Pharmacy Technicians are an integral part of the health care team. Pharmacy technicians work in a variety of settings with pharmacists and pharmacy interns. Some of the more familiar places for pharmacy techs to work include retail pharmacies and hospitals, but there are many options for a technician looking to work in the pharmacy field. Other alternatives include oncology pharmacies, long term care, nuclear pharmacies, mail order, and specialty pharmacies. Technicians can develop their careers into management roles, training, IT, and other departments. Many larger companies appreciate the knowledge and skillset that pharmacy technicians carry and can offer different opportunities to them if they supply the right work ethic and dedication to their company.
Becoming a pharmacy tech can consist of different paths, depending on the place of work, state laws, and individual policies and procedures of the place of business. Some companies may require formal training or certification, and others may provide mostly “on the job” training. Pharmacy technician jobs are also dependent on the state in which the pharmacy resides. Certain states will require that technicians be certified by the state and carry a pharmacy technician license, while others do not have this stipulation. Certain states may also require a certain ratio of pharmacist to technician, requiring that a certain number of technicians work along side a pharmacist at any given time.
The aging population, chronic diseases, and newer pharmaceutical products allows for increased opportunities for pharmacy technicians. No longer are the jobs exclusive to retail or hospitals. As stated, technician jobs can take place in long term care pharmacies, specialty pharmacies, and mail order. Technicians can be dispensing, customer service, or other representative positions, all of which are important functions in taking care of patients. Technicians are the next role in succession after a pharmacist, and some students work in the technician role before applying to pharmacy school. This isn’t a bad idea to learn how pharmacies operate and if one likes the type of environment of pharmacy before committing to the long years of school to become a pharmacist.
How Long Does it take to Become a Pharmacy Technician?
Pharmacy Technician programs are available in many schools such as Bidwell Training Center, Penn Foster Career School, and local Community Colleges, among many more. Students that wish to enroll in these programs must have graduated high school and be accepted to the program. Certain schools are even offering online education programs to assist with ease of schooling. It is important that a candidate researches programs available in their area, looking at cost, time commitment, and what type of education is offered. There are some programs that offer education, but it comes at a reduced cost and doesn’t offer all the education that should come in a technician program. Ideal programs not only include covering required coursework, but also how to prepare for certification exams and resume preparation. Most schools offer career centers that will also reach out to local pharmacies to set up relationships that assist with job placement after graduation.
Although some employers do not require a pharmacy technician certification, the knowledge and training gained will help the potential technician better train for the role. Having a technician degree and/or certification will mostly likely place a candidate at a greater chance of hire versus a candidate without any formal education or training. Technicians need to be well versed in the health care field in general, as the demands and knowledge of the field are always changing. Knowledge and understanding of how pharmacy programs work, insurance concerns, and working with interdisciplinary teams are all beneficial knowledge for a technician. Certain companies offer their own internet training, but it is often specific to the technician tasks at that company. For example, a retail pharmacy may focus on direct customer contact, while a hospital will look for IV preparation and delivery to bedsides or nursing stations.
Schooling to become a pharmacy technician include areas such as:
• Dispensing medication
• Verification of prescription medication
• Pharmaceutical calculations
• Preparing for national certification
• Maintenance of customer profiles
Depending on the program, the pharmacy tech may be in school for 15 weeks to 2 years. Typically, the certification program lasts anywhere from 15 weeks to 10 months. The 10 month program consists of about 600 hours of course work, with 200 hours of externship work in a pharmacy. For an Associate Degree, the schooling will last about 2 years.
Potential pharmacy technician candidates should do their research before enrolling in any program. Since state requirements vary, technicians should be sure they investigate what type of program or training the state requires. The potential candidate should always look for a program that helps them prepare for the PTCB (or other national certification exam). The PTCB is mandatory in 13 states and in another 13 states, can be part of the technician licensure process. As stated, completion of the PTCB can also improve a candidate’s chance of getting hired, of promotion, or other benefits over other candidates.
How Much Does It Cost to Become a Pharmacy Technician?
The cost of pharmacy technician school typically ranges anywhere from $3,000 to $11,000 for a certificate program, or $5,000 to $25,000 for an Associate Degree. Various factors come into play for the cost, such as the school selected, cost of extra materials (book, iPads, etc.), and the length of time enrolled in school. If the student attends an out of state school, the cost can be higher.
There is also a cost to take national certification exams. The PTCE (the most popular national certification) certification exam costs $129. The other most common exam to become a CPhT is the ExCPT exam, which costs $115. After becoming certified, there may be fees associated with acquiring CE (continuing education) or state fees. States that require technicians to certify will also impose fees for initial licensure and for renewals. Typically, renewals will occur yearly or every other year (again, dependent on state).
Course Requirements for Pharmacy Technician Education
Education to become a pharmacy technician will vary according to the program. Education can be a certificate program or an Associate Degree, but some of the basic guidelines of coursework include:
• Medical & Pharmaceutical Terminology
• Law & Regulation
• Brand/Generic Names
• Routes of Administration
• Dosage Forms
• Pharmaceutical Calculations
• Classes of Medications (antiviral, antibiotics, antifungal, cardiovascular, respiratory, chemotherapy, gastrointestinal, narcotics, antipsychotics, etc.)
