What Does a Pharmacy Technician Career Entail?
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the demand for pharmacy technicians is expected to rise by 12% between the decade of 2016 and 2026, faster than average for typical occupation growth. Sooner or later, virtually everyone will interact with a pharmacy technician, as the technician’s primary responsibility is working with pharmacists to dispense prescription and over-the-counter medications. In addition, the pharmacy technician may have to submit a customer’s insurance information into the pharmacy’s database.
Pharmacy technicians must have good organizational skills and possess attention to detail. A mistake in medication can literally cause patients to die. They should work well with people and have good communication skills. Pharmacy technicians may work in a number of settings, including retail drugstores, hospitals, long-term care facilities, educational facilities, government facilities, and the military. Those working in hospitals may make rounds and provide IV drug therapy to patients. No matter where they work, they should expect a fast-paced environment and need to work well under pressure.
Vocational Trade School & Career Paths
Components of A Successful Pharmacy Technician Career
A successful pharmacy technician is a major player on the pharmacy team. Because of their careful work, patients receive the right medication for treating their conditions or relieving discomfort, and can trust the pharmacy technician to let them know of any potential side effects or contraindications. They must meet the highest standards for accuracy when completing their work. Anything less could have terrible, even fatal, consequences. A successful pharmacy technician not only earns the trust of colleagues, but also that of the patients whom they serve. Attention to detail, honesty, and excellent communication skills all contribute to a pharmacy technician’s success.
What Does A Pharmacy Technician Do?
Under a pharmacist’s supervision, a pharmacy technician dispenses medication to patients. They also put together the medicines needed for a prescription, label them, and answer some questions for patients and healthcare providers. Pharmacy technicians may process prescriptions either from written prescriptions or via prescriptions sent electronically or called in from doctors’ offices. In some states, a pharmacy technician may obtain refill authorizations from physicians, as well as compound or mix medications. Inventorying medication is also among their tasks, and they are responsible for letting the pharmacist know when shortages occur. They must keep detailed records of all drugs dispensed.
What is the Difference Between Pharmacy Technician and Pharmacist?
A pharmacist receives a doctor of pharmacy degree, which may consist of four to six years of higher education after receiving a baccalaureate degree. They require registration with their state’s Board of Pharmacy. Pharmacists engage in more in-depth conversations with patients regarding prescriptions and the side effects of certain drugs than almost any other medical specialist; answering all the questions you forgot to ask your doctor. They also advise doctors on drug treatments. It is the pharmacist’s responsibility to oversee every aspect of the pharmacy. Depending on the state, the pharmacist may write prescriptions for certain common medications, such as antibiotics.
Pharmacy technicians perform many of the basic duties in the pharmacy, all at the direction of the pharmacist. They can answer simple questions a patient may have regarding their medication, but involved questions require the pharmacist.
Typical Pharmacy Technician Trade School Requirements
Anyone planning to attend a pharmacy technician trade school should have a high school diploma or a GED. A person convicted of a felony cannot receive full pharmacy technician licensure.
Typical Pharmacy Technician Certifications Needed
A pharmacy technician must pass the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board examination for basic certification, or the National Healthcareer Association certification. More advanced certifications are available after completion of coursework and hands-on training.
Exam/Experience Needed for a Pharmacy Technician Degree/Certification
In many states, pharmacy technicians are regulated, so passing an exam or receiving a pharmacy technician degree is required to work in the field. In some states, on-the-job training is sufficient to become a pharmacy technician. These professionals may receive certifications from the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board and the National Healthcareer Association.
Important Questions to Ask
How long does it take to earn a Pharmacy Technician Degree or Certification?
Depending on the school or program, it can take between four months and two years to earn a pharmacy technician degree. The longer program generally involves obtaining an associate’s degree at a community college. This degree or certification is not standardized from state to state.
How much does a Pharmacy Technician Trade School Degree cost?
The cost of this degree depends on the school and whether the student receives a certificate or an associate’s degree. It also depends whether most of the coursework is conducted in class or online, with the latter usually a less expensive means of obtaining certification. Expect coursework resulting in certification to average $3,000, while an associate’s degree from a community college may cost $5,000 to $20,000.
How many students graduate “on time,” in 12 months or 24 months?
On time graduation is an important factor when considering a pharmacy technical trade school degree. If a school has a low on time graduation rate, it is possible there are issues with staffing, curriculum, or something similar. While a low on-time graduation rate is not a reason to dismiss a school out of hand, you should look into the reasons why the on-time graduation rate is especially low and see if this may affect your education or use this metric to help you decide between two similar schools.
