Are you considering a future as pharmacy technician? Find out more about what this career entails below.
A pharmacy technician is a medical care provider who works primarily under the supervision of a pharmacist, whom they assist in the preparation of drugs and medicines while also dealing with and providing information to patients and customers. They generally work in pharmacies, drug stores and other health care facilities such as hospitals and retirement homes.
How To Become A Pharmacy Technician
At the minimum level, pharmacy technicians are expected to fulfil the following requirements for employment:
- Have a Diploma or Associate’s Degree;
- Have completed a number of hours training on-the-job;
- Be certified by either the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) or the National Health-career Association (NHA)
In the past, on-the-job training was a common path to becoming a pharmacy technician however, with additional responsibilities being bestowed on technicians and more specific requirements, the need for formal training, certification, licensing and registration is essential.
The aspiring pharmacy technician must complete a higher or formal education program after which they will be expected to obtain certification in order to be able to practice their profession.
There are two ways to obtain the qualifications necessary to become a pharmacy technician:
Option 1 – Obtain a high school Diploma and/ or Associate’s Degree by enrolling in a technical college or university institution. Programs in the traditional education landscape typically last between six to twenty four months.
Option 2 – Enroll on a course online which can be completed in as little as three months. This allows for more flexibility for aspiring technicians that cannot afford to commit to full-time education and must work in addition to receiving their training. This option can also be more affordable however, you must ensure that the course provider is accredited either by the American Society of Health-System Providers (ASHP), the Commission on Credentialing (COC) or the American Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE).
Bear in mind, that initial formal training is not sufficient for a long-term and successful career as a pharmacy technician. You will be required to commit to continuing education (CE) in order to update yourself on new developments in the field.
Training, Qualifications And Certification
As mentioned previously, with increasing responsibilities and stricter regulation for these health care providers, employers look more favorably upon formally qualified candidates who are also certified.
The following is a simple step by step guide on how to become a certified pharmacy technician:
Step 1 – Obtain A High School Diploma or Associate’s Degree
Enroll in either a technical college, university institution or online. The former can take between six months to two years while the latter, online courses, can take as little as three months to complete.
Subjects covered in the curriculum include:
- Pharmaceutical calculations
- The Fundamentals of Prescription Reading
- Pharmacy Law and Ethics
Step 2 – Complete An Internship Stage
These are usually organized by the academic institution you choose to study at through a number of internship sites such as pharmacies or local hospitals. In cases where institutions do not offer assistance and placement opportunities, candidates can volunteer at hospitals.
Step 3 – Obtain Certification
Though some states do not require certification, the aspiring pharmacy technician must understand that employers prefer to employ certified technicians.
In order to gain certification an application must be lodged to either the PTCB to sit the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE) or the NHA (NHA) for the Exam for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ExCPT). Some states only accept endorsements by PTCB and as such, it is recommended that requirements are verified with state pharmacy boards before applying for a position.
Eligibility requirements for sitting the exams with either the PTCB or the NHA are similar:
- Have a high school diploma or equivalent
- Disclose all criminal and State Board of Pharmacy registration or licensure actions.
- Compliance with all certification policies
- Passing score on exams
*An additional requirement by the NHA is that the candidate must have completed a pharmacy technician program or have one year experience.
The following are typical requirements for pharmacy technicians in the states that regulate them:
- High school diploma or GED
- Formal education or training program
- Continuing education
- Criminal background check
Job Description / Responsibilities
Typical day in the life of a pharmacy technician involves performing the following tasks:
- Review prescriptions;
- prepare prescriptions by finding the right medication then dispensing the correct amount – counting, pouring, weighing, measuring and at times mixing doses;
- explain to the patients and/ or customers how to take medicines (doses, and how many times a day);
- accurately record patient information into a computer system;
- manage medicine supplies through inventory management, also alerting the pharmacist where there are any shortages of supplies in medicines and placing orders;
- respond to queries by customers, patients and other healthcare professionals (this also involves arranging for them to speak to the pharmacist where necessary);
- package and label medications;
- accept and process payments as well as insurance claims.
In some cases, pharmacy technicians may also have the following responsibilities:
- Supervising other pharmacy staff;
- Assisting in the management of investigational drugs studies;
- producing medicines in hospitals and the pharmaceutical industry;
- managing the supply of medicines in settings such as dispensaries;
- filling in prescriptions.
Specialization And Career Progression
A career as a pharmacy technician is very rewarding, with a strong outlook for the future as the demand for drugs and medicines in the treatment of illnesses and diseases continues to grow.
Possibilities for specialization exist for Certified Pharmacy Technicians (CPT) in the following areas:
- Sterile Products (IV)
- Nuclear Pharmacy
The more highly trained and specialized technicians can progress naturally towards a career as a pharmacist, though this will require additional training.
