How to Become a Pharmacy Technician

As you contemplate a potential career as a pharmacy technician, you should also evaluate the various requirements associated with the position. This article, and other articles on this site, will help identify these requirements as well as other prerequisites needed to successfully complete relevant training programs.

The outlook for employment as pharmacy technicians is among the highest of any career. Between 2010 and 2016, pharmacy technicians will enjoy an estimated growth rate projected to nearly triple the average growth rate of all occupations.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statics, job growth is anticipated to increase by 32 percent during this time period (Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-2009).

Pharmacy technicians contribute greatly to the success of any pharmaceutical team. With the exception of counseling patients and performing final inspections of filled prescriptions, pharmacy technicians are expected to carry out most of the duties of the lead pharmacist. While pharmacy aides tend to focus on more clerical tasks, only technicians can assist the pharmacist with fulfilling prescription requests.

Pharmacy technicians are primarily responsible for the fulfillment of prescriptions from start to finish. Under the supervision and guidance of licensed pharmacists, pharmacy techs receive and review electronically- or phone-ordered prescriptions, verify the validity of the prescription, and accurately record the prescription information into an electronic database.

The pharmacy tech must alert the lead pharmacist of any potential issues or errors. If the prescription is sound, the technician can retrieve and sometimes even mix the desired amounts of medication accordingly. Finally, the technician must prepare and properly label the selected containers.

Due to the increase in use of prescription medication, as well as the need for pharmacies to improve productivity, the demand for pharmacy technicians is expected to remain strong. Pharmacy techs enjoy many of the same benefits as pharmacists: excellent job security and flexible work schedules, among others.

Because technicians are not required to obtain the same level of education as actual pharmacists, a career as a pharmacy technician appeals to detail-oriented individuals who want to begin work in a relatively short period of time.

Below are some tips to assist your pursuit of a pharmacy technician career.

1) Strengthen your aptitude for math, science, and English – Pharmacy technicians must accurately perform mathematical calculations and must possess good reading and spelling skills in order to interpret prescriptions and dispense medication correctly. Strength in these subjects also provides a solid foundation for more specialized studies.

2) Comply with requirements specific to your state’s board of pharmacy – Although there are currently no federal regulations governing pharmacy technicians, most states require pharmacy technicians to register with their state board of pharmacy before practicing. Many states also require prospective pharmacy technicians to obtain certification from either the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) or the Institute for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ICPT).

Some states have additional training or experience requirements, and these can change, adding to the importance of identifying state rules and regulations early in the process.

3) Identify schools with programs specifically designed for pharmacy technicians – Although many states do not require specific coursework in order to practice as a pharmacy technician, training in specialized programs is nevertheless becoming increasingly important and expected by prospective employers. Fortunately, there are now many educational institutions that offer specialized programs for pharmacy techs in a variety of learning formats.

Pharmacy technician candidates can now learn online or on-campus and can earn a diploma, a certificate, or an associate’s degree. Most programs cover such topics as pharmacology, record keeping, pharmacy calculations, medical terminology, ethics, and pharmacy law. Some schools also prepare students for the national certification exams.

4) Earn your Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT) credentials – Obtaining the Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT) credentials, whether required by one’s state pharmacy board or not, substantially improves both job prospects and potential wages. After receiving an official certification, even pharmacy technicians who are already employed typically get a raise.

There are two national exams that can lead to certification: the Pharmacy Technician Certification Examination (PTCE) offered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) and the Exam for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ExCPT) offered by the Institute for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ICPT). Both exams contain roughly 100 randomized multiple-choice questions.

Although candidates can earn the CPhT credential by passing either of these exams, many states only recognize the more commonly used PTCE, so it is again important to check with one’s state board of pharmacy before proceeding. Certified Pharmacy Technicians must get re-certified every two years and complete 20 hours of continuing education within this time frame.

5) Gain hands-on experience to advance to the next level – Search for pharmacy technician positions through various mediums: pharmacy job boards, networking sites, and personal connections. Apply for positions in a wide range of settings as any experience is important in the beginning.

What is the nature of the work?

Pharmacy technicians assist licensed pharmacists in the creation and provision of specially-modified healthcare products. Technicians usually perform routine tasks to help prepare prescribed medication, such as counting tablets and labeling bottles. They also perform administrative duties, such as answering phones, stocking shelves, and operating cash registers. Technicians refer any questions regarding prescriptions, drug information, or health matters to a pharmacist.

