How to Become a Pharmacy Technician

    October 6, 2020
    Man and woman working in pharmacy

    Looking for a career that you can start working in fast and that will allow you to play an integral role in the delivery of quality patient care? Becoming a pharmacy technician may be the right choice for you!

    As a pharmacy technician, you’ll work with licensed pharmacists to accurately and safely handle patient prescriptions. While you may think the job is just counting pills and labeling bottles, pharmacy technicians’ responsibilities can include everything from processing and tracking insurance claims to preparing intravenous medications to supply chain management and more! 

    If you’re a stickler for details, enjoy helping people, and have strong critical thinking skills, you might have just found your calling. Read on to learn more and find out how to get started as a pharmacy technician.

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    Part One What is a Pharmacy Technician? 

    If you’ve ever picked up a prescription from your local pharmacy, chances are you interacted with a pharmacy technician. Working under the supervision of a pharmacist, a pharmacy technician assists in dispensing prescription medications to customers while also helping out in a customer service capacity. 

    Depending upon the particular setting in which they work, pharmacy techs may be responsible for measuring, mixing and compounding medications, contacting doctors’ offices to confirm dosing instructions or to confirm their approval of prescription renewals.  

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    Part Two What Do Pharmacy Technicians Do? 

    The role of a pharmacy technician goes far beyond simply assisting in filling prescriptions and taking care of packaging and labeling. Their work makes an enormous difference in the efficiency and safety of pharmacy operations.  

    Their job responsibilities include:

    • Counting or measuring the accurate amount of medications
    • Mixing compounds of medications
    • Contacting physicians for authorization to refill prescriptions
    • Packaging and labeling prescriptions. 
    • Collecting patient information and payments
    • Recording patient medical records
    • Updating medication inventory information
    • Processing insurance paperwork

    Though a pharmacy tech’s training imparts specific technical knowledge, many times they are also expected to serve in a customer service role, running cash registers, answering phones, helping patients to locate over-the-counter medications on store shelves and connecting patients with pharmacists when they have questions.

    What You Do Depends on Where You Work

    A pharmacy technician’s job responsibilities will change depending upon their work environment:

    1. Retail: If they work in a retail setting then the medication is provided directly to customers. They may be given responsibility for monitoring inventory levels and responding to supply shortages. 
    2. Healthcare: Pharmacy techs who work in hospitals or similar healthcare settings are more likely to deliver the drugs directly to other health professionals. They may also be tasked with preparing intravenous medication

    Part Three Pharmacy Technician Salary 

    The work that a Pharmacy Technician performs is valuable. It helps the pharmacist to work more effectively and helps keep patients safe. As a result, they receive a solid compensation, with a national average annual salary of $35,250 in 2019 according to the BLS.

    How much pharmacy technicians make varies depending upon a number of factors:

    • Do they work full time or part-time?
    • Do they work in a retail setting, a healthcare setting or elsewhere?
    • What geographic region are they working in?

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    Part Four Pharmacy Technician School

    There was once a time when almost all Pharmacy Technicians got their training on the job. They would apply to work at a local pharmacy, start by running the cash register and stocking the shelves, and over time the pharmacist would teach them how to type up labels, count out pills and record all of the necessary patient and insurance information. 

    Though that route is still available, today most pharmacy techs enroll in formalized training that provides them with the specific knowledge and skills that they need to ensure a high quality of customer care and patient safety. 

    There are two distinct paths to becoming a Pharmacy Technician:

    1. Certificate or Diploma Program
    2. Associate’s Degree Program

    1. Pharmacy Technician Certificate or Diploma Program

    The fastest route to becoming a Pharmacy Technician is through a certificate or diploma program. 

    How Long Does it Take?

    These take around 2 semesters, or one year to complete. Some states will require you to pass a certification exam after your program.

    What are the Prerequisites?

    Before entering into the program you may need:

    1. High school diploma or GED
    2. Placement test scores
    3. Transcripts
    4. Background check
    5. Application

    Are Pharmacy Technician Certificate Programs Available Online?

    Yes! You can find Pharmacy Technician Certificate programs available both in-person at your local community college, or online.

    What Do You Learn?

    The curriculum in one of these programs is likely to include courses such as:

    1. Pharmacy Law
    2. Drug Classifications
    3. Community Pharmacy Practice
    4. Institutional Pharmacy Practice
    5. Introduction to Health Professions
    6. Pharmaceutical Math
    7. Compounding Sterile Preparations

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    2. Pharmacy Technician Associate’s Degree Program

    Pharmacy Technician Associate’s degree programs provide a greater depth of study in the pharmaceutical sciences and in management and customer service, as well as gen ed classes. 

    How Long Does it Take?

    Associate’s degree programs take approximately 2 years to complete.

    What are the Prerequisites?

