How to Become a Pharmacy Technician: Job Description, Education & Salary

In the wise words of the great Mary Poppins, “a teaspoon of sugar helps that medicine go down”…or at least that’s what you’ll likely tell your customers when you become a pharmacy technician. This is a neat way to become involved in the medical industry without have to spend a really long time in school or spend a ton of money on it either. Come along with us and take a look at how to become a pharmacy technician.

How to Become a Pharmacy Technician

The very first thing that you will need to do in order to become a pharmacy technician is earn a high school diploma or similar equivalent. If you’ve already crossed that bridge, awesome! You are one step closer to becoming a pharmacy tech. Now you will need to decide what type of schooling is best you and will set you on the right path to becoming a pharmacy technician.

Education and Training

Like we just mentioned, decided on your learning path is super important. You will have to select a program that is offered through an accredited community college, vocational school or otherwise appointed organization.

It is most common for pharmacy technicians to complete their education and training through a vocational school or at a community college. The programs are most often called pharmacy technology or pharmacy technician training certification. No matter where you go or what the program is called, it will arm you with the needed tools to meet all of the state requirements to take your examination.

Most pharmacy technician programs will award students a certificate in a year or less, with the exception of those that opt for an associate’s degree. An associate’s degree will take you a bit more time, but the information that is covered is the same.

During your schooling to become a pharmacy technician you will cover a pretty good variety of subjects. For example, you will learn about the arithmetic used in pharmacies, proper record keeping, proper ways to dispense medications and the laws and ethics of pharmacies. You will also learn all about the names, doses and purposes of medications.

Some pharmacy technician programs also offer hands on clinical experience as well. This is a great way for you to get a first-hand look at what you’ll be doing each day.

A little something to keep an eye out for when selecting a program to enroll in: The American Society of Healthy System Pharmacists (ASHP) will only accredit pharmacy technician programs that have students complete 600 hours of instruction over a minimum of 15 weeks.

This is important to look for when you find a school because it would be a major bummer if you spent time and money on something that won’t enable you to pass the certification exam and begin work.

Here are a few schools that offer programs in this field:

Sorry, we could not find any matching schools

Licenses, Certifications and Registrations

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Nearly every state has rules and regulations for pharmacy technicians in some way, shape or form. To find out what the particular regulations for taking your certification are, definitely consult your state’s board of Pharmacy for the specifics. Here is a quick run-down of what the usual requirements are, but keep in mind that there may be additional things to consider depending on your state.

  • High school diploma or applicable equivalent
  • Criminal background check
  • Formal education or training program
  • Exam
  • Fees
  • Continuing education when applicable

You will be able to certify with two different organizations. The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) or the National Healthcareer Association (NHA) are your options and each will have slightly different certification requirements. Each will also require you to recertify every two years and you will be this by completing 20 hours of continuing educational courses.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Pharmacy Technician

One of the best things about the pharmacy technician certification is that it doesn’t take you an eternity to complete. Yay for that! Your time in school will actually be pretty short and that will make it that much easier to hit the ground running once you have completed your required examination to become a certified pharmacy technician.

Each certificate program will be measured in different ways. Some may be measured in credits and some may be measured in course hours. For the most part pharmacy technician certifications take about 3 to 10 months to complete. For those that choose to get an associate’s degree can expect it to take about two years to complete.

Pharmacy Technician Requirements

As will any career choice, there are certain requirements that are essential to getting a job. Here are the basic requirements to becoming employed as a pharmacy technician:

Now that we know the basic requirements to get a job as a pharmacy technician, how about we take a quick look at some of the important and helpful skills. Each of these skills is needed for you to do your job to the best of your ability.

  • Key Skills – Customer service skills, attention to detail, pretty decent organizational skills and the ability to make decisions on the fly
  • Computer Skills – As a pharmacy technician, you will likely use a computer a pretty good amount and having strong computer skills will be pretty important. You will use the computer to process prescriptions, maintain patient records, process insurance authorizations and check drug compatibility. It will be hard to do these things if you are left scratching your head when trying to figure out the most basic of computer programs
  • Technical Skills – There are a few technical skills that are needed when working as a pharmacy technician. You will want to have the dexterity to use pharmacy tools like filling and sealing auger dose machines, laboratory balances, blenders and even mills for compound medications
  • Additional Skills – It’s very important for pharmacy technicians to be able to see the details of what they are doing up close and personal. There will be lots of dispensing of pills and applying of labels with small print, so you can imagine how difficult it would be to do those things if you had less than ideal eye sight. All we are saying is –  don’t forget your glasses or contacts on the days you work because you can’t miss those fine details

What Does a Pharmacy Technician Do?

