The first in-person lab period of Stenberg’s Pharmacy Technician program was challenging but enormously rewarding. The past month has been a whirlwind of emotions and new experiences. Packing up and leaving my family for a month was difficult, but it was worth it to gain valuable hands-on skills for my new career. Nervous but excited, I said goodbye to my husband and three kids and headed to Surrey for my first lab sessions.
A New Adventure
I was unsure of what to expect when I arrived at school on my first day and filled with anxiety and excitement at the thought of meeting my classmates and instructors. We had only met online, so this was a whole new experience. I will never forget walking into the school for the first time and seeing all my classmates’ faces. We all seemed equally nervous and excited to be starting this new adventure together. It didn’t take long for us to feel comfortable with each other. For me, it only took a few moments.
I could feel my nerves calm down once we entered the classroom and finally had the chance to meet our instructors in person. They introduced themselves and briefly explained what our evenings would entail. We made a simple compound and learned some basic principles. I enjoyed the first night of school, and I was eager to see what else we would learn over the next four weeks.
On a typical evening in class, we split into our three designated groups and rotated between three classrooms learning new theories or practicing new skills for five hours. My favourite class was the compounding lab, where we made a variety of compounds, including eutectic mixtures (solid + solid = liquid), powder in a cream, cream in a cream, liquid in a liquid, etc. We learned something new nearly every day while working on perfecting our techniques. My most memorable night was crushing tablets with pharmacy tools and making capsules by hand.
Our second classroom was the computer lab. In this class, we would practice all aspects of receiving prescriptions, from transcribing them to entering and filling them in a lab Stenberg set up to look and feel like a pharmacy. Behind our computer stations was a wall of mock medications that we used for practice. I had never worked in a pharmacy before, so this class was the most challenging for me. There was much to learn in a short period, but our instructor was very knowledgeable and an excellent teacher. My favourite part of this lab was working with the pretend medications. We would use counting trays to practice counting the “tablets.”
Our third classroom was a theory class. Typical subjects for this class would include pharmacy math, pharmacy device education, role-play scenarios, and concepts needed for our other labs.
During the day, before heading to labs, I typically worked on my assignments. Our online coursework during the four weeks was minimal. Most of it was writing journal entries. When I wasn’t busy doing schoolwork, I would drive to the local malls and window shop or find a local restaurant to have lunch with a friend or classmate.
I stayed with a classmate at an Airbnb, so most of our days were spent talking about school and getting to know each other better. We both have families back home, so we shared a connection. Most of our classmates had friends or family to stay with, but a few of us had to find places to stay in the Surrey area. It was easy to find a place to stay as there are plenty of short-term rentals. Our rental was a short eight-minute drive to the school. After class, a large group of us would usually go to a restaurant across the street from our school or visit each other.
We didn’t have school on the weekends, which left us free to sightsee or do what interested us. Some students went home on the weekends as many lived on Vancouver Island. Those who lived too far away would stay in the Lower Mainland. During my first weekend, I met up with some childhood friends from a nearby city and went to Vancouver for some sightseeing and reminiscing. We stayed in a downtown apartment and walked to restaurants and local eateries. It had been many years since I had been to Vancouver, so it was fun to see all the changes. Another weekend, a friend and I drove out to Harrison Hot Springs. I grew up in a nearby city, so I have many fond memories. We spent the weekend going for walks along Harrison Lake and hitting up the local ice cream shops and cafes. I found that my weekends were a great chance to recharge and prepare for the upcoming week of school.
Test of Knowledge
Besides the brief move to a different province, the most intimidating part of this experience was the three zero-tolerance (no errors) tests we had during our last week of labs. The first was a math test where we had one hour to answer 25 questions correctly. The second was a compounding test where we had to make every step of a compound precisely in 30 minutes. The third one, and most intimidating for me, was the computer lab exam in which we had to accurately transcribe, input, and fill six prescriptions within half an hour. Thanks to our instructors, who taught us everything we needed to succeed, we all passed the exams. We were thrilled to be able to celebrate together at the end of that stressful evening.
Only the Beginning
This experience has given me a rollercoaster of emotions. Being away from my family for a month wasn’t easy, but my husband is supportive of my dreams and successfully managed the household without me. I thoroughly enjoyed the in-person aspect of these classes. I’ve enjoyed getting to know my instructors and classmates and look forward to heading back to Surrey next month to learn about hospital pharmacy dispensing and protocols for our last set of in-person. I plan to do more sightseeing while I’m there, with White Rock and Victoria at the top of my list!
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