Becoming a Pharmacy Tech – Careers & Outlook

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If you are seeking a career with the potential of growth and advancement; where you can help people meet their needs while working in a fast-paced environment, pharmacy technology could be a good option for you. Certified pharmacy technicians work in various environments, but the end result is making sure customers get the prescriptions they need in a timely manner while working under the management of a licensed pharmacist. The amount of education and experience needed to earn a license varies by state, but if you’re interested in learning about becoming a pharmacy technician, we’ve included information on how to get started below.


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What is a Pharmacy Technician?


A pharmacy technician assists the pharmacist in the working environment. In some ways, a certified pharmacy technician and a pharmacist perform the same tasks. Pharmacy technicians fill prescriptions, place labels on bottles, speak to customers, insurance companies, and doctor’s offices about prescriptions, and handle the daily duties of running a pharmacy. A pharmacy tech’s duties may vary depending on where they work and the level of education they have but, regardless of the work environment, a technician will work closely with a pharmacist to help customers get the medications they need.

Where Do They Work?

A certified pharmacy technician (CPhT) work in pharmacies in hospitals, grocery stores, and drug stores. They can also find employment in mail-order drug companies and pharmaceutical manufacturing companies. Other options for employment also include customer service for pharmaceutical companies and insurance agencies. A lead pharmacy technician that works in drugstores and hospital pharmacies assist the pharmacist in filling orders, tracking inventory, answering customer questions, overall patient care and handling insurance claims. They become vary familiar with the health care pharmacy operations day-to-day job requirements. Those who work for manufacturers or mail-order pharmacies perform the same functions but might have other duties as well, such as answering customer service calls covering a variety of issues from both customers, other pharmacies, and insurance companies.

What’s the Difference Between a Pharmacy Technician and a Pharmacist?

Pharmacy techs perform many of the same tasks as a pharmacist only they must do so under the guidance and supervision of a licensed pharmacist. Pharmacy technicians fill orders, print labels, speak with customers and physicians, handle insurance claims and perform general office duties. Pharmacists perform all of the aforementioned tasks as well, but they may also work closely with doctors when it comes to choosing the correct medication and dosage for a patient, as well as ensuring that a new medication won’t conflict with a person’s current prescriptions. Pharmacists also supervise pharmacist technicians and ensure they are performing their job duties properly and providing excellent patient care. Pharmacy techs have less training than a pharmacist; a technician can find work with only a high school diploma, associate's degree or pharmacy technician training, whereas a pharmacist must have attended pharmacy school. The education requirements for pharmacy technicians is less than that of the pharmacist.

Education Needed to Become a Pharmacy Technician

In some states, only a high school diploma is required to become a technician. However, in most states, you are required to register with an agency in the state (which also varies) as well as pass a certification exam. To prepare you to pass the exam and work successfully in the field, states have set up pharmacy technician programs either administered through a workplace or a local community college. The program can last from several months to several years and can result in either a certificate or a two-year degree. Nearly all of these programs prepare you to take the pharmacy technician exam so that you can earn your license and become a licensed pharmacy tech. The license is granted by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) and, as of sometime in 2020, the certification is a requirement for all aspiring pharmacy technicians. This means that some form of formal job training will be required for all pharmacy technicians, regardless of where they live.

Necessary Skills


Although pharmacy technicians work closely with the pharmacist, and it’s the pharmacist that makes the bulk of the decisions regarding dosage, the technician is a good second pair of eyes and sounding board. As such, a pharmacy technician should have a particular set of skills in order to properly do the job. There will be some skills that will be acquired from on the job training, but having an associate's degree in health care or formal pharmacy technician training will be a large help.

  • Counting and math skills:
    Being able to determine which meds will fill the request that the physician made can sometimes require math. You also have to be very accurate with the number of pills provided to the customer. Providing less or more than needed could make a huge difference in a patient’s life.

  • Comprehension skills:
    Understanding what is being requested is also important. There is a shorthand that accompanies the pharmacy industry, and you’ll need to learn it and understand it to work in the field.

  • Attention to detail:
    The directions on the label, the name of the drug, and other directives must be accurately understood and acted on.

  • Physical stamina:
    The job requires a lot of standing, reaching, and stooping, so being physically able to handle the job is a must.

  • Customer service skills:
    knowing how to interact with the public, physicians, and other organizations in a polite and professional manner is a definite requirement.

Certification Options for Pharmacy Technicians


There are two types of certifications a pharmacy technician can earn to become a Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT). One requires that you take the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE) and the other requires the Exam for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ExCPT). Up until 2020, each exam had a different set of requirements for candidates. However, now for a pharmacy tech to take either exam, they are required to complete a pharmacy technician program recognized by each respective organization, the National Healthcareer Association (NHA) for the ExCPT, and the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board for the PTCE. The PTCB also allows for Pharmacy Technicians who might not meet the educational requirements to have 500 working hours instead in order to qualify for the exam.

