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How to Become a Pharmacy Technician | A Career Prescription

A pharmacy technician sorts pills.

Pharmacy technicians play an essential role in the upkeep and function of your local pharmacy. Whether filling medication or helping customers speak to a pharmacist, pharmacy technicians play a crucial part in ensuring you get the medicine you need. If you are interested in a health care career without years of expensive schooling, becoming a pharmacy technician is a great career choice!

What is a Pharmacy Technician?

Pharmacy technicians deal with the front-end side of a pharmacy. They take phone calls, ring up customers picking up prescriptions, and connect customers with pharmacists for medication, health, or treatment questions. They answer basic inquiries and are trained in various topics.

Pharmacy techs gather and enter patient information into a computer system, so the pharmacy has all its data in one easy-to-find place. In addition to working directly with customers, pharmacy techs measure, package, and label medication.

Pharmacy techs fill many roles and work active jobs to meet customer needs. Pills need to be counted carefully to ensure the patient gets the full dose and confirms they get the correct prescription. Pharmacy technicians ensure you get the proper dosage and medication. They organize inventory, ensure medication is accounted for, and let pharmacists know when particular medicine or supplies are low or unavailable.

Pharmacy technicians process insurance plans, accept prescriptions, and process any insurance claims a patient may file. They also contact doctors to confirm and check new or existing prescriptions. Pharmacy techs are busy and active between patient communication, filing, and filling prescriptions.

Pharmacy Tech vs. Pharmacist

The most significant difference between a pharmacist and a pharmacy technician is the amount of education required. While pharmacy technicians are often allowed to start work with as little as a certificate, pharmacists must get a doctorate in pharmacy.

Another difference is the level of responsibility. Pharmacists oversee the entire pharmacy, signing off on prescriptions or ensuring the pharmacy follows the latest regulations and keeps records current and correct. Pharmacy technicians have less extensive knowledge of medicine than pharmacists. Pharmacy techs have the general ability to help answer basic customer questions. Still, they don’t have enough to give medical advice or make recommendations. They also do work delegated by pharmacists, such as inventory, checking customers out, or filing paperwork. These professionals are essential to the function of a pharmacy.

How to Become a Pharmacy Technician: The Steps

  1. Education
  2. Experience
  3. Certification
  4. Begin Working
  5. Continued Professional Growth

1. Education Required for Pharmacy Techs

High School Diploma or Equivalent

A high school diploma or equivalent is expected as the base level of education to become a pharmacy technician. If this is the only education requirement, you will complete on-the-job training to become fully trained.

Pharmacy Technician Associate’s Degree

A pharmacy technician program is also an option if you want more training before starting. These can either be part of an associate’s degree or a shorter-term program (usually less than a year) generally offered at a community college or vocational school.

A Pharmacy Technician Associate of Applied Science is the most common associate’s degree to prepare students for the job. This degree prepares students to take certification exams. They cover essential material crucial to upholding the strict regulations that pharmacies have.

Pharmacy technician degrees go over many topics, including:

  • Laws around pharmacies and their staff
  • How to read and interpret prescriptions when they come in
  • How to dispense medication
  • Medication safety
  • Day to day routines in a pharmacy, both in retail and institutions
  • Sterile and non-sterile compounding
  • Math used in pharmacy settings
  • Customer service skills
  • Healthcare communication
  • The process to treat diseases

Pharmacy technician programs may be shorter than a degree, but that does not mean they are less focused or in-depth. Students often get the opportunity to learn and train in mock pharmacies, where they can simulate patient interactions and various treatments.

Employers will often pay for candidates to take a training program if it is a requirement for the job.

2. Experience

When participating in these programs, students will often have the opportunity to practice on the job in a pharmacy setting. If prospective pharmacy technicians don’t get this experience, students will get this practice as they move into their careers. It also gives applicants an advantage of previous experience when applying to jobs.

3. Certifications for Pharmacy Technicians

Depending on the state, some pharmacy techs could be required to have a certificate. After taking the certification exam, students will become Certified Pharmacy Technicians (CPhT). Even where it isn’t needed, a certificate will give you the advantage of previous training and make you a more desirable candidate. You will also be eligible for higher starting pay due to higher expertise.

Pharmacy tech students can certify through the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) or the Nation Healthcareer Association (NHA). The certification by the PTCB is the more desired, but either is acceptable. They both require students to take the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE) to attain their certificate. Students will have to recertify every two years by taking 20 hours of continuing education courses.

