The first remote graduation in the history of JVS Boston began with applause sound effects and ended with a singalong to “Sweet Caroline,” celebrating the 15 new pharmacy technicians who started the training program in-person and finished it in online virtual classrooms due to COVID-19 pandemic, bolstering the healthcare workforce during the global coronavirus public health emergency.
JVS CEO and President Jerry Rubin told the students during the graduation celebration how he marveled at how the “historic group” of students quickly adapted from the classrooms at JVS to remote learning with smiles and patience.
“You persisted in the face of many, many challenges way beyond dealing with new technologies,” Rubin said. “Finding space to study, computer time to study, dealing with a lot of anxiety, in a time of real anxiety, which is not just distracting but genuinely a real barrier. You never lost focus. You persisted in all of this and you succeeded. That proves something that’s very important: that you will be incredible pharmacy technicians.”
Funded by a $250,000 Senator Kenneth J. Donnelly Workforce Success Grant through the CommCorp-administered Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund, JVS’s program provides the training to become a Certified Pharmacy Technician with a guaranteed externship placement at one of its participating externship partners: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Children’s Hospital, CVS, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, South Shore Hospital, Tufts Medical Center, and Walgreens. Upon successful completion of the program and externship, JVS assists participants in getting a job in the Boston area in the retail or hospital sector.
In March, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health issued an emergency order authorizing pharmacists and pharmacy technicians licensed in other states to obtain reciprocal licensure to practice in Massachusetts during the current state of emergency, upon written approval of the Public Health Board.
Rubin noted that JVS was founded in 1938 during the Great Depression, and that the students were graduating into a world of unknowns and uncertainty.
“We need a new generation of frontline healthcare workers now more than ever and you’ve proven that you can do this,” he said. “There are a few things we can be sure of. One is we will recover … We’ve been here before and we’ve recovered before. We know this job market will improve, but know that we’re going to be there with you as you succeed at finding jobs and matching with the employers who are going to need you.”
Ted Mower of CVS Health called JVS its “blue chip partner” in putting in the work to develop the training program, and thanked them for not pausing when the pandemic caused workplaces to shut down in the name of public health.
“Now more than ever we find ourselves in a time when qualified, capable and passionate medical professionals have never been so significant,” Mower told the graduates. “Everyone I spoke with confirmed with me that nothing would get in their way. When I think about integrity, living up to your promises, boy, did you do exactly that.”
Program instructor John Bluestein, who teaches mathematics and law as part of the program, noted that the training curriculum is challenging on its own, and then pandemic struck, forcing the students to pivot to online learning.
“I did not plan for a pandemic. Neither did the other instructors, and neither did the JVS staff,” Bluestein said. “We wouldn’t have been successful without the students. The students really pushed us to keep going forward and deliver the lessons and learning materials. Printing at home, borrowing laptops — it was impressive how ingenious some of the students were. Thank you to the students. If it wasn’t for your drive, this never would have been successful.”
Student Cory Blamire, with a humorous pharmacy jargon-laden speech, said that his fellow graduates showed “moxie” in being able to come this far under such circumstances, likening it to scaling a mountain.
“This moxie can only be found when you have a group that’s come together in common cause,” Blamire said. “No one climbs Everest in total isolation. Appreciate the gifts [JVS staff] have given us and don’t squander them. If life is coming as you fast, work seems too hard …. remember that you built up your adaptive defense system by graduating. Moxie is one substance that can’t be controlled or subject to limited refills.”