Pharmacy techs work under the supervision of pharmacists in retail pharmacies, hospitals and other medical facilities that offer prescription services. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, pharmacy techs help fill prescriptions; count tablets and measure liquid prescriptions; compound or mix medications; package and label prescriptions; process payments and insurance claims; and answer phone calls. To perform these tasks, they use computer programs, tablet counters, label creators and standardized medicine recipes.
Pharmacy tech jobs involve a high amount of interaction with patients and requires exact measurements and labeling. Therefore, it can be an excellent career path for those who are patient, personable, detail-oriented and highly-organized. Most pharmacy techs work full-time, but some may be forced to work irregular hours, such as night shifts at 24-hour pharmacies according to the BLS.
How to Become a Pharmacy Technician
While many pharmacy techs are trained on the job, others pursue formal pharmacy tech training through a postsecondary certificate, postsecondary diploma or associate degree program. Programs can be found at community colleges, vocational schools, traditional universities, and even online schools. Although employment cannot be guaranteed, the following steps represent one possible pathway towards pharmacy tech careers.
- Earn a high school diploma or GED, taking courses in such disciplines as arithmetic and business.
- Enroll in and complete a diploma, certificate or associate degree program.
- Contact state boards of pharmacy to learn about potential licensure requirements. Complete the licensure process as outlined by your state.
- Seek professional certification from a nationally-recognized certifying agency.
- Apply for entry-level pharmacy technician positions at local retail pharmacies, hospitals and other medical facilities.
- Renew state licensure and professional certification as needed, completing continuing education and other requirements.
Post-Education Requirements: Certifications and/or State Licensing
Some states require pharmacy techs to be licensed and/or professionally certified. State licensure is granted and regulated by state boards of pharmacy. The BLS points out that even in states that do not require certification, it could make it easier to find a job. According to the National Healthcareer Association, in some states, certification allows pharmacy techs to assume more workplace responsibilities, such as processing physicians' orders by phone. Pharmacy techs can gain the title of Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT) through two organizations, both of which are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies:
- Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB)
- National Healthcareer Association (NHA)
Qualifications include a high school diploma or GED, a clean criminal record and the passing of a certification exam. To keep certification current, candidates must complete pharmacy-related continuing education credits: PTCB requires at least 20 hours completed within two years, with at least one hour in the subject of pharmacy law; NHA requires 10 hours every two years.
Pharmacy Tech Specialties
Pharmacy techs can also earn specialty certifications through the National Pharmacy Technician Association (NPTA), by completing at-home coursework and attending hands-on training, in the following areas:
- Sterile Products (IV) Certification
- Chemotherapy Certification
- Compounding Certification
Pharmacy Tech Job Growth and Average Salary
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 32 percent national job growth for pharmacy techs between 2010 and 2020, more than double the average job growth rate for all occupations in the U.S. The BLS notes that job prospects should be particularly good for pharmacy techs with formal training and experience. The rapid growth is mostly due to a rapidly-aging population and the increased use of prescription medicines to fight diseases.
According to the BLS, the median national salary of pharmacy techs was $29,320 in May 2012, with the highest 10 percent earning more than $42,400 and the lowest 10 percent earning below $20,580. Pharmacy techs working in hospitals earned the highest national annual mean wages, at $34,410. Salary can vary by employer, experience and education.
List of Related Careers
Individuals interested in pharmacy tech training may want to consider other healthcare career paths, such as the following professions:
- Dental Assistants: Provide patient care, maintain records and assist dentists. Some states require dental assistants to complete an accredited one-year certificate or diploma program; in other states, on-the-job training is sufficient.
- Medical Assistants: Complete clinical and administrative tasks, such as scheduling appointments and measuring patients' vital signs, in doctors' offices. Most medical assistants are trained on the job, but associate and certificate programs are available.
- Health Information Technicians: Use classification systems to manage health information data, assuring it is accurate and accessible. The majority of these professionals have a postsecondary certificate or associate degree and professional certification.
Links to Sources and Associations
The following websites offer more information about pharmacy tech careers:
American Association of Pharmacy Technicians, http://www.pharmacytechnician.com/
American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, http://www.ashp.org/
Pharmacy Technicians, May 2012 Occupational Employment and Wages, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292052.htm
Pharmacy Technicians, Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacy-technicians.htm#tab-1
National Healthcareer Association, http://www.nhanow.com/home.aspx
National Pharmacy Technician Association, http://www.pharmacytechnician.org/
Pharmacy Technician Certification Board, http://www.ptcb.org/