Specialty areas available to pharmacists include the following:
- Ambulatory Care Pharmacy – concerns the provision of cohesive, accessible heath care services of patients transitioning from the hospital to home or other care facility via ambulatory means.
- Cardiology – main focus is on pharmaceutical care for cardiovascular patients.
- Geriatric Pharmacy – providing pharmaceutical care for older patients who are often suffering from chronic illness associated with ageing such as hypertension, arthritis and Alzheimer’s amongst others.
- Nuclear Pharmacy – involves mixing and dispensing radioactive materials used in procedures involving nuclear medicine.
- Oncology Pharmacy – specialists in medications used to treat cancer patients, including medications used in managing complications and side-effects that are a result of cancer treatment.
- Pharmacotherapy – associated with the rehabilitation of a person who has developed a dependence on a particular drug. Pharmacotherapy is when a drug is legally prescribed to substitute the drug of choice.
- Psychiatric Pharmacy – dispensing drugs used to manage symptoms of psychiatric illnesses or disorders, such as bipolar disorder, dementia or schizophrenia amongst others.
In order to practice in these areas, certification must be obtained by accredited providers.
Other specialty areas that combine various disciplines, commonly referred to as multidisciplinary certifications, do exist. These include certifications in Cardiovascular/ Life Support and Toxicology among others. It is recommended that an aspiring pharmacist do as much research as possible based on their areas of interest before pursuing specialist certifications.
A pharmacy technician is primarily a healthcare provider as such, there are a number of other career possibilities related to this field. The following are examples of careers similar to that of the pharmacist and into which pharmacy technicians and pharmacists may eventually venture with adequate training:
- Dental Assistants: Assistants that work under the direction of a dentist completing tasks such as helping dentists with procedures, keeping patient records in addition to other lab tasks such as dental impressions of creating temporary crowns.
- Medical Assistants: Responsible for reviewing patient information prior to their seeing a doctor by recording medical history and confirming the purpose of their visit to the doctor. Tasks they carry out includes performing preliminary physical tests and checking the patient’s vitals.
- Medical Records and Health Information Technicians: Responsible for the compilation, processing and maintenance of patient medical records in hospitals and clinics in consistency with the healthcare system’s medical, administrative, ethical, legal and regulatory requirements.
- Medical Transcriptionist: Transcribe and interpret dictation of diagnostic test result, operative reports, referral letters and other such documents from the recorded dictation of a doctor or other healthcare professional.
- Pharmacists: Responsible for the preparing and dispensing of medications as per a physician’s orders by compounding, packaging and labeling pharmaceuticals. Also responsible for drug therapy monitoring and advising on interventions.
Demand is consistently growing for technicians in pharmacies and this trend is expected to continue over the next ten years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “employment of pharmacy technicians is projected to grow 9 percent from 2014 to 2024”.
This can be attributed to an aging population, where pharmaceutical care is expected to continue growing in demand especially for older patients in the management of chronic diseases. In addition to this, as advances are made in pharmaceutical research, it is expected that more prescription medications will be used in the fight against diseases.
Finding A Job
A pharmacy technician’s employment opportunities are dependent on their level of education as well as their certifications.
Before applying for a job in any state, be sure to check requirements for certification and licensing with the state board.
*Refer to previous sections for information on training, qualifications and certification requirements for more information.
Where Do Pharmacy Technicians Work?
The large majority of pharmacy technicians work in pharmacies and drug stores. Other areas where they work include private general medical and surgical hospitals, general merchandise stores as well as grocery and department stores.
Expected Working Hours
Pharmacy technicians in certain settings are required to work shifts where facilities are open twenty four hours a day. Such facilities include hospitals and some licensed retail pharmacies.
As technicians progress professionally, they can expect to have more control over their working hours. Pharmacy technicians can find work on a part-time as well as full-time basis in both retail and hospital environments.
There are a number of organizations dedicated to professionals that work in the field of pharmacy such as the following:
State-recognized national accrediting agency for pharmacy education program.
Represents practicing pharmacists in hospitals, Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), long-term care facilities, home-care agencies and other institutions. It is also a recognized accrediting agency for pharmacy residency and pharmacy education programs.
Represents all pharmacy colleges and schools in the United States as well as being the national organization representing the interests of pharmaceutical education and educators.
Provides representation for pharmaceutical scientists working in academia, industry, government and other research institutions.
A professional and scientific society that provides leadership, education, advocacy and resources for clinical pharmacists.
Consisting of three academies; the Academy of Pharmacy Practice and Management (APhA-APPM); Academy of Pharmaceutical Research and Science (APhA-APRS) and the Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP). They also operate a political action committee (PAC). Their mission is to essentially support and advance the pharmaceutical profession on all levels.
The world’s largest national organization of pharmacy technicians that aims to support pharmacists in achieving their full potential.
