People who want to get started in a pharmacy career often will begin to work as a pharmacy technician. After gaining experience in this popular field, some pharmacy technicians may decide to go to pharmacy school to become a licensed pharmacist. Others may decide to work in other areas of healthcare.
Pharmacy technicians work under the direction of pharmacists. These highly educated professionals are legally required to review all prescriptions before patients receive them. Pharmacy technicians are able to mix some prescriptions in most states, but this must be verified by the pharmacist before being received by the patient.
This field is growing in demand, and is a good potential entry to becoming a pharmacist, which can lead you to a six figure salary eventually. Keep reading to learn how to get started as a pharmacy technicians.
How to Become a Pharmacy Technician
Many pharmacy technicians learn on the job. The degree programs will vary in length and each employer may have different requirements.
However, other pharmacy technicians may complete an education program after they graduate from high school. This program will normally be in pharmacy technology, and are often offered at vocational schools and community colleges. Usually a certificate in pharmacy technology is offered after a semester or one year of education.
Common subjects in a pharmacy technology program include:
- Arithmetic for pharmaciesfp
- Dispensing drugs methods
- Pharmacy ethics and law
Pharmacy technicians also learn the names, doses and uses of many common drugs. Most of these certificate programs have clinical experiences included where the student works in a pharmacy for a few weeks or months to gain experience.
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If you are considering a pharmacy technician program, we recommend that you choose one that is accredited by the American Society of Health System Pharmacists, or ASHP. This organization accredits these programs if they have at least 600 instruction hours over at least 15 weeks. As of 2015, there were more than 285 accredited programs, and some of them are provided by major retail drugstore chains.
Sample Pharmacy Technician Program
If you want to earn your certification as a pharmacy technician, you can usually find a program available at a local community or vocational college. The exact courses you will take will vary somewhat, but any accredited program in the field will cover the same material.
For example, Northwest Vista College in Texas offers a pharmacy technology program that will provide you with the technical skills and knowledge that are needed to be an entry level tech in a regular drug store or in a hospital pharmacy.
This certificate program, which is typical of the programs offered at many other similar colleges, will provide the student with a curriculum of both classroom and hands on training in filling prescriptions, packaging inventory, profiling patients, preparation of sterile products, and performing necessary pharmacy calculations.
This program is fully accredited by the American Society of Health Systems Pharmacists.
Objectives of the pharmacy technology program are:
- Understand the difference between the pharmacy tech and the pharmacist. It is important to understand clearly what the differences are between these two jobs, and to understand the job duties of each as regulated by state and federal law.
- Be able to demonstrate the necessary techniques and procedures that are needed in pharmacy operations. These include sterile operations, medication transcriptions, metric conversions, dispensing drugs, profiling patients and keeping accurate records.
- Understand all major drug classifications of drugs. Understand therapeutic effects, side effects, recommendations for dosages, how they are administered, action mechanisms, and indications.
Typical courses that are required in a pharmacy technician program are:
- Drug classification
- Human relations
- Pharmacy terminology
- Pharmaceutical mathematics
- Pharmacy therapy and disease process
- Institutional pharmacy practice
- Pharmacy drug therapy and treatment
- Compounding, sterile preparations, and aseptic techniques
- Clinical pharmacy technician
- Special topics for pharmacy techs
Licenses and Certifications
Most US states regulate pharmacy technicians. You should check your state boards of pharmacy for the regulations for your state. Most states have requirements that include some or all of these:
- At least a high school diploma or GED
- Pharmacy technician training program
- Taking a state exam
- Pay fees
- Take continuing education every year or two years
- Pass a criminal background check
Some states and drugstore companies require all pharmacy technicians to have certification. Even if it is not necessary in your state, being certified can make it easier for you to become employed. Many drugstore chains will pay their techs to take and pass the certification examination.
For example, Walgreens offers its Pharmacy Technician Training Program. This is a very high quality and paid training program that provides all of its graduated pharmacy techs with a national certification and prepares them to work in the exciting field of pharmacy tech.