Technicians working in retail or mail-order pharmaceutical stores are subject to strict standards of practice, varying among different states. Technicians receive written prescriptions or requests for prescription refills from patients. They may also receive prescriptions sent electronically from the doctor’s office.

They must verify that information on the prescription is complete and accurate. To prepare the prescription, technicians must retrieve, count, pour, weigh, measure, and sometimes mix the medication. Then, they prepare the prescription labels, select the type of prescription container, and affix the prescription and auxiliary labels to the container.

Once the prescription is filled, technicians price and file the prescription, which must be checked by a pharmacist before it is given to the patient. Technicians may establish and maintain patient profiles, prepare insurance claim forms, and stock and take inventory of prescription and over-the-counter medications.

In settings where pharmacy technicians have direct contact with their patients, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted-living facilities, technicians also take on additional responsibilities.

Technicians may be asked to handle the fulfillment of patients’ medications from beginning to end, an assignment that includes interpreting patients’ medical charts and preparing the appropriate medication. After the pharmacist checks the prescription for accuracy, the pharmacy technician may deliver the medication to the patient.

The technician then copies the information about the prescribed medication onto the patient’s profile. Technicians also may assemble a 24-hour supply of medicine for every patient. They package and label each dose separately. The packages are then placed in the patients’ medicine cabinets until the supervising pharmacist checks them for accuracy, and only then is the medication given to the patients.

What about the work environment?

Due to the nature of any career in the healthcare industry, healthcare facilitators, including pharmacy technicians, must maintain a clean, sanitized, well-lit, and well-ventilated workspace. Pharmacy technicians spend most of the workday on their feet, and they may be required to lift heavy boxes or use stepladders to retrieve supplies from high shelves.

Generally, pharmacy technicians work the same hours pharmacists work, as technicians require the supervision of pharmacists to fill prescriptions. These may include evenings, nights, weekends, and holidays, particularly in facilities that are open 24 hours a day such as hospitals and some retail pharmacies. As their seniority increases, technicians often acquire increased control over the hours they work. There are many opportunities for part-time work in both retail and hospital settings.

How do I become a certified technician?

Aspiring pharmacy technicians are required to pass one of two tests, either the PTCE or the ExCPT, as discussed earlier in the article. Again, many states only recognize the PTCE certification process, so it is imperative to check individual state requirements. Employers, often pharmacists, know that individuals who pass the exam have a standardized body of knowledge and skills.

Certified technicians must also recertify every 2 years. Recertification requires 20 hours of continuing education within the 2-year certification period with at least 1 hour of practice in pharmacy law. Continuing education hours can be earned through several different sources, including colleges, pharmacy associations, and pharmacy technician training programs. Up to 10 hours of continuing education can be earned on the job under the direct supervision and instruction of a pharmacist.

Top Ten Reasons for You to Become a Pharmacy Technician

Pharmacy-TechnicianHave you ever thought about a career as a pharmacist or pharmacy technician? The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) provides useful information about these careers and the kinds of candidates that are ideal for this type of work.

If you identify with these pertinent characteristics or if some of the following statements resonate with you, you should further evaluate this potential career path.

1. I enjoy helping others recover and get better

Pharmacists are vital to the prompt recovery and overall well-being of ailing individuals. Pharmacists work to improve the health of patients by determining the most suitable medication with the least detrimental side effects. Oftentimes, several remedies are available to treat the same disease or sickness, and pharmacists must collaborate with physicians to confirm the best method of therapy. Some factors to consider include the patient’s age, gender, history of health concerns, and of course, the actual illness. Pharmacists also screen patients for allergies to eliminate the possibility of adverse repercussions.

2. I like directly interacting with patients

Because pharmacies are often located within residential communities and in high-traffic shopping locations, such as grocery stores, pharmacists are thought of as the most accessible members of the healthcare team. Patients visit their local pharmacist to seek advice about the medications they are taking, often without making an appointment.

Pharmacists may also provide other services such as immunizations, asthma care, blood pressure monitoring services, cholesterol screening, diabetes disease management, smoking cessation consultation, bone density scans for osteoporosis screening, anticoagulation management clinics, and more. Pharmacists are constantly exposed to a large volume of individuals – strong interpersonal skills impact the overall communication between the pharmacist and patient.