• PBMs and Payment Processing
• Sterile Compounding
• HIPAA Law
• Employment Preparation
• Certification Preparation
After course work is completed, the technician in training is required to complete externships. In this, the student works inside a pharmacy learning the everyday tasks and duties of the technician. The student is graded on their work and must pass certain requirements. These externships are typically arranged in advance between specific pharmacies and the technician schools.
Difficulty and Requirements to Become a Pharmacy Technician
Graduation from high school is the first requirement to becoming a pharmacy technician, followed by finding a position as one. The work required in between these two steps can be many, including an education and becoming certified, either per company guidelines or national standards.
After educational requirements are met (or in some cases when the technician decides they are ready), the technician can sit for a national certification. Technicians do not need to go through schooling to take a national certification exam, but schooling certainly helps to prepare for the exam.
There is a national certification, CPhT, which stands for National Certified Pharmacy Technician. One exam that will earn a person this title is the PTCE, given by the PTCB (Pharmacy Technician Certification Board). To achieve the certification, the person must:
• Have a high school diploma or equivalent (GED or foreign equivalent)
• Disclose any past criminal actions
• Comply with all PTCB policies
• Pass the PTCE (Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam)
Preparing for the national exam takes a lot of preparation and studying. The actual exam is two hours, multiple choice exam of 90 questions, 80 of which count toward the final score. 10 questions are used to determine future questions on the test. After passing the exam, the technician must complete 20 hours of continuing education (CE) for recertification. One of the 20 hours must be in pharmacy law, and another hour must be in patient safety.
Another national exam is the ExCPT exam, which will also earn the candidate the CPhT certification. This exam is given by the NHA, National Healthcareer Association. This exam also carries an accreditation by the NCCA (National Commission for Certifying Agencies). To take the ExCPT, a candidate must have completed a pharmacy program or completed a training by their employer that meets certain criteria. Candidates must have also completed a minimum of 1,200 hours of pharmacy work-related experience within 1 of the past 3 years. The reason this specification doesn’t say technician work experience is that a person cannot function as an intern in certain states unless then are certified. A person can work in a pharmacy as a cashier, customer service representative, or several other functions.
Typical functions of a pharmacy technician include:
• Stocking medications and supplies
• Collection of patient information
• Prepare and dispense medication (under pharmacist supervision)
• Assisting with billing or customer service calls
• Sorting and filing prescriptions
• Assistance with audits
Career Path for a Pharmacy Technician
Pharmacy Technicians currently outnumber pharmacists in the United States by about 75,000. This number makes sense as there are typically multiple technicians working with a pharmacist at any given time. Technicians are in demand and jobs are expected to grow by about 12% (versus 7% for other professions) through the year 2026.
Community pharmacy is the most common practice site, especially for new graduates. Pharmacists in the community setting dispense medication, provide patient counseling, advise on OTC items, and work with other health-care professionals for the general population. Pharmacists that work community can be found in independent pharmacies as well as large chains.
Pharmacy Technicians have an average salary of $14.86 per hour. However, this amount is often brought down by states and/or companies that have no training requirement. Technicians can be brought on board by certain companies at wages not much above minimum wage. The technicians making lower wages are often brought on board with little to no training and receive their training on the job. Sometimes, technicians will receive a raise after earning their national certification or completing the company training course. Technicians that make the highest average wages work in mail order, oncology, or long-term care pharmacies. Working in one of these areas tend to make up to $7,000 more annually. Different areas of the country also pay various amounts dependent on cost of living of any given area. Technicians can also sometimes be eligible for a bonus, depending on their position. Sometimes technicians working in a retail setting will receive a bonus if their store meets certain criteria. For example, if a store increases their prescription volume by more than a certain amount, the entire pharmacy staff may be eligible for a bonus, quarterly or annually. Technicians may also be eligible for other compensation, with total packages averaging between $28,000 to $40,000 annually.
Some titles that may follow a technician receives a promotion include Pharmacy Technician II or III, Delivery Technician, IV Technician, Infusion Technician, or Pharmacy Specialist. Alternatives to advancing in the pharmacy technician career path include going to school for pharmacy, nursing, or other health careers. Because of their education and training, pharmacy assistants can be successful in a variety of healthcare fields and positions.
Becoming a pharmacy technician, no matter the path, requires a dedication to the healthcare profession. The best pharmacy technicians have a passion for patient care, attention to detail, and a compassionate nature. Technicians can advance in their career by working through various stages of their respective company’s programs. Some employers have technician levels, and others promote excellent technicians into trainers, human resources, and operational roles. Technicians work closely with pharmacists to take care of patients and must have adequate training and knowledge to be proficient in their jobs.
Best Colleges. https://www.bestcolleges.com/features/top-pharmacy-technician-online-training-programs/. Accessed June 5, 2018.
Carrington College. https://carrington.edu/degrees/pharmacy-technician/. Accessed June 5, 2018.
PTCB. https://www.ptcb.org/get-certified/prepare-for-the-ptce#.WxdF6YgvzIV. Accessed June 5, 2018.
NPTA. http://www.pharmacytechnician.org/excpt/. Accessed June 6, 2018.