There currently are two organizations that provide this certification. One of them is the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board or PTCB. This certification requires you to have a high school diploma and to pass an exam.
The other is the National Healthcareer Association or NHA. This certification requires you to be at least 18 years old, and to possess a high school diploma. You also need to have completed a pharmacy tech training program or have a year of work experience in a pharmacy. Technicians are required to be recertified every 24 months with 20 hours of CE classes.
Where Pharmacy Technicians Work
Pharmacy techs held 372,000 jobs in the US in 2014. They work in the following areas:
- Large chain drug stores: 52%
- Hospitals: 13%
- General merchandise store: 7%
- Grocery stores: 7%
- Department stores: 4%
While most pharmacy technicians only are familiar with working at large drugstore chains, there are many other jobs available, especially at hospitals. Hospitals often have their own pharmacies that fill drugs for their own patients. This is becoming more common in many areas of the country to reduce health care costs.
Job Outlook for Pharmacy Technicians
There is ample opportunity in the pharmacy technology field today. Employment in this field is growing at a good rate, with 9% increase in jobs expected by 2024. This is faster than average when compared to all other jobs. There are several factors that are leading to more need for prescription drugs.
As our population is growing older and more are living into their 80s, more people are requiring prescriptions so that they can live more productive lives. Older people naturally will need more prescription drugs than the young. Older Americans will usually have higher rates of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, lung disease, cancer and diabetes.
Further, there have been remarkable advances in pharmaceutical research in recent years. This means that there are more highly effective drugs available today than decades ago to deal with many types of serious medical problems. Pharmaceuticals can extend life and make life more pleasant, and many people who are over the age of 50 take several prescription drugs.
Another major factor that has led to more prescription drug demand in the past seven years is the passage of federal healthcare reform. More Americans are now covered under health care plans as mandated by the federal government. As more Americans can access healthcare services, there will be a greater need for pharmacy techs to handle all of the new prescriptions.
A new development that is increasing demand in this field is that pharmacies have been looking for new ways to increase revenues. More pharmacies are now offering various patient care activities, such as providing vaccines and giving flu shots.
Technicians are needed more today for collecting patient data, preparing new types of drugs, and checking the work that other pharmacy techs have done. These duties were once handled by pharmacists, but there is more latitude given today to techs doing some of these duties.
Pay for Pharmacy Technicians
The median wage for pharmacy technicians is $30,920 as of May 2016. The lowest 10% earned $21,000 per year, and the top 10% earned more than $45,000 per year. The highest paid techs will usually have their Pharmacy Technician Certification Board certification.
The salary level for pharmacy technicians will vary on where the tech is working:
- Medical and surgical hospitals: $35,800
- General merchandise stores: $30,900
- Department stores: $29,860
- Grocery stores: $29,100
- Pharmacies and major drugstore chains: $28,700
US News and World Report states that the 75th percentile salary in this field is $37,820, and the 25th percentile is $24,700.
Another factor in the pay for pharmacy technicians is the state in which you reside. Recent data states that the following states have the highest hourly wages for pharmacy technicians:
- California $16.86
- Washington $16.72
- Alaska $16.34
- Hawaii $16.04
- District of Columbia $15.88
- Oregon $15.61
- Nevada $15.10
- Colorado $14.75
- Utah $14.05
- Rhode Island $14.00
- Community Pharmacy Technician. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://careers.walgreens.com/career-areas/pharmacy/pharmacy-technician/community-pharmacy-technician.aspx
- Pharmacy Technicians. (2015, Dec. 17). Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/mobile/pharmacy-technicians.htm
- Best Jobs – Pharmacy Technician. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/pharmacy-technician
- Northwest Vista College. Pharmacy Technology Program. (n.d.). Retreived from https://www.alamo.edu/uploadedFiles/NVC/Academics/Departments/Brochures/NVC_PhrmcyTchnlgy_Web.pdf