4. Begin Working as a Pharmacy Tech

The starting job for someone with a pharmacy tech degree is, of course, a pharmacy technician. There is room for growth in the position, with higher responsibility and pay as years of experience are had.

5. Continued Professional Growth

Inventory Management

Pharmacy technicians may have the opportunity to manage inventory with more responsibility. While some pharmacies choose to allow pharmacy technicians to order basic supplies, others solely give technicians the job of inventory management. This job involves ordering medication, organizing, unpacking, putting supplies away, and placing orders when supplies are low. Technicians in charge of inventory also must be aware of recalls, availability of medications, and expiration dates.

Compounding

Another way to grow in the field is to get a certificate in compounding. This specialty will increase the technician’s appeal to prospective employers. A certificate in compounding will show that a technician is driven and invested in their career and are interested in growth.

Compounding is needed when a medication isn’t available, there isn’t a medication for the need, or a drug is in shortage. Various components are combined to create a new medication when any of these things happen. Pharmacy technicians with this extra certificate will likely work at a better-equipped pharmacy or a compounding pharmacy. If technicians want to advance in this area further, they can get a certificate in sterile compounding. This specialty involves creating drugs to be given through IV, injection, or in the eyes. Having this certificate opens up technicians to higher pay and allows pharmacists to focus on the safety and upkeep of the pharmacy.

Medication Therapy Management

Medication therapy management is a big part of a pharmacy technician’s day. It makes sure patients know what medications they are taking, how much they are taking, and why. This practice involves patients in their healthcare treatment and prevents issues and miscommunication. Technicians can get information from both patients and doctors to ensure that the pharmacist stays informed of any updates or status.

Pharmacological Technology

If technicians become interested in the technology they encounter in their work, they may enjoy going into pharmacy technology. Technicians who branch out in this way will install, update, or fix technology and programs used by the pharmacy. They also train other pharmacy staff.

Requirements: You will generally be required to have some or all of these:

  • High school diploma or GED
  • Training program
  • Pharmacy tech exam
  • Continuing education
  • Criminal background check
  • Possible fees

Essential Soft Skills

Besides training and education, some qualities can make you a perfect hire for a potential employer.

  • Creative Problem Solving: Due to the customer-focused nature of the field, techs must be able to work well with customers to get their needs met. They also must be polite, helpful, and patient to calm frustrations and work through potential conflict. When working with patients, pharmacy technicians must think on their feet to keep both patients and pharmacists happy.
  • Detail-oriented: Getting the proper medication, amount, and dosage, are all vital to the safety and care of patients. Confirming the correct information is in the pharmacy’s system and keeping detailed information will support the pharmacy to run smoothly with accurate data.
  • Listening Skills: Pharmacy techs are the go-between for patients and pharmacists, ensuring they both get the correct information to meet their needs. They need to listen carefully to patients to determine if they need to speak with a pharmacist or a specific problem that the technician can solve.
  • Basic Math Skills: Pharmacy technicians must count pills accurately and know the dosage to fill prescriptions correctly.
  • Organizational Skills: Pharmacy technicians have a range of responsibilities, and keeping them in order is essential for the function of the pharmacy. A good pharmacy technician works well with pharmacists and patients due to good organization.

Types of Pharmacies where Pharmacy Technicians Work

It is a professional environment, and there are many different settings where pharmacy technicians are needed. These settings are as follows: hospital, retail pharmacy, online or mail-order pharmacy, compounding pharmacy, long-term care facilities, independent pharmacies, nuclear pharmacies, and government agencies. Job description and requirement varies based on location.

Hospital Pharmacies

A pharmacy technician working in a hospital will fill or compound IV medications, prepare lab spaces, and maintain a higher level of cleanliness and sanitation. Hospital pharmacy technicians prepare drugs dose by dose for distribution to patients. They also prepare quantities for later in the day.

Retail Pharmacies

Retail pharmacy technicians have a very straightforward job. They do the usual technician duties of filling medications, communicating with patients and pharmacists, and managing paperwork.

Online or Mail-Order Pharmacies

Pharmacies are not always easily accessible, and ordering a prescription through an online or mail-order pharmacy makes medicating easier. Pharmacy techs working at an online pharmacy will work in an office environment, filing prescriptions to send out alongside the usual job duties. They still meet with pharmacists and assist patients through online databases or portals.

