What Is a Pharmacy Technician?
Pharmacy technicians are a key part of the health care industry, and those in various health care roles rely on the knowledge of these experts. If you are wanting to know how to become a certified pharmacy technician and what to expect from this job, continue reading.
Duties and Responsibilities
To some extent, you can think of pharmacy technicians as liaisons between customers and pharmacists. When you become a pharmacy technician, you are responsible for many duties, including accurately preparing and distributing medications. Part of this includes performing calculations. Pharmacy technicians are also responsible for preparing sterile medicines, such as those that are used in cancer treatments. General prescription preparation can also include counting, retrieving, weighing, pouring, and even mixing medications.
Pharmacy techs also interact directly with patients, collecting accurate information and medical histories. They also compare medication orders to the medications that a patient is taking. This role includes the use of technology for maintaining accurate records of patients as well as accurate orders and medication inventories.
Those who work as pharmacy technicians in hospitals or health care facilities also frequently have the responsibility of filling and delivering patient prescriptions. In hospitals, technicians are more likely to prepare IV medications and take care of laboratory preparation.
In this job, you will also be part of the prior authorization process and process third-party billing claims. You can also work on investigational drug studies by assisting with their management. Pharmacy technicians also answer customer phone calls, organize inventory, and refer customers to pharmacists for answers when necessary.
As part of all the various duties of a pharmacy technician, you are also responsible for ensuring compliance with the relevant regulatory requirements. Experienced people in this role can also rise to supervisory positions.
It is important to note that the specific responsibilities of pharmacy technicians will vary by state, as state laws outline duties that can be performed in this role. Additionally, unless you choose to work in a mail-order pharmacy, you should expect to interact with customers or patients on a regular basis, so this job has a customer service element to it, as well.
Education, Training, Certification & Registration
The answer to how long does it take to become a pharmacy technician will depend on your training program and desired roles, but most jobs require college education for less than four years.
Education and Training
Most employers prefer to hire pharmacy technicians who completed an associate’s degree or a certification program from a technical or community college. Most of these programs can be completed in less than a year. Ideally, you should opt for a program that the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists has accredited, as these programs have a minimum of 600 instructional hours. However, the standard is to choose a program that the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education has accredited. This is the most important consideration.
In most cases, part of this training will involve completing clinical hours at a pharmacy or hospital. The classes themselves can cover pharmacy mathematics, pharmacy operations, general medical conditions, and pharmaceutical dispensing. Other topics can include medical terminology, label and prescription information, physiology and anatomy, and poison/drug emergencies.
Online training programs are also available, with most featuring modules, each with an exam to complete before you continue to the next one. You can also find distance learning options, where you correspond online with your school and may have to occasionally attend classes in-person.
Certification programs typically last around a year and focus entirely on what you need to know to become a pharmacy technician. They typically finish with an externship to give you some experience on your resume and introduce you to the daily life of technicians.
Associate’s degree programs typically take about two years, and they give you a full academic degree in the form of an associate’s degree, which can stand out on your resume. Additionally, completing an AA means that your transcript features accredited courses, which you should be able to transfer to a four-year degree in the future. The additional training in these AA programs also tends to provide greater background knowledge for you as a professional.
At the end of your training, you should be ready to pass the National Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam. There are also other certification exams that you can choose to take instead, including from the National Healthcareer Association (NHA) and Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB). The PTCB certification exam covers such topics as pharmacy quality assurance, medication safety, pharmacy law, billing and reimbursement, sterile compounding, nonsterile compounding, order entry and fill processes, information systems application, and pharmacology.
Exams can have varying prerequisites, such as formal education or work experience. Employers may also prefer a specific certification exam over the others. Once you have your certification, you are referred to as a Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT).
Further Training and Education
You can also further advance your career with additional experience and training. This can lead to supervisory roles, specialized roles, or pursuing additional education and becoming a pharmacist. Some of the areas in which you can specialize your skills as a technician include pharmacy automation, sterile compounding, revenue cycle management, health information systems, and hazardous drug management.
Continuing education is also an important part of maintaining your certification. Every two years, you must complete at least 20 hours in continuing education. Most employers cover this education.
To officially become a CPhT, you must also register with your state, typically within a short time of your first official role as a pharmacy tech. Each state has slightly different requirements, but you typically need a high school diploma or GED and to complete a training or certificate program. You may also already need to have a job with a pharmacy.
Learn even more in our explanation of the various career path options for pharmacy techs, or learn more about the various training programs available.
The job outlook is strong for this role, which is one of the many reasons that people want to learn how to become a pharmacy technician. Health services are currently among the country’s largest industries, as it accounts for 11 million jobs. Additionally, the health care sector is expected to create the most jobs between 2018 and 2020 compared to other occupational groups.
Looking at pharmacy technicians, in particular, there is a great deal of expected growth due to the increasing use of medications as a treatment. The growing demand will also likely be driven by the growing aging population, including the elderly and middle-aged groups. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimated that between 2016 and 2026, pharmacy technicians would see job growth of about 12 percent, which is quicker than average.
Read our detailed description of the career outlook for pharmacy technicians.
Your educational level and certifications will likely influence your ability to get a job as well as your salary. Salary is also influenced by your geographic location and where you work. For example, smaller independent pharmacies typically pay lower salaries than larger retail chains or hospitals.
In 2018, the median salary of pharmacy technicians was $33,060, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The highest 10 percent of technicians earned more than $46,980 and worked in surgical hospitals or general medical centers. As of 2016, the median salary was $30,920, indicating some growth within that short time.
When you become a pharmacy technician, you should expect to work hours that are similar to those of a pharmacist. As such, you will not work typical 9-5 hours. This job frequently includes working nights, evenings, holidays, and weekends. Many jobs are in facilities like hospitals that operate 24 hours a day, so this is important to keep in mind. As you gain seniority, you will have more control over your hours and can choose more favorable ones. Many part-time jobs are available in addition to full-time ones.
Some pharmacy technicians choose to work in health care facilities and hospitals. This environment tends to have more patient interaction as well as more opportunities for additional training and increased responsibilities.
Many technicians choose to work in pharmacies in their local drug stores or grocery stores. These roles also feature a great deal of interaction with others. Mail-order pharmacies are another possibility, with a similar role yet no patient interactions. Mail-order pharmacies will be the ideal environment for those who prefer behind-the-scenes or independent work.
To give you an idea of which work environments are the most common, 52 percent of pharmacy technicians work in drug stores or pharmacies and 13 percent work in surgical and general medicine hospitals. The others work in grocery stores, department stores, general merchandise stores, or medical facilities.