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Pharmacy Technician Training

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Pharmacy technicians work under the supervision of pharmacists to accurately dispense prescription medications to patients. Pharmacy technicians' job duties are diverse and may include:

  • Measuring and mixing medications
  • Packaging and labeling prescription drugs
  • Submitting patient billing information
  • Communicating with other health professionals to obtain information needed to fill prescriptions
  • Performing administrative tasks such as answering phones

Pharmacy technicians can't offer advice to patients regarding prescriptions -- that's the job of the pharmacist -- yet they spend a lot of time communicating with patients. Even though pharmacy techs may help prepare medications, all prescriptions are ultimately reviewed by the pharmacist before they are released to patients.

Pharmacy technician certificate programs are available through community colleges and vocational schools. Some pharmacy tech educational programs may be completed within one year of full-time study, while other programs are more in-depth and may require at least two years of study. Some states require pharmacy technicians to be certified or licensed.

Pharmacy technician training

While some pharmacy techs may learn how to do their jobs through on-the-job training, others opt to attend a postsecondary program. Most, but not all, pharmacy certificate programs are completed in a year or less. Some colleges offer two-year programs, which include general education courses and are often designed to lead to an associate degree in pharmacy technology.

If you choose to pursue an associate degree in pharmacy technology, your general education requirements may include courses in English composition, math and natural science, possibly along with courses in social sciences and art. Associate degrees and certificates both offer training that is intended to directly prepare you for work in the field. Your coursework may include the following topics:

  • Pharmacy technology -- Introduction to inpatient and outpatient pharmacy environments, including legal responsibilities and technical aspects of the job.
  • Pharmaceutics -- Covers pharmacological principles, including drug laws, standards and regulations, and ethics.
  • Inpatient dispensing -- Learning about the institutional drug distribution system. This includes training in record-keeping and pharmaceutical preparations.
  • Sterile preparation -- Students should learn about techniques that ensure sterility in handling and packaging as well as the applicable laws, regulations and standards.
  • Ambulatory pharmaceuticals -- Focuses on operating effectively in ambulatory settings. Includes training in inventory receipts and control, computerized prescription processing and medical insurance billing.
  • Calculating dosages -- Learn how to accurately measure and count dosages, including instruction on the metric system and record keeping.
  • Computer applications and pharmacy software -- Basic to advanced computer concepts and skills and in-depth training in pharmacy software, including insurance billing and prescription processing.
  • Home health care supplies -- Training in the diseases that require patients to use home health care kits and tests, as well as an overview of vitamins and minerals.

In addition to coursework, some pharmacy technician schools require students to complete clinical hours to gain hands-on experience. Some colleges have training facilities on-campus; other colleges collaborate with community pharmacies, where students are sent for clinical training.

Pharmacy technician certification

According to the BLS, some states require pharmacy technicians to become certified. Requirements for becoming certified may be successfully completing a pharmacy technology program and/or passing an exam. Even where certification is not required, employers may prefer to hire certified technicians. Certification can be earned by passing examinations through two organizations: The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) and the National Healthcare Association (NHA).

To become certified as a Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT) by the PTCB, candidates must have a high school diploma or equivalent, must receive a passing score on the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam, and must be in compliance with all PTCB certification policies. According to the PTCB, certification benefits include validated achievement and knowledge, proven understanding of pharmacy law, and possibility for future job growth.

Career outlook for pharmacy techs

According to the BLS, pharmacy techs may spend nearly all of their time on their feet, recording prescription data, counting tablets, measuring liquid prescriptions, packaging and labeling medications, accepting payment from customers, and referring customers to the pharmacist when there are questions about medications.

Pharmacy technicians work in grocery and drug stores, nursing homes, and hospitals. Because pharmacies offer extended hours of service to customers, shifts are available at different times throughout the day and night. Weekend work is often required, especially for those new on the job.

According to the BLS, May 2012 national median pay for pharmacy technicians was $29,320 annually, or an average of $14.63 an hour. Projected 2010-2020 job growth is 32 percent, which is considered much faster than average when taking all occupations into consideration. The larger-than-average job growth is anticipated because of the increasing number of retail stores opening prescription drug departments, as well as America's rapidly aging population, which will require more medications as time progresses.

Sources:

Bureau Of Labor Statistics: Pharmacy Technicians
City College of San Francisco: Pharmacy Technician
Foothill College: Pharmacy Technology
O*Net Online, CareerOneStop: Pharmacy Technicians

Pharmacy Technician Certification Board: Get Certified
Rasmussen College: Pharmacy Technician Certificate


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