The PTCE exam focuses on the mathematics and business operations that a pharmacy tech might deal with, while the ExCPT exam is more daily operations based. Both exams are computerized and consist of 90 to 100 questions. The PTCE exam costs $129 and the ExCPT exam costs $115.

It’s important to note that the PTCE exam is recognized in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, while the ExCPT is not recognized in the states of Washington, North Dakota, or Louisiana. As with most certifications and licenses, continuing education is required throughout a pharmacy tech’s career, as is the renewal of their license every few years. The hours of continuing education and the renewal frequency vary by state, but the general rule is that a pharmacy tech needs 100 hours of continuing education per three years, and the certification renewal is also typically three years.

Is This Certification Worth it?

Attaining a certification in pharmacy technology is beneficial in several ways, including:

  • Proof of Scholarship:
    You might have been doing your job for 20 years but being certified is solid proof of your expertise and experience in your field.
  • Advancement Opportunities:
    With the requirements changing and all pharmacy techs needing to have completed an approved program, the competition for jobs could get tight. Having certification can give you an edge over other techs who haven’t taken that step.
  • Hone Different Skills:
    the exam will force you to hone your math skills in a variety of areas.
  • Grow Your Pharmaceutical Knowledge Base:
    You’ll learn about many different types of medications how they are used, why they are prescribed, and how and why certain medicines should not be combined. This information can help you prevent accidents when prescriptions are being filled and either the doctor or pharmacist didn’t catch a conflict.

Specializations


You might think that pharmacy technicians just stand around in a pharmacy and fill prescriptions but that’s just part of what some techs do. A certified pharmacy technician may specialize in certain fields or certain types of drugs and work in a variety of different locations.

Some of these specializations include the following:

  • Chemotherapy:
    These techs keep up to date on the latest chemotherapy treatments and help patients determine which med might be the best for them.
  • Compounding:
    When a specialized med is required, a tech certified in compounding can mix the medication when needed.
  • Experience in particular technologies, such as automated medication dispensing systems:
    A tech-savvy pharmacy tech can operate machinery and systems that make dispensing medications faster and more efficient.
  • HIV treatment or prevention agents:
    Similar to chemotherapy, a tech will stay abreast of the latest treatments for HIV and help educate the patient about their options.
  • Procurement (such as budget, inventory, and drug selection/recall management):
    Business savvy techs can help a pharmacy with its budget, determine which drugs are the more profitable ones to have on hand, and know which drugs have been problematic.
  • Sterile products (i.e., IV)
  • Vaccines and Immunization

Pharmacy Tech Annual Salary and Job Outlook


The annual salary and job outlook for pharmacy technicians are both positive. A pharmacy tech just starting a career will earn roughly $24,000 but, after years of experience and certifications, a salary of $49,000 or more is not out of the question. The average salary of a pharmacy tech is $39,000, but this varies depending on certifications and specializations. It also depends on the type and size of organization a technician is employed by. For example, techs working for major labs or pharmaceutical companies will potentially earn more and have more opportunities for advancement than a tech that works at a local drug store.

As for the job outlook, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job growth for pharmacy techs is expected to be around 4%, which is a little higher than average. Between 2019 and 2029, it is anticipated that over 15,000 more techs will be needed. The need is fueled by an increase of people needing meds and attrition of current pharmacy techs due to technicians deciding to become pharmacists or moving into other fields. If becoming a pharmacy tech seems like a good idea, then now is the perfect time to get the training and experience you need to help meet the growing demand.

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Similar Careers


So maybe becoming a pharmacy tech isn’t for you, but you are still interested in working in or around the healthcare field and you still want to help people. There are many occupations that will allow you to achieve those goals.

Here are a few options for you to consider:

  • Dental Assistant:
    In this position, you’ll provide assistance to dentists and hygienists by setting up trays, keeping exam rooms neat and stocked, and entering patient information into the system.

  • Medical Assistant:
    Here you’ll keep the exam rooms in doctor’s offices and clinics stocked and ready for the next patient. You’ll also provide patients with the required paperwork and input this information into the system and set up appointments for patients who call the office.

  • Medical Transcriptionists:
    Transcribers write down a doctor’s notes and enter them into the patient’s files. If you’re also familiar with medical coding, you can make sure patient files are coded correctly for healthcare and insurance purposes.

  • Medical Records:
    A medical records technician will maintain and update records for patients at hospitals, doctor’s offices, and medical clinics.

  • Pharmacist:
    many people who start out as pharmacy techs go on to become pharmacists.

Pharmacy tech is just one of several careers you could choose in the medical field that helps patients. There’s also nothing that says you can’t combine two or more areas. For example, you could be a medical or dental assistant and a pharmacy tech, or you could work in medical records as a medical transcriptionist or medical coder.

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