Good question! What indeed does a pharmacy technician do exactly? Well we are going to tell you!

As a pharmacy technician your main job duty will be to help a licensed pharmacists dispense each patients prescription medication. You may work in a retail pharmacy or in a hospital / healthcare facility setting. The pharmacist that you are working under must review each prescription before it is released to the patients, but the rest of the process is largely up to you to complete. You will be the one to mix or compound medication as well as use dispensing equipment to fill some prescription orders too.

Now let’s take a look at the daily job duties of a pharmacy technician:

  • Take all information that is needed from the customer or health care professional that is needed to fill the prescription
  • Measure out the proper dosage and amounts of medications for prescriptions
  • Properly package and label prescriptions
  • Monitor and organize the medication inventory
  • Alert the pharmacists when there are any medication or supply shortages
  • Process insurance information and claims for patients
  • Collect co-pays from patients for prescriptions
  • Enter all customer information into the pharmacy data base. This information includes patient information, prescriptions taken and insurance information
  • Answer incoming calls from patients and answer questions if possible
  • Facilitate conversations between patients and the pharmacists should there be a need for more in depth answers based upon the questions asked.

There will be a lot of customer service skills needed for this job because you will be dealing with people all day every day. Having decent skills in this arena will make your job a bit easier, so brush up on those smiles and positive tones of voice.

The Perfect Prescription! Watch This Video

We know that it’s one thing to read about what a pharmacy technician does all day, but how about also watching a video that demonstrates it too! Check out this great video that is part of the web series “Cara Goes to Class”. Cara jumps right into the role of a pharmacy technician to show us all what it’s like to really work in this field every day. It’s a short but informative video, so take a few minutes to watch it because it’s just what the doctor ordered.

Pharmacy Technician Salary

We know that the salary that is expected to be earned can be a major deciding factor when someone is considering any new career. It is even more important to know this information prior to enrolling in and paying for school, because if there’s not the right amount of cheddar to be shredded then it may not be the best option for you. With that in mind, we want to tell you what’s being reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics since they have their fingers on the pulse of some of today’s most popular careers.

The smarty pants peeps at the Bureau of Labor Statistics have a pretty solid amount of information for the pay expectations for pharmacy technicians and some super useful graphs as well. Hop on over to the website to take a look if you’re up for it, but in the meantime here’s what they are saying.

As of May 2013 pharmacy technicians are reported to earn a median annual wage of $29,650. This translates into $14.25 an hour for those that would rather see what they would make an hour. It is also reported that there are pharmacy technicians that may be a bit less experienced that are earning somewhere around $20,640 a year. On the other side of the pay scale we have pharmacy technicians that may have been at it for a while because they are said to earn somewhere around $43,230 a year.

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Pharmacy Technician Certification Programs

In order to become a pharmacy technician, you have to attend a certification program that will help you to learn all of the ropes as well as help to prepare you for the required certification exam. You will have the option of attending a community college, vocational school or even attend a program through an accredited pharmacy technician organization. One of the cool things about programs for this certification is that you will have the option to complete the program online. We find this particularly helpful for those that are currently working or for those with children. It makes it easier to do some learning if you don’t have to worry so much about being somewhere at a specific time. Here are some of the certification options available for our readers that are interested in becoming pharmacy technicians.

Everest College

Everest College offers a pharmacy technician program at many of its campuses around the country to accommodate students in many different areas.  The program at Everest College is run by licensed pharmacists that have a ton of know-how and experience that makes them fully capable of training and educating the pharmacy technicians of tomorrow.

During the pharmacy technician training students will learn how to take prescription orders, fill prescriptions and how to fully assist the lead pharmacist. During this program students will also get an in class education as well as hands on training. This program can be completed in about a year’s time. You will be ready to get right to work in a pharmacy once you receive your certificate.

Barry University

Barry University has a great pharmacy technician training program. They also have a super helpful certification exam preparation program that will provide the finishing touch on your skill set before you take the required state or national certification, whichever you should decide to take.

The pharmacy technician training program is a 10 week, 60 hour course. It will help students learn how to function in a pretty wide array of settings too. Students will learn how to operate as a pharmacy technician in community pharmacies, hospitals, in-home health care setting, long term care facilities, mail service pharmacies and manage health care organizations.