What kind of accreditation does the program hold? How is it regarded in the field?
There are some major hospitals, such as Ohio’s renowned Cleveland Clinic, which offer pharmacy technician training. Accreditation from such in-house programs are the most highly regarded in the field. However, relatively few pharmacy technician students can attend such programs. When choosing a school, look for a program accredited by the Accreditation Council on Pharmacy Education (ACPE) or the American Society of Health Systems Pharmacists (ASHSP). This accreditation will give you an education that is highly regarded in the field.
Software, Technology & Skills Needed
Pharmacy technicians use computers and appropriate software for their jobs. This can include software for tracking insurance providers, current medications any patient is receiving, and prescriptions from local hospitals. You don’t have to worry about knowing these systems beforehand, as everything you need to know for your position in a pharmacy will be taught to you in your school program.
You may, however, want to make sure you are familiar with any programs you might need for your schooling. Does your syllabus say you need to give a presentation? Do you need word processing software? Make sure you have the tools you need before you start your education.
Pharmacy Technician Degree & Certification Options
Pharmacy Technician Certificate – One the student completes the required coursework satisfactorily, they may undergo an externship, working in a pharmacy for a month or more. They must pass a course in IV/sterile products given by the National Pharmacy Technician Association. Once that is completed, they may take the national examinations for certification.
Pharmacy Technician Associate’s Degree
An associate’s degree as a pharmacy technician generally requires between 60 and 64 credits. This degree is generally necessary in order to work as a senior certified pharmacy technician.
Typical pharmacy technician courses include:
- Pharmacy Math
- CPR and First Aid
- Drug/Dosage Interaction
- Fundamentals of Chemistry
- Anatomy, Physiology and Terminology
- Pharmacy Computer Applications
- Pharmacy Laboratory Skills
- Inventory Maintenance
- Pharmacy Law and Ethics
Pharmacy Technician Trade School Fields of Study
Procurement Pharmacy Technician – A person in this field focuses on all aspects of procuring medications for the pharmacy, as well as quality management, storage, and keeping inventory. They also manage emergency stock when inventory supplies are low. They negotiate for the best prices from vendors and distributors. All purchasing is done via budget allocation, so pharmacy procurement technicians must review all purchase orders and confirm they fall within the budget.
Senior Certified Pharmacy Technician – Regulations for a senior certified pharmacy technicians vary by state. Most senior certified pharmacy technicians have at least an associate’s degree rather than pharmacy technician certification. They perform many of the same tasks as a pharmacy technician, but at a more advanced level. Senior certified pharmacy technicians earn considerably more than pharmacy technicians. Late stage career pharmacy technicians earn $40,000 on average, although much depends upon location, while late stage career senior certified pharmacy technicians earn an average of $58,000 annually.
The more certifications a pharmacy technician earns, the greater the employer demand and the higher the salary. Here are the main types of Pharmacy Technician programs for which you may receive certifications:
- Sterile products (i.e. IV) - Certification and training is via the National Pharmacy Technician Association (NPTA), and includes IV certification, sterile products preparation, and aseptic technique. Much of the course is available online, but candidates must attend a two-day seminar for hands-on training.
- Procurement (such as budget, inventory, and drug selection/recall management) – This certification focuses on inventory management so that patients are not affected by lack of drug stock or alternative therapeutic medications. They will learn when it is appropriate to switch to a generic medication, as well as the process for managing drug recalls and outdated or unused inventory.
- Chemotherapy – Aseptic treatment certification is necessary before applying for chemotherapy certification. Training is through the NPTA. While some training is available online, the candidate must attend an in-person seminar and pass the examination. The course consists primarily of safety precautions necessary when handling hazardous drugs such as those used in chemotherapy.
- HIV treatment or prevention agents – This certification teaches pharmacy technicians the infection control and prevention methods relating to HIV, transmission modes, common HIV/AIDS complications, types of antivirals used for HIV treatment, and HIV’s lifecycle and clinical management.
- Compounding – This certification by the NPTA concentrates on the common pharmaceutical compounding practices and considerations. These include hands-on labs in the various forms of compounded drugs, such as gels, capsules, suppositories, tablets, and ophthalmic, nasal, and ear preparations. Veterinary compounding, record keeping, and quality assurance are included in the course of study.
- Vaccines and Immunization – In many states, pharmacy technicians may deliver vaccines and immunizations, such as flu shots, after proper certification. Training consists of both online work and live seminars in which technicians learn to perform immunizations. Pharmacy technicians learn the proper technique for drawing up immunizations, common vaccines, and their administration routes, how to determine the correct needle necessary for the vaccine and the patient, proper documentation, and what to do in an emergency, such as anaphylactic shock.
