There are no federal requirements for pharmacy technician certification (although a bill has been introduced) and only a few states have certification requirements, but most employers favor applicants who are “certified” or enrolled in a pharmacy technician program.
Pharmacy technician programs can be found at traditional campus colleges, vocational schools, technical schools and even online universities. One of the most attractive benefits of pharmacy technician programs is that most can be completed in a year or less.
Once enrolled in a pharmacy technician certificate program, you’ll study pharmaceutical techniques, calculations, terminology, record keeping, pharmacy law and ethics. You’ll also learn the names of medications, their uses, dangers and appropriate doses.
Internships (via pharmacy technician programs) are a great way to get experience in an actual pharmacy. You can also develop experience and skills volunteering at your local hospital or working as an aide in a community pharmacy. Remember, companies want applicants with experience in measuring dosages, counting pills and managing inventories.
Once you complete a pharmacy technician program, you’ll need to pass the certification test given by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB). A few other requirements before certification include a high school diploma, GED or foreign equivalent. You also cannot have any drug-related felony convictions in the past five years.
As a certified pharmacy technician, your education will be ongoing because there are different drugs coming on the market all the time. To stay certified, you have to finish 20 hours of continuing education every two years; at least one of those hours must be in pharmacy law.
If you’re pursuing an undergraduate degree in college, then consider majors such as chemistry, biology and health education for a good foundation in a pharmaceutical career. You’ll still need to take the certification test to become a pharmacy technician though.
Pharmacy technicians who work in drug stores receive and verify prescriptions given to them by patients and doctor’s offices (note: new prescriptions must be verified by a pharmacist). They must make sure that all the information is accurate and type it into a computer database. Pharmacy techs also prepare prescriptions, count pills, pour liquid medications, measure and mix medications, type prescription labels, select prescription bottles, and attach the right label to the right bottle.
After a pharmacy technician fills a prescription, it must be checked by the pharmacist before given to the patient. One exception is in some hospital pharmacies where pharmacy technicians check each other’s prescriptions before dispensing to a patient.
Pharmacy technicians have a wide array of other responsibilities. They manage inventory, order products, answer the telephone, greet patients, compile the patient’s personal health information (medical history and insurance), and in some drug stores, run the cash register.
If patients have questions about their medication or health, then the pharmacy technician refers them to the pharmacist.
Pharmacy technicians also work in nursing homes, hospitals and assisted-living facilities. These pharmacy techs may actually read patient’s charts, as well as prepare prescriptions. Some hospital pharmacy technicians even prepare IV medications and/or work with chemotherapy drugs.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, pharmacy technicians were employed in 285,000 jobs in 2006. Of those 285,000, close to 71% worked in retail drug stores, 18% in hospitals (including nursing homes and assisted living facilities), and a small percentage were employed at doctor’s offices, mail-order pharmacies, Internet pharmacies, pharmaceutical wholesalers and the federal government.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that employment is expected to rise by 32% from 2006 to 2016. This radical increase in demand is because the Baby Boomer population is getting older and living longer, thus needing more medication.
Some health insurance companies are using pharmacies as “patient-care” centers to save on costs, so pharmacy technicians are assuming more tasks previously performed by pharmacists. Most states have laws that say how many pharmacy technicians can work under a pharmacist, but changes to these laws (allowing for more techs) could directly affect employment.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that median hourly earnings of pharmacy technicians were $12.32 in May 2006. Of those pharmacy technicians, the middle 50% earned between $10.10 and $14.92 per hour. The lowest 10% made less than $8.56, while the highest 10% took home more than $17.65 hourly.
For companies employing the largest numbers of pharmacy technicians in May 2006, the median hourly wages/salary were as follows:
General medical and surgical hospitals $13.86 Grocery stores $12.78 Pharmacies and drug stores $11.50
The National Pharmacy Technician Association states that the median annual earnings for a pharmacy technician are $23,650, with a salary range of $18,720 to $32,240.
According to Salary.com, the median expected annual salary for pharmacy technicians is $29,097.