Compounding Pharmacies

A pharmacy technician working at a compounding pharmacy has an unusual job. Compounding pharmacies offer specialized prescriptions that get prescribed in unique cases. These pharmacy technicians will have extra training or certification to understand compounding techniques. Technicians working in long-term care facilities like nursing homes function similarly to hospital pharmacy technicians. They prepare medication by the dose and keep medication lists updated and accurate.

Independent Pharmacies

Independent pharmacies function similarly to retail pharmacies, and technicians will have a similar job. Pharmacy technicians at independent pharmacies have the primary technician duties and may also package medications in pharmacy-specific packaging.

Nuclear Pharmacies

Nuclear pharmacies specialize in radioactive or nuclear medicines, and pharmacy technicians working here require specialized training to maintain safety. They also do the usual inventory, labeling, and compounding. Still, these professionals also make sure radioactive medications are transported and handled safely.

Government Agencies

Government agencies that employ pharmacy technicians include prisons, the Veterans Administration, and the military. These professionals fill prescriptions, fill automated medication dispensers, complete inventory checks, and sometimes pass out medicines to patients.

Work Environment

Like doctor’s offices, cleanliness and organization are top priorities for pharmacies. They are well-lit for counting medication and reading files. They are well-ventilated for the medications and chemicals present.

Pharmacy technicians work with pharmacists as well as other pharmacy technicians. Techs will also work with relevant personnel depending on where they are employed. They work full time, meaning 8-hour days, five days a week. These 8 hours may be over weekends, holidays, or nights to meet customer needs and pharmacy hours.

Dress Code

Pharmacy technicians dress for a professional and clean workplace, leaving the focus on health. Most of the work is around products taken by mouth, and the technician’s level of cleanliness should reflect that.

The specific dress codes will be different based on where technicians are employed. Still, there is a dress code that most pharmacies follow. The variables in a dress code will depend on the company’s requirements and the technician’s level of expertise or level of work with the public. These identifiers show customers that a technician can answer questions or help them get their medication, differentiating them from other staff.

Salary and Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average pay for a pharmacy technician was $35,100 as of 2020. The job outlook according to the BLS is 4%. As pharmacies move to later hours, with more people seeking mental and physical health treatment, more technicians are needed to help the business run smoothly.

Besides being a job with a good income and little previous schooling required, pharmacy tech positions often come with attractive benefits packages. Depending on the employer, be it a pharmacy or a hospital, these jobs can come with an extensive health care plan for technicians and their children, prescription coverage, retirement funds, and even college credit. Paid time off is another common benefit. These benefits are standard in the field and are a hiring incentive for prospective technicians.

Senior pharmacy technicians make an average of $37,671 per year after two to four years of job experience. A lead pharmacy technician makes an average of $40,483 per year and comes with five to seven years of job experience.

There is also a need as current techs move on to other careers or retire. Therefore, there is no lack of opportunity. With pharmacies treating our aging population and taking on more preventative care responsibilities, pharmacy technicians must keep up with the growing need for medication and treatment. Certificates and training create opportunities for a high salary and an advantage when applying for positions.

Opportunities for Advancement

There are similar jobs and areas for growth that may be attractive to prospective technicians.

Pharmacist

Becoming a pharmacist is a prominent area for development. Pharmacy techs will have some baseline experience and can work as pharmacy technicians while pursuing this more extended degree. Pharmacists are high earners, with a median salary of $128,710 in 2020.

Medical Assistant

Another related job that would be an easy transition for those with pharmacy technician training is a medical assistant. They do a similar clinical and administrative job as pharmacy technicians, working in hospitals, clinics, and physician’s offices.

Medical assistants enter patient information and assist care providers in some procedures. There are similar programs to pharmacy technician programs, taking place at a community college and taking about a year to complete. They make an average of $35,850 annually.

Medical Records Specialist

A medical records specialist is also a parallel career that pays a little more than a pharmacy technician ($45,240/ yr). These specialists organize, manage, and code health information. This job description is similar to pharmacy techs’ input and filing work, making it a smoother transition. However, this job does require a little more education than some other similar careers. These specialists take a post-secondary program to learn medical terminology, codes, and computer systems. Having a certificate is preferred as well. These certificates include Certified Professional Coder, The Certified Coding Associate, and Registered Health Information Technician.

Start your Healthcare Career Today!

Interested in the world of medicine but don’t want to pursue a long and potentially expensive degree? A career as a pharmacy technician is a great choice! Check out some online programs and start your journey today.

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