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Chances are, you and everyone you know have picked up a prescription countless times. Whether it’s for combatting your child’s ear infection, using an inhaler so you can stay active, or lowering your blood pressure, these prescriptions can be life-changing—and life-saving. They all get to you in part because of a pharmacy technician’s hard work.
Pharmacy technicians work closely with pharmacists to fill prescriptions by verifying benefits with insurance companies, purchasing medication from wholesalers, and even combining medicines to create custom infusions for patients.
“Pharmacy technicians don’t usually have routine days,” explains Glen Gard, CPhT, CSPT, director of sterile compounding compliance at the infusion services company Option Care Health. “You get to use your caregiver mentality to help someone feel better.”
A pharmacy technician can work in a wide variety of settings, and those settings often define what they do in their roles.
The most common workplaces include retail pharmacies, hospitals and healthcare systems, and compounding pharmacies. You can aim your career toward any one of these based on your interests.
Retail pharmacies, whether standalone locations or those within a business such as a grocery store, are one of the most common employers of pharmacy technicians. Job duties include:
Hospitals and Clinics
Hospitals and clinics range in size from the very small to enormous healthcare systems. Pharmacy technician jobs in these settings vary, too. Job duties might include:
Before a pharmacy technician is able to dispense medications to patients, those pharmaceuticals must be developed, tested, and manufactured. Pharmaceutical companies may employ technicians to do these tasks:
It is becoming more common for patients to get their medication by mail. Mail-order pharmacy technician job duties may include:
Sometimes patients require customized combinations of medicines. Pharmacy technicians who work in compounding pharmacies help ensure patients get the made-to-order medicines they need. Job duties can include:
There are other less common pharmacy technician workplaces. These include long-term care pharmacies within skilled nursing facilities, home infusion companies, and specialized clinics such as an anticoagulation clinic.
A Day in the Life of a Pharmacy Technician
“It’s hard to define a typical day in the life of a pharmacy technician because it depends so much on the practice setting,” Gard says. “The overall theme, though, is that you won’t be completing the same task repetitively all day, every day.”
All pharmacy technicians work closely with a pharmacist. Together, they provide medication, information, and advice to the patients they serve. A pharmacist almost always reviews medication or compounded medications before they are dispensed to patients.
Pharmacy technicians serve an important supportive role, Gard says. “Pharmacy technicians are a vital part of a patient care team and free time for the pharmacist to focus on clinically managing patients.”
Education requirements for pharmacy technicians vary among states and workplaces. While not every job needs education beyond a high school diploma or GED, it is becoming more common to look for postsecondary technician training, Gard says.
This education can come in several forms. Some on-the-job training includes onboarding classes that prepare new hires to take a certification exam.
People interested in becoming a pharmacy technician can also turn to more traditional education options.
When you’re looking for programs, you have several options:
Certificate or diploma programs for pharmacy technicians are popular because they can fast-track your entry into the field. These programs take less time to complete than earning an associate degree. The curriculum is focused and teaches the fundamentals that a pharmacy technician needs.
Associate Degree Program
An associate degree to become a pharmacy technician requires general education coursework in addition to pharmacy-related classes. These programs typically take two years to complete. An associate degree program can be a terrific option for someone who wants to eventually earn a bachelor’s degree, as many or even all of your credits could be transferable (provided they’re from an accredited school).
What About Registration and Certification?
At this point you may wonder: Once you finish an educational program, do you need to be registered or certified to work as a pharmacy technician? The answer varies, depending on where you work.
Requirements for pharmacy technicians are set by states, so there are no universally accepted national qualifications.
Be sure to check your state’s requirements for pharmacy technicians, as registration and certification rules vary state-to-state.
That said, nearly everywhere in the U.S. requires pharmacy technicians to register with the state in which they work. The process is straightforward and may involve paying a fee, getting a background check, or submitting fingerprints.
More than half of all states require a national certification. These are granted by certification boards, primarily ASHP and the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB). Certifications require passing an exam that tests for necessary knowledge and skills and ongoing education to maintain certification.
What’s the Difference Between a Pharmacy Technician and a Pharmacist?
Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians work together closely. So what is the difference between these roles?
“At a high level, pharmacists clinically manage patients, answer clinical questions, and provide direct clinical care to patients,” Gard says. They also review prescriptions for accuracy, ensure patients are not prescribed conflicting medications, and advise patients on how to best use medications.
That said, “The line between the two jobs can be ambiguous, especially as job responsibilities change,” Gard says. For example, in the past, only pharmacists could administer vaccinations. Now pharmacy technicians can deliver them, too.
Salary and Job Outlook
The career outlook for pharmacy technicians is decidedly positive, Gard says. Don’t be surprised to see increasing demand for candidates to fill these roles. In general, the healthcare field is expanding, and settings of all kinds will require more pharmacy technicians to get patients the medications they need.
As you might expect, pharmacy technician salaries vary depending on workplace setting, experience, level of education, and where you live. While you can’t control all these factors, certain steps—such as specializing or earning additional certifications—can bump up your salary.
Will Automation Make Pharmacy Technicians Obsolete?
As in nearly every field, technology is changing pharmacies and the roles of those who work there. Robotics, software, and barcode technology fulfill some of the tasks that used to be technicians’ responsibilities.
Don’t despair, though. “Some people hear ‘automation’ and become afraid that technology is going to replace humans,” Gard says. “But pharmacies still need someone to operate, clean, and troubleshoot technology tools. In fact, automation is going to open even more opportunities for pharmacy technicians. And because they’re highly specialized jobs, they’ll pay better.”
“Pharmacy technicians can climb the career ladder because many organizations focus on opportunities to grow and expand your career,” Gard says.
One of the best ways to advance your career as a pharmacy technician is to specialize, he adds: “You can identify your niche, then earn advanced credentials to demonstrate you can fill more specialized roles.”
Specializing may help you advance your career.
The field continues to create more opportunities to specialize. Healthcare and pharmacology evolve to meet new needs, and boards are developing new certification options even as you read this.
Each certification you earn opens doors, makes you more competitive for openings, and even increases your earning potential.
Speaking of potential, you have countless options within the pharmacy technician field, Gard says. “You have so many paths. Your opportunities are practically endless.”
With professional insight from:
Glen Gard, CPhT, CSPT
Director of Sterile Compounding Compliance, Option Care Health