Outlook & Growth
Employment of pharmacy technicians is expected to increase by 25 percent from 2008 to 2018—much faster than the average. Rising demand for pharmacy techs is due to several factors: the aging population, who use more prescription drugs; new drug discoveries meaning more drugs in use; and budget-cutting by pharmacies, which use techs to perform routine tasks otherwise done by pharmacists and aides.
Salary & Wages
Median hourly earnings of pharmacy technicians in May 2008 were $13.32. The middle 50 percent earned between $10.95 and $15.88, while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.27, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $18.98.
What is a Pharmacy Technician?
Pharmacy technicians work with licensed pharmacists to provide medication and other health care products to patients. Tasks they typically do include counting pills, verifying prescription information, mixing medication when needed and labeling bottles. The prescription is checked by a pharmacist before being released to a patient.
Other duties of a pharmacy tech include answering phones, preparing insurance claims for patients, stocking shelves, taking inventory and running cash registers. If the tech is working in a hospital or nursing home, he or she also must read patients’ charts and prepared the ordered medication (with a pharmacist checking the prescription for accuracy).
Most pharmacy technicians (about 71 percent) work in retail pharmacies, such as in drug stores or grocery stores. About 18 percent work in hospitals. The rest work in doctors’ offices or for wholesalers, the government, or online pharmacies.
Education & Degree Path
As there are few state and no federal requirements for certification of pharmacy techs, many don’t receive specialized education, and are trained on the job. If an employer doesn’t have time or other resources for this training, those techs with certification are more likely to be hired.
Pharmacy technician education programs are available online or at community colleges, among other places. Typically, these programs involve classroom and laboratory courses that teach medical and pharmaceutical terminology; medication names and information about the medications; how pharmacies make calculations and keep records; pharmaceutical techniques; and pharmacy law and ethics. Many programs also require a student to gain hands-on experience through an internship.
Some states require certification, but for most, it is voluntary. Two organizations offer national certification exams: the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board and the Institute for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians. Under both programs, technicians must be re-certified every two years. Re-certification requires 20 hours of continuing education within the two-year period, including at least one hour in pharmacy law.
Entering the Field:
Pharmacy aides can work their way into becoming pharmacy techs, either by formal training or on-the-job training. Volunteering in a hospital also may give you enough experience to be hired. Employers also value experience managing an inventory, computer skills, knowledge of chemistry, English skills and experience in health education.
Career Changers. Pharmacy techs in some cases go on to become pharmacists, but this requires a great deal of training and education. Other options for pharmacy techs who wish to advance include supervisory and management positions or specialty positions such as chemotherapy technician or nuclear pharmacy technician.
Source for salary and job growth data is the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, Pharmacy Technicians.