3. I want the chance to work in different settings

Pharmacists have the opportunity to work in many different professional settings. The majority of pharmacists (about 60 percent) work in an independent or retail chain community pharmacy, providing counsel to patients on the use of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Pharmacists work in numerous other healthcare environments as well, including hospitals, nursing homes, managed care organizations, the pharmaceutical industry, colleges and schools, and the federal government. Pharmacists play key leadership roles in all aspects of the healthcare system.

4. I benefit from the continual demand for pharmacists

Pharmacy services are always in demand in the United States. Some factors that fuel the demand for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians include:

An increase in demand for patient services. The transition to the doctor of pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree for all new pharmacy graduates has increased the type of services pharmacists are able to offer. Pharmacists can now work in a wider array of practice settings and positions than ever before.

A rise in the number of prescriptions requested and filled each year. According to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the number of prescriptions filled increased from 1.9 million in 1992 to more than 3.1 million in 2002 (about a 60 percent increase over 10 years). Our society will continue to need more pharmacists to fill the growing number of prescriptions as more medicines become available and the population ages.

The expansion of medicines available on the market. There is a greater selection of prescription and OTC drugs manufactured today than in the past. Multiple medications are often available to treat a single disease. Pharmacists help prescribers and patients decide which medicine will have the most beneficial results.

The surge in population of elderly people. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1 in 5 Americans will be classified as elderly by 2030. Older patients generally have more chronic illness and more complicated drug regimens than younger individuals. Pharmacists play a key role in helping elderly patients navigate complicated medicinal requirements and explore ways to minimize their financial burden. The aging population has also increased the need for long-term care, geriatric and consultant pharmacists.

5. I strive to be an essential member of the healthcare sector

Pharmacists collaborate with other healthcare professionals to optimize the treatment of patients. Numerous studies have proven that the presence of a pharmacist on hospital rounds as a full member of the patient care team has been shown to prevent drug errors and reduce costs. The partnership of healthcare professionals, such as physicians and pharmacists, can help to ensure that patients properly take their medications as prescribed and avoid any harmful drug interactions.

6. I want job stability, flexibility, and mobility

Pharmacists are needed in every part of the country. Pharmacy licensure is generally reciprocal between U.S. states, however, additional tests or criteria may be required to transfer licensure status. Pharmacists may be able to establish non-traditional or part-time work hours, depending on the practice setting. With the shortage of pharmacists, student pharmacists often receive multiple job offers prior to graduation.

7. I desire to contribute to the ever-evolving world of drug therapy

Genetic variations of different individuals can affect the body’s response to a particular drug. Pharmacogenomics, one of several intriguing developments in the pharmaceutical world, attempts to resolve issues stemming from these predisposed conditions between human bodies. In the future, specialists in this area hope to sequence the entire human gene in each individual. Pharmacists and other healthcare providers will be able to use that information to select the best medicines, treat diseases earlier, or even prevent sicknesses entirely with individually-tailored drug therapies.

8. I like working with new gadgets and state-of-the-art technologies

Pharmaceutical practices have utilized the power of electronics – digital innovations in pharmacy include electronic prescriptions, robotics for central prescription processing, and electronic databases to store patient information. These technological advances enhance efficiency and help to promote patient safety. Pharmacists use these same tools to help prioritize work, fill prescriptions with greater accuracy, and spend more time with patients. By law, pharmacists must oversee an automated dispensing process for quality control purposes.

9. I want to protect our community and country

Pharmacists possess the necessary education to recognize signs and symptoms of diseases that may be used in biological warfare. The accessibility of pharmacies could be one of the keys to a successful mass immunization or drug distribution program in an emergency. In an epidemic or bioterrorism situation, pharmacists are prepared to play a major role in preventing the spread of disease by overseeing the distribution and administration of appropriate and safe medications.

10. I aspire to gain the respect of others around me

A Gallup Poll conducted in November 2003 revealed that pharmacists are generally held to an especially high regard – 67 percent of Americans rated pharmacists’ level of honesty and ethics as “high” or “very high,” ranked second only behind nurses. Pharmacists are visible leaders in our community who are entrusted with the health of our families.