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So you Want To Become A Pharmacy Tech: A Resource for Prospective Technicians

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As a stable, respectable industry which is projected to grow at least 20% within the next ten years, becoming a pharmacy tech is an appealing career choice for many. Whether you’re just starting out or considering a complete career switch get to know this highly promising field.

Nature of the Job

Working under the direction and supervision of a licensed pharmacist, Pharmacy Technicians are responsible for an array of prescription fulfillment functions and daily operations in the pharmacy. Depending on the type of pharmacy duties may vary, but may include:

  • Receiving prescription requests from medical staff
  • Measuring medication and counting tablets for prescriptions
  • Packaging and labeling prescriptions
  • Keeping inventory organized and properly stocked
  • Data entry
  • Processing payments and insurance claims for prescriptions
  • Tending to administrative tasks such as entering customer info into the computer system
  • Answering phone calls from patients requesting refills or needing help
  • Assist Pharmacist with daily operational tasks
  • Directing customer questions about prescriptions, drug information, or health matters to the pharmacist

From data entry to dispensing prescriptions to customers, pharmacy techs operate in a wide variety of practice settings, including drugstores, grocery stores, community pharmacies, hospitals, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, the military, mail service pharmacies or other medical facilities.

Work Environment

The general work environment for pharmacy techs is a clean, well-organized area punctuated by good light and even better ventilation. The majority of the day is spent on foot and some heavy lifting may be required. Depending on the extent of the inventory or layout of the lab, stepladders may also be required in order to retrieve supplies from high shelves.

Because techs work alongside pharmacists, their schedules often mirror one another. It’s not uncommon for shifts to include evenings, nights, weekends, and holidays, especially when starting out. Some hospital and retail pharmacies operate 24 hours a day to serve their patients, which means new technicians may work late or overnight shifts. However, as they become established and increase their seniority, technicians may gain more autonomy over their schedules.

Training and Education

While no national standards currently exist to become a pharmacy technician, candidates typically need a high school diploma or equivalent starting out. Fully-fledged techs must generally learn the specifics of their job through many hours of on-the-job training or by completing a postsecondary education program.

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) has collaborated with the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) to form the Pharmacy Technician Accreditation Commission (PTAC). This body provides accreditation for pharmacy technician programs to ensure standardized quality, accredited training of technicians. An aspiring pharmacy tech can find many accredited programs at community colleges and can generally expect to complete them within one year, unless the student elects to undertake a 2-year associate degree program.

After completing one of these programs, students are well-versed in a variety of subjects, such as pharmacy calculations and arithmetic, proper recordkeeping, and methods of dispensing medications. Participants also gain exposure to pharmacy law and ethics, and learn the names, uses, and doses of common medications.

Most programs offer clinical experience opportunities as part of the curriculum, where students bank hands-on experience and training in an actual pharmacy.

Optional coursework in postsecondary educational programs covers technical and practical training in the following areas:

  • Pharmacy law
  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacy ethics
  • Anatomy
  • Healthcare systems
  • Physiology
  • Medical terminology
  • Pharmaceutical calculations

Certifications and Qualifications

Many states have specific regulations levied on pharmacy technicians, which often include additional requirements such as passing a certification exam governed by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) or the National Healthcareer Association (NHA), and a registration with the State board of pharmacy.

To maintain the above certifications , Pharmacy techs need to renew them every two years by completing at least 20 hours of continuing education.

Career Trends & Industry Growth

Job Outlook & Projections look to be very good for pharmacy technicians, especially for those with formal training, accreditation/certification, and previous experience in retail settings. Nationally, growth is projected to jump by as much as 20% by 2022, though states like Idaho, Utah, Colorado and Texas are anticipated to grow their pharmacy tech job openings by up to 30% or more.

In addition to the typical duties and responsibilities performed on a day-to-day basis, many pharmacies nationwide are expanding to include some consumer service offerings. These would include necessities such as flu shots, health screenings and the like. Specialized preparation of customized medication, known as compounding, is a growing niche in pharmacy. As compounding becomes more widespread, being trained in this skill will make you an invaluable asset.

What’s more, as our life expectancy increases so does the need for skilled pharmacy technicians who assist pharmacists in dispensing prescription medication to manage chronic illnesses and age-related health issues.

Related Occupations

Healthcare has several related branches and a start in pharmacy can stem to additional occupations in the field such as:

  • Dental assistants
  • Medical assistants
  • Medical records and health information technicians
  • Medical transcriptionists
  • Pharmacists
  • Medical billing and quality technician
  • Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT)
  • Compounding technician
  • Medication inventory specialist
  • Pharmaceutical sales representative
  • Health technologist
  • Veterinary Assistants

Types of Pharmacy Techs

Properly trained Pharmacy Techs have the luxury of working in a variety of different environments. Here are some of the top fields identified by working techs:

  • Retail
    • Encompassing independent and chain pharmacies, these Techs spend the majority of their days interacting with the general public. Whether greeting patients, filling prescriptions,, submitting prescription claims to insurance providers, resolving patient issues, or assisting with the general day-to-day tasks of pharmacy operations this is what it’s like to be a Pharmacy Tech in its most well known form.
    • Education and training:
      • A high school diploma or higher
      • Pharmacy Technician Certification (CPhT)
      • Many hours of on-the-job training from a specific retail store to learn the pharmacy’s processes
      • Continuing Education Hours
  • Hospital
    • Day-to-day duties include filling medication orders per doctor’s requests as opposed to dealing with patients or lead pharmacists. They should also familiarize themselves with prepackaging medications for hospital patients and educating patients upon discharge.
    • Education and training:
      • A high school diploma or higher
      • Pharmacy Technician Certification (CPhT)
      • Extensive training and gain experience working with parenteral drugs and other potentially hazardous medications
      • In-house training on the hospital floorContinuing Education Hours
  • Rehab Centers
    • Many rehabilitation centers offer their patients on-site private pharmacies to fill patient medications and prescriptions. Their pharmacy tech employees need to be prepared to work with patients who may display mental health problems or substance abuse issues. The medications they prepare and dispense are generally at the instruction of a nurse or rehabilitation specialist.
    • Education and training:
      • A high school diploma or higher
      • Pharmacy Technician Certification (CPhT)
      • Possible sensitivity training
      • Company training on the center’s standard operating procedures
      • Continuing Education Hours

Salaries

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, based on the some 368,000 registered pharmacy techs, the average salary is about $32,000 annually (or about $15/hour) with the upper 90th percentile earning up to $44,000 per year as of May 2014.

Compensation varies state-to-state with the western portion of the country pulling in the highest figures.

Average Pharmacy Tech Wages
Image Source:Bureau of Labor Statistics

Professional Organizations