Why Seek Certification?
The pharmaceutical industry is in constant pursuit of better medications and advancements in technology.
For this reason, the industry will always need skilled certified pharmacy technicians who have a desire to stay current on the latest medical innovations.
If you've thought about working in health care, a career as a pharmacy technician can be a great place to start.
How to Become a Pharmacy Technician
Pharmacy technicians work under the supervision of a pharmacist in drug stores, hospitals, clinics and grocery stores. In this role, you'll receive written prescription requests and refill orders. Pharmacy technicians are also responsible for answering phones and assisting customers with basic questions and finding items in a pharmacy. However, you must refer all clinical questions and complex issues to the pharmacist.
If this role, you'll also fill bottles with medication, label items and ensure drugs are properly stored and secured.
Here's how to become a pharmacy technician.
|Option 1||Option 2|
|Earn a high school diploma or equivalent||Complete a pharmacy technician program at a community college or vocational school|
|Receive on-the-job training|
A pharmacy technician program, which usually takes about a year, will cover a wide range of topics including:
- Pharmaceutical calculations
- Anatomy and physiology
- Medical terminology
- Hospital pharmacy practice
- Insurance procedures
Most pharmacy technician programs require students to complete a period of clinical experience. Typically, you'll be assigned to a local retail location, hospital or clinic where you'll gain valuable knowledge. Shadowing a pharmacy technician will give you a real-life perspective on how the job is done and what challenges you might face.
When looking for a pharmacy technician school, pay attention to accreditation. The American Society of Health System Pharmacists is the accrediting organization for pharmacy technician programs that are at least 600 hours of instruction.
How to Become a Certified Pharmacy Technician
Employment of pharmacy technicians is expected to grow 20 percent through 2022, which is faster than average. While expected job growth can make for promising career prospects, aspiring pharmacy technicians should still look for ways to delineate themselves from the rest of the pack. One way to do this is to become a certified pharmacy technician.
Getting certified involves passing the exam given by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB). This milestone means that you have the basic knowledge to begin working as a pharmacy technician professional. Not all states require you to be certified, but that list is growing as pharmacists depend more on technicians for support. More importantly, most employers seek job candidates who have earned their certification.
The prerequisites for taking the pharmacy technician certification exam are simple:
- Have a high school diploma, GED or foreign equivalent
- No felony or drug-related convictions
- Are not under any restrictions from any State Board of Pharmacy
In order to keep your pharmacy technician certification status, you must complete 20 hours of continuing education every two years. At least one of those hours must be in pharmacy law.
The PTCB Certification Test
You'll take the pharmacy technician certification test on a computer. It consists of 90 multiple choice questions covering the following areas:
- Assisting pharmacists in serving patients
- Maintaining medication and inventory control systems
- Participating in the administration and management of pharmacy practice
There are testing locations around the country, and the test is offered year-round. Be prepared to pay a $129 registration fee. If you do not pass, you may take the exam as many times as needed until you earn a passing score. The exam fee is required each time you take the exam. Once you have passed the exam, you will have earned the designation of Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT).
The National Healthcareer Association Certification Test
Aspiring pharmacy technicians can also earn their CPhT designation by passing the National Healthcareer Association (NHA) test. Unlike the PTCB exam, you'll need to complete a pharmacy technician training program or have one year of work experience. Some of the topics you'll be tested on include:
- Dosage and calculations
- Drug names
- Common medications
The exam registration fee is $105.
Pharmacy Technician Specialty Certification
Becoming a certified pharmacy technician is an important step in your career, but if you're interested in more education or specializing in a certain area, you have several options.
The National Pharmacy Technician Association (NPTA) offers three specialty certification programs.
- Sterile Products (IV) certification: This certification course covers aseptic handwashing, vial manipulations, hazardous vial manipulations, properties of sterile products, quality control, sterile product preparation and other related materials. The course includes two days of hands-on training, process technique validations and home-study modules. Both pharmacy technicians, pharmacy technician students and certified pharmacy technicians are eligible to take this course.
- Chemotherapy certification: This course teaches certified pharmacy technicians and pharmacy technician students how to handle hazardous drugs. Take note that certain prerequisites, such as completing the IV certification course, must be completed before enrolling. You can find exact requirements on NPTA's site.
The course includes instruction on risk assessment, controls and medical surveillance, biological safety cabinets, personal protective equipment, isolators and other important topics. Students learn via 10 home-study modules, one day of hands-on training and five process technique validations.
- Compounding certification: Compounding is often referred to as an art and science because it involves carefully customizing medication. Because the practice is complex, having compounding certification can often help advance your career. In the certification course, you'll learn about compounding practices and considerations, quality assurance, record keeping and:
- Capsules, tablets and powders
- Ointments, creams, pastes and gels
- Ophthalmic, otic and nasal preparations
- Medication flavoring
- Lozenges, troches, sticks and suppositories
- Solutions, suspensions and emulsions
The compounding certification course consists of two days of hands-on training and two home-study modules.
Pharmacy Technician Salary
Pharmacy technicians can expect to earn a median annual wage of $29,320, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, there are two work settings that may offer a higher salary.
- Ambulatory health care services: $35,470
- Hospitals: $33,550
A look at salaries across the country reveals certain areas boast better-paying pharmacy technician jobs. Here are the top five highest-paying states:
- Washington: $40,300
- Alaska: $39,980
- California: $39,710
- Hawaii: $36,400
- Oregon: $36,270
Compare Other Health Care Career Salaries
As a pharmacy technician, you'll play an important role in keeping a pharmacy organized and running properly. Here's how salaries for other health care technician and assistant careers stack up:
- Medical Assistants: $29,370
- Medical Records and Health Information Technicians: $34,160
- Dental Assistants: $34,500
Pharmacy Technician Careers
Pharmacy technicians who are looking to advance or expand their role can choose between several paths. Pharmacy technician careers include:
As the job title indicates, central pharmacy operations technicians work in a central location. In this role, you'll be responsible for refilling a high volume of prescription requests for multiple pharmacies. Central pharmacy operations technicians also respond to calls from pharmacists, other pharmacy techs and insurance carriers. You'll manage inventory and restock computer-automated machinery.
As a home infusion pharmacy technician, you'll act as support to a pharmacist who provides infusion services (medications administered through a needle or catheter) to patients in their home, at nursing facilities and ambulatory infusion centers. You'll contact patients about deliveries, manage the inventory of drugs and compound sterile and non-sterile preparations. In order to pursue a career as a home infusion pharmacy technician, you'll need to be certified.
Similar to travel nursing, travel pharmacy jobs give technicians the chance to work in a variety of settings across the country. Partner with a health care agency who will provide you with short-term work assignments, usually between 13 and 20 weeks. This can be a great opportunity to work in hospitals and meet others in your field.
While you'll be responsible for some regular pharmacy tech duties, such as answering phones and looking up refills, your main role will be to compound prescriptions and perform compounding calculations. Employers typically look for pharmacy technicians with a few years of compounding experience. Certification also helps.
The country's aging population and changes in health insurance laws will likely contribute to an uptick in prescription medication requests in the future. As pharmacists take on more customer-facing responsibilities, like giving flu shots, they'll rely on pharmacy technicians to run daily operations. All these factors will contribute to a growing need for certified pharmacy technicians.