    Before entering into the program you may need:

    1. High school diploma or GED
    2. Placement test scores
    3. Transcripts
    4. Background check
    5. Application

    Are Pharmacy Technician Associates Degree Programs Available Online?

    Yes! Just like certificate programs, you can also find Associates Pharmacy Technician programs available online. 

    What Do You Learn?

    The courses offered in an Associate's program are more rigorous than those offered through certificate and diploma programs. Some programs also include in-person clinical training and a pharmacy practice internship. 

    Which Program is Right for You?

    Prospective Pharmacy Technicians who are considering pursuing an undergraduate degree in the future may want to go with an Associates’ degree, as many of their credits can be applied to a future degree. 

    Those who graduate from an Associate’s degree program may find themselves in greater demand or eligible for more generous compensation, and are generally in a better position for advancement. 

    The choice between these two paths will depend upon your goals and the amount of money that you have available to invest in your education, but it is important that you select a program that is accredited.

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    Part Five Pharmacy Technician Certification & Licensing

    Following the completion of your program, you will likely need to become certified or licensed. This will depend on the state you work in. Licenses grant you the ability to work at the state level, while certification is national. 

    Pharmacy Technician License

    Some states will require you to have a pharmacy technician license in order to work. This will be given to you by a government agency and proves to them that you're competent to perform the duties of the job. To find out if you need this and how to get it, you'll want to check the state you're planning to work in.

    Pharmacy Technician Certification

    Certification is another way to prove you've completed the required education and gained the necessary skills to work in this career. Unlike a license, this isn't given to you by a government agency, but a third-party agency -- either:

    1. Pharmacy Technician Board (PTCB)
    2. National Healthcareer Association (NHA)

    Both will require you to pass a Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE) in order to be certified. Your certification will last two years.

    Even if you don't work in a state that requires you to get a license, you'll likely want to attain your national certification. 

    Part Six What is the Career Outlook for Pharmacy Technicians? 

    As a Pharmacy Technician, you’ll likely never have to worry about job security. As the U.S. population continues to age, the demand for prescription medications will only increase, and there will be a continuing need for professionals who are able to ensure that they are filled safely, efficiently, and in keeping with all regulations. 

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the demand for pharmacy technicians is expected to continue to grow at a rate of approximately 4% through the year 2029. 

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    Part Seven What are the Continuing Education Requirements for Pharmacy Technicians? 

    Pharmacy Techs who pursue credentialing from the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) are required to pursue continuing education credits in order to maintain their status. The same is not true for those who limit their credentials to having graduated from certificate programs. 

    There are a number of certification programs available through the PTCB, including: 

    • Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT). Must be renewed every two years by completing a minimum of 20 hours of continuing education
    • Certified Compounded Sterile Preparation Technician (CSPT) - demonstrates expertise in compounded sterile preparation practice
    • Advanced Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT-Adv) – demonstrates advanced experience as a pharmacy technician
    • Medication History Certificate – demonstrates the knowledge needed to collect in-depth and accurate medical histories, to review prescriptions to confirm dosing accuracy, and more.
    • Technician Product Verification Certificate – demonstrates ability to protect patients from dispensing errors
    • Hazardous Drug Management Certificate – demonstrates commitment to minimizing risk from hazardous drugs
    • Billing and Reimbursement Certificate – demonstrates knowledge of third-party payers and reimbursements systems
    • Controlled Substances Diversion Prevention Certificate – demonstrates knowledge of controlled substance diversion protection strategies and DEA requirements
    • Immunization Certificate – demonstrates knowledge and skills needed to safely administer vaccinations to patients. 

    Those who have completed a minimum of four programs, including TPV and/or Medication History or three programs and the CSPT certification and who have at least three years of work experience will be eligible to earn the CPhT-Adv credential. 

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    Part Eight Where Can I Learn More About Becoming a Pharmacy Technician? 

    Many community colleges offer Pharmacy Technician programs, but it is important that those who are interested in pursuing this career select programs that have been accredited.

    For more information on programs and what the career involves, you can visit the ASHP website, the website for the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB), or the website for the National Pharmacy Tech Association (NPTA).  

    Part Nine Pharmacy Technician FAQs

    • What does a Pharmacy Technician do?

      • Pharmacy Technicians work under the supervision of a pharmacist to accurately prepare and distribute patient medications. Duties may include collecting and recording accurate patient records, using technology to maintain inventory and place orders, and ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements. 
    • What do Pharmacy Technicians make per hour?

      • The average hourly wage for Pharmacy Technicians is $16.95 according to the BLS
    • How do you become a certified Pharmacy Technician?

      • Those interested in becoming a pharmacy tech can pursue a variety of paths, but those who complete a two-year Associate’s Degree program generally earn high salaries and are able to find a job more easily. Certificate and diploma programs that are completed in two semesters are also available.

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