time. So it was just the right fit for me for where I was in my life and what I was trying to accomplish,” she explained.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employment of pharmacy technicians is projected to grow 20 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. This will be due in part to an aging population, necessitating more medications, but also because of increased access to insurance coverage by more people and because of the greater range of services pharmacies are beginning to offer their customers.

“I think pharmacy is an evolving profession. They are always going to be looking for some well-trained pharmacy technicians to help out. Techs are getting so much more involved in the entire process. I know they are looking for people with the knowledge base and a good work ethic. If you have that work ethic and have good people skills, this is a good profession to get into if they want to be in some type of medical field.”

The Pharmacy Technician Program at RLC is a 16 hour occupational certificate aiming to provide the knowledge base needed to pass the National Pharmacy Technician Certification Examination offered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board.

For those considering going on to pharmacy school, Rend Lake also offers an Associate in Science Degree that will offer the foundation needed to transfer into a five-year bachelor’s degree program.

For more information, please contact Mollie Bremer at 618-437-5321, Ext. 1769, or visit  


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