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New Sterile Lab Gives Tech Pharmacy Students an Edge

With the completion of a new sterile laboratory, the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) School of Pharmacy will be able to offer its students a specialized type of training that no other pharmacy school in Texas can provide.

Dr. Mikala Conatser, an assistant professor of pharmacy practice at the school, will use the new facility to teach second-year pharmacy students in Amarillo how to perform sterile compounding, a process she describes as manufacturing medication products that will be introduced into a patient intravenously or through similar methods.

Because these types of medications must be produced in the cleanest possible environments by specially trained staff, sterile rooms must pass an air particle count, a bacterial growth test and meet other requirements specified by United States Pharmacopeia (USP) 797.

Conatser said she has been unable to locate a similar facility at any other pharmacy school in the country.

“Other schools do offer a sterile compounding course, but this new lab has really raised the bar,” Conatser said. “Each student has their own hood to compound in and they are taught with great detail the proper steps in the process. They garb, wash their hands, clean their hoods and new techniques/processes are introduced each week to help build their foundation as the semester progresses. At the end of the course students will be able to easily compound without risk or fear of needle sticks or contaminating products.”

Dr. Thomas Thekkumkara, regional dean for the School of Pharmacy in Amarillo, said the school paid $520,000 to convert the roughly 2,000-square-foot space from classroom to laboratory. The main room contains 26 individual workstations with hoods where students are taught to perform proper sterile procedures. The laboratory space is located at the site of a former classroom on the second floor of the main School of Pharmacy building on the TTUHSC campus. The classroom was moved to the school’s Pharmacy Academic Center when that building opened in 2010.

The School of Pharmacy in Abilene has also constructed a sterile laboratory to teach second-year students enrolled on its campus.

Conatser said the sterile laboratory provides Texas Tech pharmacy students with an advantage when they graduate and enter the work force.

“Students who are interested in a hospital-based career will already have a good base knowledge of the sterile compounding process and will be able to easily adapt that to their workplace,” Conatser said. “Students involved in a retail setting will also benefit from the process as they will become more at ease with using needles and pulling up medications, facilitating their ability to give vaccinations to their patients.”

Conatser said the lab reinforces important sterile compounding techniques that students previously could only simulate.

“I’ve talked to members of my own graduating class and other students who took this course before the new lab was built and they feel this facility will greatly improve knowledge retention,” Conatser said. “I believe the repetition of performing standard tasks and not having to pretend, but actually being able to sanitize their own work space and make sterile products in each and every lab will be very beneficial in the long run to our students and their future patients.”


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