A pharmacy technician job involves helping a licensed pharmacist fill prescriptions. But a qualified pharmacy tech needs to know much more than how to count medication.
The job role has a wide range of responsibilities.
Duties include collecting information needed to fill a prescription, packaging and labeling prescriptions and coordinating and taking payment for prescriptions.
In some states, technicians are permitted to mix medications or get prescription refill authorizations from doctors.
In addition to these tasks, pharmacy technicians are responsible for:
- Processing insurance claims
- Answering customer phone calls
- Organizing inventory
- Referring customers to a pharmacist to answer questions
Pharmacy Technician Equipment and Tools
The role of a pharmacy technician requires precision and attention to safety. To ensure customers get the right medication and the correct dosage, you’ll use certain tools and equipment on the job. Here’s a look at what you can expect:
- Tube-filling and crimping machines
- Lab balances
- Lab blenders and emulsifiers
- Automatic bottle filling machines
- Computer-based dispensing equipment
- Medical software
- Accounting software
As the job description expands, career opportunities increase, and the outlook for employment as a pharmacy technician is very strong. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2016-17 Occupational Outlook Handbook, with a large percentage of the population aging the field is expected to increase by 9 percent through 2024, which is faster than average. This means that now is an excellent time to become a pharmacy technician. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.
Our Career Center will give you advice on how to become a pharmacy tech.
- Employers generally favor pharmacy technicians who have received certificates or associate’s degrees from community or technical colleges. Most programs take less than a year to complete. Read more about pharmacy tech training and find the best pharmacy technician schools.
Most schools require students to complete a certain number of clinical hours at a local medical facility or drugstore. Upon completion, you should understand how to prepare medication and help pharmacists with patient care. You’ll also be well-versed in federal, state and local regulations and know how to maintain pharmacy equipment.
Your classes may include pharmacy operations, pharmacy mathematics, pharmaceutical dispensing and general medical conditions. A quality program will give you the knowledge and tools needed to take a pharmacy certification exam.
- Look for pharmacy technician programs that are accredited by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. They give their seal of approval to programs that provide students with at least 600 hours of instruction.
- Graduates from formal training programs are prepared to take the National Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam. Read more about pharmacy technician certification.
52 percent of pharmacy technicians work in pharmacies and drug stores
13 percent work in general medical and surgical hospitals
The remaining pharmacy technician workforce can be found in general merchandise stores, grocery stores and department stores.
In some instances, pharmacy technicians work in medical facilities where they make rounds or administer intravenous medication.
Specialized pharmacy technician roles offer an exciting career opportunity. Instead of working in a medical facility or drugstore, some pharmacy techs assist with infusion services in homes or nursing facilities. Prefer to work in a variety of settings? Travel pharmacy technicians take on short-term assignments in various parts of the country. If this sounds interesting, contact a health care agency who specializes in placing pharmacy technicians.
Job titles include: Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT), Compounding Technician and Lead Pharmacy Technician.
- The need for pharmacy techs is increasing. Retailers are expanding their pharmaceutical services, and scientific advancements continue. In addition, prescription requests are likely to increase as more people in the U.S. have access to health insurance. Pharmacy technicians will also be needed as pharmacists continue to offer more direct patient care, such as administering flu shots. Read more about your pharmacy technician career.
- While starting out can be a challenge, pharmacy tech salaries have excellent potential for growth as you gain experience. Read more about pharmacy technician salaries.
- Randy Brown has over a decade of experience as a pharmacy tech. He gives you the everyday ins-and-outs of the job in our interview with a pharmacy technician.
Steps to a Pharmacy Technician Career
If you want to learn how to become a pharmacy technician, here is a simple outline of what it takes:
- Find a top pharmacy tech program. Nowadays you can study online or in a classroom.
- Take the pharmacy technician certification exam. Exams are given in virtually every state. The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) and the National Healthcareer Association (NHA) administer certification exams. Which one should you choose? Start by reviewing each exam’s prerequisites. You may be required to have work experience or formal education in order to take the test. It’s also a good idea to check with your state board or local employers to see which certification is accepted.
- Interview for pharmacy tech jobs. Decide what is most important to you: salary, benefits, hours, location.
- Keep your certification current. After becoming a certified pharmacy tech, you must complete 20 hours of continuing education every two years. Employers will usually cover the cost of your continuing education.
- Once you’ve worked as a pharmacy technician for some time, it can be beneficial to earn certifications in specialized areas such as compounding, chemotherapy and sterile products (IV). Your additional knowledge and credentials may open doors to better job opportunities or promotions.
Becoming a pharmacy technician is a great starting point if you’re considering a career as a pharmacist. It’s also a fast way to enter the field as education requirements are minimal. Learn what personality traits and skills are necessary to work as a pharmacy technician.
- An active listener
- A clear communicator
- Comfortable working with the public
- A problem solver
- Tolerant of stress
You should have…
- Excellent customer service skills
- Time management skills
- A knack for critical thinking
- Attention to detail
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for pharmacy technicians in May 2015 was $30,410, which is $14.62 per hour. Salaries can range depending on where you work. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,950. The highest 10 percent, more than $45,030, with the highest earners typically working in general medical center and surgical hospitals.
Pharmacy technicians usually work full time. Because pharmacies are open late or at all hours, it is expected that you may work nights and weekends.
If you prefer flexibility and freedom for your studies, an online program may be right for you. Many people have full-time jobs and families to take care of, so the online option is a great fit for them. Getting your pharmacy technician degree online allows for the same quality of instruction as on-campus programs, but you have the ability to study when you want. If you’re having trouble with a particular topic, it’s convenient to be able to go back to the online content to review it as many times as you need.
You’ll also have access to your professors through email, phone or through online discussion boards. You can also talk to your peers through discussion boards, depending on the online learning platform your school uses.
The structure of online pharmacy technician courses usually follows a “module” setup, where each section is its own module, most likely followed by an exam that you must pass to be sent the next module. Another program structure is called “distance learning.” If your program is labeled as such, you will have correspondence with your school via mail, email or online. There may be instances where your program requires that you attend certain classes on campus or at another convenient campus location.
- Medical Terminology
- Pharmaceutical Calculations and Measurements
- Label and Prescription Information
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Poison/Drug Emergencies
Before you start, your school will let you know what system requirements are needed for your computer before you start your classes so you will have an easy time navigating the online platform.
In addition to your training, you can receive extra work experience through internships. In these internships, you’ll be able to apply your course lessons as well as understand the day-to-day routine of a pharmacy. If you’re interested in applying for one, you can start by checking online with popular national drugstores, call your local pharmacies or use your school’s career center if you’re currently enrolled in a pharmacy technician program.
Pharmacy Technician Education and Career Guide
Pharmacy Technician Education
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- The Importance of Pharmacy Technician Certification
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