Most days, Elizabeth Garcia, CPhT-Adv, CSPT, chemotherapy mixing technologist, Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center in Covington, probably won’t be seen by patients. But the work she performs is vital to their treatment – she prepares the medications they receive at each appointment, an effort done at an in-house mixing lab, which is considered the most effective and efficient way to deliver medications to those undergoing cancer care.
Elizabeth joined the Cancer Center in June 2021 with 10 years of experience in pharmacy oncology. That background and expertise is key as she juggles a variety of responsibilities each shift.
She compares the multitude of tasks, which always begin a day in advance of patients’ treatments, to a puzzle. It starts with running through the next day’s schedule and making sure she has everything she needs from pre-meds to equipment.
“This gives me insight into how any given day is going to look,” Elizabeth explained. “This way I can make the process as seamless for patients as possible.”
On treatment day, once an infusion nurse signals a patient is ready to begin treatment, Elizabeth and her colleague Morgon immediately start mixing the necessary medication. Because of Mary Bird Perkins’ on-site mixing capabilities through the lab, something not always guaranteed at other facilities, most patients can begin receiving their treatment in as little as 15 minutes of the order going through.
“We’re able to eliminate the transportation of medication to patients, unlike large cancer organizations,” Elizabeth said. “This speediness only stands to benefit them, so they can go on with their day.”
In addition to having a mixing lab inside the Cancer Center, patients also have immediate access to their doctors, if necessary, making for a convenient one-stop-shop for top-notch cancer care.
“It’s a big asset to have all infusion services on-site,” Elizabeth said. “Patients don’t have to go to another building after they’ve seen their doctor, or go to another location for treatment.”
But as chemotherapy and oncology continue to evolve, Elizabeth has made it a personal priority to stay up to date with the latest practices, another way she and the Mary Bird Perkins team aim to provide the most advanced cancer treatment possible.
New certifications have come along, and in July of 2021, Elizabeth decided she would focus on attaining her Advanced Certified Pharmacy Technician certificate, a credential that only became available in late 2020.
To become eligible for PhT-Adv, Elizabeth had to test for at least four specialty certification programs. She did one better, receiving five certificates, including Certified Compounded Sterile Preparation Technician, Hazardous Drug Management, Medication Therapy Management and Technician Product Verification.
The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board describes PhT-Adv as being for ‘experienced pharmacy technicians who have comprehensive knowledge and skills.’ The credential is aimed at supporting ‘the expanded roles of the most valuable players on the pharmacy team.’
As she focused on growing her personal knowledge, Elizabeth knew this additional credential would help her provide an even better experience to patients.
“I’m constantly looking out for the patient’s best interest,” Elizabeth explained. “Whether it’s a teacher on a tight schedule or someone who has traveled far to get here, I want to make sure they don’t have to wait. That means making sure I don’t mix something too early and have it expire while also being prepared ahead of time to reduce the chance for delays. It’s all about anticipating patients’ needs.”
As of April, there were only 670 pharmacy technicians with the PhT-Adv credential nationwide. Of that small group, only nine of them were in Louisiana.
Cultivating Excellence at the Cancer Center
Elizabeth isn’t the only one with a rare certification inside one of Mary Bird Perkins’ mixing labs. Scarlett Splane, PharmD, BCSCP, consulting pharmacist, Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center at the Essen campus, recently became a Board Certified Sterile Compounding Pharmacist with the Board of Pharmacy Specialties, making her one of six in the state and the only one in Baton Rouge.
It had been a longtime goal for Scarlett, who started at the Cancer Center in October 2021, to acquire her board certification, which requires graduating from an accredited pharmacy school, maintaining an active pharmacist license, working 4,000 post-licensing hours in compounding and sitting for a lengthy exam. She recalls speaking with Dr. Jonas Fontenot, Ph.D., MBA, chief operating officer and Dr. Charles M. Smith chief of physics, early on about her interest in pursuing this certification.
“The Cancer Center has been supportive every step of the way,” Scarlett said. “I’m looking forward to implementing what I’ve learned over the past nine months to better care for and support our patients.”
For Scarlett, the seed of this certification was planted years ago. A passion for science and a personal healthcare experience, losing her dad to a prolonged illness, paved the way for this career path.
“I have always said that my dream of becoming a pharmacist began when I was nine years old standing at the side of my father’s hospital bed,” Scarlett said. “It was then that I first knew I wanted to grow up to work in a healthcare-related field to help sick and hurting people.”
According to the Board of Pharmacy Specialties, board certification is the ‘gold standard for determining which pharmacists are qualified to contribute at advanced practice levels.’
For Scarlett, this is one extra measure she can take to provide exceptional care.
“We’re ensuring quality patient care, improving therapeutic outcomes, while also supervising, training and ensuring overall competency of our staff,” Scarlett explained.
Across the country, there are roughly 1,200 board-certified sterile compounding pharmacists. With Scarlett being the only person with that qualification in the Baton Rouge market, she holds a distinct advantage when it comes to working on patient-specific treatments.
Scarlett said she is proud of the Center’s work and frequently touts the unique capabilities at the Cancer Center that benefit patients, including housing both an infusion center and sterile compounding suite on site.
“These tools allow us to meet all regulatory standards and best practices,” Scarlett said. “We’re also able to be very flexible and work efficiently as a multidisciplinary treatment team. If a provider wants to change a patient’s treatment, we are often able to do that at a moment’s notice. In this way, we offer more comprehensive and individualized patient care.”
For both Elizabeth and Scarlett, these unrivaled certifications may be personal accolades, but they have a direct impact on patients seeking care across the Cancer Center’s network, by ensuring the highest-qualified team of cancer care experts.