- Experience in particular technologies, such as automated medication dispensing systems
Potential Careers & Salaries for Pharmacy Technician Graduates
A pharmacy technician who receives certification will not earn as much as one who receives an associate’s degree. Only those with the latter degree may become senior certified pharmacy technicians or procurement pharmacy technicians, which requires more in-depth skill sets. These individuals receive higher salaries than those with only pharmacy technician certification.
Pharmacy Technician Median Salaries by Occupation
Annual Median Salary by Occupation
|Occupation||Entry-Level Salary Range||Mid-Career Salary Range||Late-Career Salary Range|
|Senior certified pharmacy technician||$34,700||$40,100||$42,200|
|Procurement pharmacy technician (also known as pharmacy buyers)||$39,000||$35,700||$40,600|
Pharmacy Technician Trade School Scholarships
American Association of Pharmacy Technicians (AAPT) Scholarship
Deadline: June 30
AAPT members enrolled in an accredited pharmacy technician program may apply for the $250 AAPT scholarship. Applicants must have already completed at least 12 credits and received grades of C or better for eligibility. In addition to this formal education scholarship, the AAPT also offers $50 continuing education scholarship opportunities for members.
Imagine America Scholarship
Recipients of this scholarship may receive up to $1,000 to pay for pharmacy technician school tuition at a participating school. There are roughly two dozen schools nationwide partnering with Imagine America and offering this scholarship. To date, approximately 3,500 pharmacy technician students have received this scholarship.
Dispensing Health Pharmacy Technician Scholarship
Deadline: October 1
One pharmacy technician student annually receives this $1,000 merit-based scholarship used for tuition, books, or fees. The scholarship is available to U.S. citizens aged 18 and up who are currently enrolled in a pharmacy certificate or degree program. Eligible applicants must have a high school GPA of at least 3.0. Other requirements include the submission of a 500-word essay on “Prescription Drug Abuse in the U.S.”
Professional Pharmacy Technician Trade School Organizations
National Pharmacy Technician Association (NPTA)
The largest of pharmacy technician associations, NPTA membership offers benefits such as continuing education, discounts to regional and national events, various publications dealing with industry trends, and professional networking assistance. NPTA offers several certificate programs for pharmacy technicians, focusing on specialization education in the pharmacy and healthcare fields.
American Association of Pharmacy Technicians (AAPT)
This organization prides itself on “providing leadership, networking, and continuing education for pharmacy technicians.” Along with continuing education, AAPT has services to help technicians keep their skills updated in relation to changes in the pharmacy technician field. Members receive discounted, and in some cases free opportunities for continuing education. In addition to the national organization, there are currently state chapters in North Carolina, North Dakota, and Minnesota.
Society for the Education of Pharmacy Technicians (SEPT)
Founded in 2010, this Georgia-based organization provides educational tools and support to both pharmacy technicians and their employers throughout the country. SEPT promotes the advancement of pharmacy technician education and professional development by offering training and career planning, along with providing networking opportunities to enhance awareness of new developments in the field of pharmacy.
National Healthcareer Association (NHA)
This organization certifies healthcare workers in eight different professions, including pharmacy technicians. Technicians may take its ExCPT exam and earn pharmacy technician certification. NHA certification exams are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).
American Pharmacists Association (APA)
While primarily designed for pharmacists, the APA also invites pharmacy technicians to become members. It offers professional development and continuing education opportunities for pharmacy technicians, along with providing the latest information in pharmacy trends and practices. Pharmacy technicians receive discounted membership rates.
Choosing an Accredited Pharmacy Technician Vocational School
Look for a school accredited by the Accreditation Council on Pharmacy Education (ACPE). The U.S. Department of Education recognizes ACPE as the national agency for the accreditation of professional degree programs in pharmacy, including pharmacy technicians. The organization also serves as the national agency for the accrediting continuing education providers.
Online vs On-Campus vs Hybrid
Many pharmacy technicians receive their degrees through online programs. An online pharmacy technician allows them to study at their own pace while continuing to work or care for a family. Some students may prefer the hands-on training available in a campus setting, or combining the two by taking some classes online and going to a campus for some courses to receive hands-on instruction.
Does the Vocational School Have Post-Graduate Job Placement Assistance?
Job placement assistance is a great asset, and is definitely an aspect to consider when deciding on a trade school. Some pharmacy technician schools also offer internships for on-the-job training. Look for a school with a strong career services department for graduates.