Ashworth College

Ashworth College provides students with the option to complete a pharmacy technician program and earn a career diploma online. This online pharmacy technician program totally prepares you to take the Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT) certification exam that is delivered by the National Healthcareer Association (NHA).

The pharmacy technician program at Ashworth College is noted to be one if the best in the country and can take students about 4 months to complete. During your studies you will learn how to retrieve, count, pour, weigh, measure and mix medications. You will also learn how to interact with doctor, patients and pharmacists.

Patients Say the Funniest Things – Funny Stories from Pharmacy Technicians

As we are sure you can imagine, pharmacy technicians run into some pretty comical patients every now and then. Here are a few funny little stories from some pharmacy technicians!

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Say Hello to Jordon, a pharmacy technician from Missouri

Subject: You want me to refill what?

Patient: “Hey! Can you please refill my al aka zam?”

Jordon: “I’m sorry, but do you mean you need your alprazolam refilled? I’m pretty sure we are fresh out of al aka zam”

Patient: “Oh sure that’s what I meant! Can you also refill my cold chicken?”

Jordon: *stifling major giggles at this point* “Sir, do you mean that you need your colchicine refilled too?”

Meet Luke, a pharmacy tech from Texas

Subject: Since when are we a phone service?

*customer pulls up to drive thru*

Luke: “Hello! Are you picking up a prescription today or dropping one off?”

Patient: “Well actually, I need you to call my doctor’s office for me and ask them what time my appointment for today is.”

Luke: “Wait…you want me to call your doctor’s office for you? Like, right now?”

Patient: “Yeah that would be great! Can you also ask them which doctor I am seeing as well? I can’t remember that either.”

Luke: “Ma’am, I’m sorry but you’re going to have to call them for yourself. I can’t get that information for you.”

Patient: “Well I can’t call because I’m in the middle of a ‘Words with Friends’ battle and I don’t want to miss my turn. It’s also raining and I don’t want to call from a payphone. I’ll get soaked”

Luke: “I’m really sorry, but I can’t do that for you. Why don’t you just come on in and use my phone if you’d rather not use a payphone”

Patient: “Oh I can’t do that either…I’m actually wearing my pajamas”

Luke: “I have to go help other patients now, but the offer still stands for you to come on in and use the phone. Have a nice day”

*Sure enough she walks in with her pajamas and bunny slippers on. She also did not even have an appointment that day*

As you can see, there is never a dull moment working in a pharmacy! We are sure you will have a ton of funny stories to tell once you are on the job too!

Final Grade

Don’t worry…we promise to be gentle here and that we won’t make you reach for your prescription strength pain killers. Now that we have told you all of the ins and outs of how to become a pharmacy technician, how about we break it all down for you? We are going to give you our final opinion on what we feel are the most important things to consider before going full gorilla on the path for this job.

  • Degree vs. Debt: B

The degree to debt ratio isn’t too bad here, especially when you compare it to some other degrees or career programs. Some schools even allow their students to use grants and scholarships. If you do have to pay out of pocket or get a loan, the salary is pretty good and will allow you to add that extra monthly payment in for the most part.

  • Difficulty of Degree: B

The process of earning a pharmacy technician certification or associates degree is total doable and not too terribly difficult at all. There is a small amount of basic math skills required, but no complicated calculus or geometry to have to work through. It’s for sure a program that will require you to use your noggin to remember important facts and procedures though. Start taking your ginkgo biloba to improve your brain function so you can remember everything.

  • Happiness Quotient: B

This is a job that will allow you to help people and that alone is pretty awesome. One of the worst things about job is that you will have to work weekends and possibly nights depending on where you are employed. The other downside is that you are going to be standing all day long. You should definitely invest in some comfortable shoes with some extra comfy inserts. Your feet will thank you later for sure.

  • Job Outlook: A+

The job outlook for pharmacy technicians is pretty awesome! The Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting that the job growth is going to be around 20% from 2012 to 2022. This is stellar and great news for those that are really considering becoming pharmacy technicians. Talk about job security! As the video we posted about referenced, the aging baby boomer population is inadvertently responsible for this career boom. As they age and require more medications, the increased need for pharmacy technicians will continue.

Sources and Recommended Reading

We like to use sources just like you will likely use your drug reference books when you become a pharmacy technician. There is a ton of information available on this topic and we couldn’t possibly fit it all without writing a very long and very boring novel, so click about these links for some extra tid bits of information.

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