Nationally recognized certification board that also provides recertification through continued education (CE).
Made up of educators that prepare people for a careers as pharmacy technicians.
A non-profit organization charged with setting the standards for pharmaceutical products.
Useful Online Resources
(*refer preceding section)
(*refer to preceding section)
Responsible for the protection and promotion of public health through the control and supervision of food safety, tobacco products, dietary supplements, prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceutical drugs, vaccines, biopharmaceuticals, blood transfusions, medical devices, electromagnetic radiation emitting devices (ERED), cosmetics, animal foods and feed, veterinary products.
EPOCRATES is a reference tool for healthcare providers, used by U.S physicians, pharmacists and techs alike for optimized delivery of patient care. It also comes in the form of a mobile app. Rx, in particular, contains a drug reference application including monographs, dosage calculator, a drug interaction tool, formularies and pill identifier.
CE provider for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.
Examples Of Websites Dedicated To Pharmacy Technician Careers
A job board for pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and pharmaceutical industry professionals.
A pharmacy company that operates on a services, retail and corporate level. They also provide information on careers in the industry via the following website.
One of the largest drugstore chains in the U.S. If you navigate their careers section online, you will find a number of opportunities available in various sections including pharmacy and healthcare clinic.
A professional organization mandated to further the pharmaceutical profession, they also have a tab dedicated to careers where you can either post a job, find one or obtain more information regarding training.
Related Trade Publications
Official scholarly publication of the AACP to document and advance pharmaceutical education in the U.S. and abroad.
A collection of papers published by the AAPS documenting advances made in pharmaceutical research on all levels.
A peer-reviewed online journal targeted at pharmaceutical scientists and engineers interested in information regarding dosage forms and delivery systems of drugs including those that are a product of biotechnology and the manufacturing science behind the commercialization of such dosage forms.
Official journal of the AAPS which publicizes important advancements made in the areas of pharmaceutical sciences.
Official peer-reviewed journal of the APhA regarding pharmaceutical care, drug therapy, diseases amongst other health issues, as well as trends in pharmacy practice and therapeutics.
Monthly medication therapy management (MTM) magazine of the American Pharmacists Association containing profiles of practices that use unique MTM techniques in patient care.
Publishes information regarding concepts in basic pharmaceutical sciences.
Official publication of the ASHP containing peer-reviewed scientific papers on contemporary drug therapy and pharmacy practice innovations in hospitals and healthcare systems.
Contains peer-reviewed information regarding new drugs, products and equipment; therapeutic trends; organizational, legal, and educational activities in the field as well as information on drug distribution and administration.
In order to enjoy success in your role as a pharmacy technician it is important that you possess certain key skills and qualities, particularly the following:
- Interpersonal and customer service: Technicians spend much of their time manning the counter often interacting with customers and patients. They must also contact patients to advise when their prescriptions are ready and are regularly required to follow up on inquiries. With this skill set, technicians can better communicate and relate to their customers and/ or patients when dispensing medication and allows for clear and effective communication with the pharmacist.
- A listening ear: Having strong listening skills is a plus when dealing with customers and patients in order to accurately understand their needs and respond to requests regarding medication.
- Organizational skills: Technicians must have the ability to balance a variety of responsibilities delegated to them by pharmacists while simultaneously providing service to different customers or patients. Depending on their working environment, they may get busy and must keep medicines well organized behind the counter at all times.
- Attention to detail: Despite the fact that the pharmacist is responsible for reviewing prescriptions and ensuring the safety of medications, an eye for detail is especially important for the technician. It is crucial that no mistakes are made when prescriptions are filled in and medication dispensed, as this can result in adverse effects in the treatment of patients. Dosing, mixing and measuring medicines according to the pharmacists instructions requires great precision, as does inputting customer or patient information (name, address, medicines etc.) into a computerized system.
Evolution Of The Role Of Technicians
Over time, the professional content of the role of pharmacy technicians has and continues to evolve, with these healthcare providers being expected to fulfil tasks that were previously typically assigned to pharmacists. These include entering and filling in prescriptions, reconstituting and compounding medications, as well as communicating with the office of physicians and insurance providers.
In some cases technicians are expected to operate dispensing equipment. The variety of medicines they work with depends entirely on their job setting. Those working in hospitals and other medical facilities are responsible for the preparation of a greater number of medications, including those of an intravenous nature.
Tools And Technologies
Pharmacy technicians are expected to master and operate several medical software technologies associated with filling in prescription orders, managing billing requirements as well as communication with patients. Most require proficiency for the following tasks:
- Database and medical record keeping
- Inventory Management
Popular pharmacy information systems include:
- Pharmacy Solution System by Meditech
- Meds Manager by Horizon
- Cerner’s Pharmacy System by PharmNet
- Willow by Epic
- CPSI system