If you have ever picked up a prescription at a pharmacy, you have probably seen a pharmacy technician behind the counter. This person is tasked with preparing and distributing medications to customers under the direct supervision of a pharmacist. They often need to collect and record details on patient records and place medication orders after taking inventory of current stock levels. They are responsible for helping the pharmacist and ensuring that all patients are safe.
Pharmacy technicians can work in a variety of settings, which means there are a lot of career opportunities for anyone who wants to be involved in the healthcare setting from a different perspective. Pharmacists can work in a retail setting, such as a drugstore or grocery store, or in a healthcare setting, such as a hospital or a nursing home.
If this sounds appealing to you, take a second to learn more about the steps to becoming a pharmacy technician.
Steps to Become a Pharmacy Technician
Step 1: Obtain a High School Degree or GED
All pharmacy technicians must have graduated high school or obtained an equivalent degree, such as a GED.
Most programs will also require that they pass a background test before enrolling.
Courses to Consider
Students in high school who are considering becoming a pharmacy technician may find that chemistry and biology courses helpful.
Step 2: Enroll in a Pharmacy Technician Program or Earn an Associate’s Degree
New pharmacy technicians can take two potential routes to become fully certified and eligible for hire.
The first is a diploma or certificate school program. This type of pharmacy technician program generally takes about one year and concludes with the certifications mentioned below. There is usually a wide range of pharmacy technician programs available online and in-person at local community colleges, but you want to make sure that the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board accredits them if you plan to obtain certification following the course. These programs generally teach students a wide variety of skills and information that pertains to their job role, including community and institutional pharmacy practice, drug classifications, pharmacy law, pharmaceutical math, and how to compound medications.
Some students choose to obtain a pharmacy technician associate’s degree, which takes two years to complete, but is a more comprehensive approach to the job field and, in some positions, will help you edge out the competition.
Completing an associate’s degree may also help you obtain a higher entry-level salary. Throughout the course of a two-year degree, future pharmacy technicians will learn about pharmaceutical sciences in more depth, including management and customer service. They are required to take general education courses that result in a more well-rounded education.
These programs are usually much more rigorous than diploma programs, so graduates often find themselves worth more when negotiating with employers. They also often offer in-person clinical training, giving you the needed experience to enter positions that otherwise might be reserved for more experienced applicants. Some programs place students in pharmacy practice internships. There are also online pharmacy technician associate degree opportunities for students who prefer the flexibility of online learning.
Step 3: Get Certified or Licensed
Benefits of Certification
While you are not required to have a certification in some states to start your career as a pharmacy technician, most employers will prefer that you are certified. In addition, certified applicants are hired more often and usually receive a higher starting salary.
The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) offers a Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam to applicants who have completed a PTCB recognized program, comply with PTCB policies, and are registered by the State Board of Pharmacy. The exam is two hours in length and features 90 multiple-choice questions.
Some states require that pharmacy technicians are licensed before they can work. This process involves a full background and criminal check and is designed to ensure that you are competent and not a threat to public safety.
Step 4: Keep Your Certifications Valid
The Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam must be renewed every two years to stay valid. If you want to keep your credentials and obtain a higher salary, you must prepare for the completion of at least 20 hours of continuing education.
In addition, there are many other certifications available from the PTCB that are specialized and can help you boost your skills and overall salary demands, such as the Certified Compounded Sterile Preparation Technician or the Medication History Certificate. Consider adding certifications by taking continuing education classes that prepare you for the above certificates, increase your base salary, and grow your career potential.
What is a Pharmacy Technician?
A pharmacy technician works alongside pharmacists to ensure that all patients are safe and healthy. Their job is locating, counting and packing, and placing labels on medications for patients. The pharmacist then reviews the order to ensure that it is accurate before placing it on a shelf for the patient to pick up. Some pharmacy technicians are also expected to help with an array of administrative tasks such as insurance claims, inventory, paperwork, and ordering new medications.
Depending on the workplace setting, some pharmacy technicians may also need to know how to consult with patients, ring them out at a cash register, and access medical files for questions. They also may need to call doctors’ offices for clarification on prescriptions. Pharmacy technicians can work in both retail settings and hospital settings, altering their specific job duties.
As just mentioned, the job duties of a pharmacy technician can vary significantly based on whether they are employed in a hospital setting or within a retail setting.
The primary duties of a pharmacy technician include interacting with the public (in a retail setting) and filling and dispensing medications to patients.
They must fill all medications exactly as prescribed or contact a doctor when there is slight misinformation or a contradiction. In addition to filling medications, technicians must also label the medication and have it checked by a pharmacist for accuracy.
Pharmacy technicians commonly assist with various other administrative tasks, including tracking inventory, processing insurance claims, and repackaging medications that are sent to the pharmacy in bulk.
Medication Handling in Hospitals
Pharmacy technicians who have obtained additional certifications may also be responsible for compounding medications or filling intravenous mediations within a hospital setting.
Customer Service in Retail
Pharmacy techs who work in a retail setting may also need to manage a handful of customer service tasks, such as the cash register.
How Much Can You Make, on Average?
Pharmacy technicians earn a median pay of $36,740 per year, but this number can vary based on experience and the number of certifications a technician holds.
What Personality Traits Are Important to Have?
Eye for Details
Any work within the pharmaceutical industry is very precise, so ideally, candidates for a pharmacy technician job are incredibly focused and detail-orientated.
Good with Numbers
They need above-average math skills and a comfortability with learning both pharmaceutical math and science.
In addition, they are ideally morally sound, as a background check is a large part of working in a pharmacy setting.
Since they may need to interact with the public and physicians, they should also have interpersonal skills.
Is it a Good Long term Career Path?
The outlook for pharmacy technicians is strong, as people will need access to medication and retail stores continue to open their own in-house pharmacies. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the field to grow by 4% before the close of 2030 and estimates that about 31,700 jobs will become available every year. Therefore, pharmacy technicians can rest easy – they will be able to find a job after their certification and education are complete.
Pharmacists have to spend most of their day on their feet, so they need physical stamina and a readiness to work at all times of the week. While there are retail positions that offer a steady schedule, many pharmacists work varying nights and weekends, as well as days. Pharmacists that work in hospital or nursing home settings may have to work shifts that more closely resemble medical professionals within the healthcare setting.