Become a Pharmacy Technician: A guide to schools and careers
Pharmacy Technicians work under the direct supervision of a licensed pharmacist and have responsibility in the all stages of the medication prescription fulfillment process.
To get the best start, most aspirants complete formal training at a pharmacy technician school. Most opt for a one-year certification or diploma program, but associate degree programs are also available.
This site provides a complete guide to becoming a Pharmacy Technician, with state-by-state information on education and certification, specific state requirements, local salaries and job outlook, and professional organizations.
What does a Pharmacy Technician do?
Working alongside the licenses pharmacist, the Pharmacy Technician dispenses medications to customers or patients, be they prescription or over-the-counter drugs.
The dispensing of medications is a critical function of health care. It requires an understanding of prescriptions, a familiarity with the medications in question, an understanding of dosages and medication safety, and the ability to follow strict procedures.
To dispense a medication, the pharmacy tech must:
- Collect the information needed to fill the prescription from the health professional or customer.
- Measure amounts of medication for the prescription.
- Package and label the completed prescription.
- Pass the completed prescription for review by the pharmacist.
Pharmacy Techs may also be expected to provide useful information to the customer or patient on the administering of the medication.
Their daily interactions are with the pharmacist, with customers or patients and sometimes with pharmaceutical reps.
They are also expected to carry out administrative tasks such as answering the phone, recordkeeping, inventory control, pharmacy billing and reimbursement processing and scheduling appointments for the pharmacist to speak to customers. If they work in a drugstore, they will also be expected to handle payments.
How to become a Pharmacy Technician
Some states do not require certification. Our state-by-state guide will tell you what the local requirements are. However, even in states where no obligation exists, many employers will require it.
As the best career paths usually pass through formal training and certification, here are some solid steps to becoming a Pharmacy Tech:
- Complete an accredited education program
This step is optional but highly recommended. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) accredits pharmacy technician programs. Our pages for each state detail the accreditation status of each program listed. Most diploma programs can be completed in less than a year, while an associate program will take approximately two years. Accredited programs will typically provide both classroom training and practical experience.
- Get on-the-job training
Many Pharmacy Techs start their career this way and it has the advantage of getting paid to learn. Some drugstores such as those at Walgreens or CVS offer structured training programs, often partnering with a local college. Some pharmacies and medical centers are also approved to provide training.
- Become certified
A Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT) is one that has passed one of two exams:
- The Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE) administered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB), or,
- The ExCPT administered by the National Healthcareer Association (NHA).
Maintaining your certification as a Pharmacy Technician requires that you recertify every two years, having completed at least 20 hours of continuing education.
What types of Pharmacy Technician Program are there, and how long do they take?
The most common type of program is a certificate or diploma program that takes less than a year to complete.
Some schools also offer associate degree programs that typically last two years.
Diploma programs teach the core subjects necessary to take an exam to become a CPhT. These include basic pharmacology, anatomy and physiology, pharmacy law and regulations, sterile and non-sterile compounding, medical terminology, pharmacy calculations, medication safety, pharmacy quality assurance, medication order entry and fill process, pharmacy inventory management, pharmacy billing and reimbursement, and information systems usage and application.
A full associate degree will additionally include core requirements in general studies and more advanced studies in pharmacy and administration.
Both types of program will generally include externships which give the student practical experience in a professional environment.
Where do Pharmacy Techs work?
Most Pharmacy Techs work behind the counter of a drugstore, but many also work in healthcare facilities such as hospitals, clinics or nursing homes.
Pharmacy Techs in hospitals generally work in the preparation of a wider variety of medications, including intravenous medications. They may also a make rounds of the hospital, delivering medications to the patients.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 52% of pharmacy technician jobs are in pharmacies and drug stores, while around 13% of pharmacy techs are employed in general medical and surgical hospitals and nursing homes. The remainder have jobs in grocery stores, department stores and other general merchandise stores.
What is the work environment like?
As a person who spends a lot of time in front of customers, Pharmacy Techs can expect to spend a lot of time on their feet. As many work settings are in stores with extended opening hours, they can also expect to work weekends, evenings and even nights.
What makes for a successful Pharmacy Tech career?
There are three important components to a great career as a Pharmacy Technician:
- Having and developing the right skills
- Getting the right training, experience and certification
- Finding work in a setting that best suits you
Pharmacy Tech skills
- Detail Oriented
Being attentive to detail is fundamental. Medication errors represent a significant cause of illness and even death. Good pharmacy technicians take great care in what they do.
- Listening and customer-service skills
A good professional needs to pay close attention to the instructions of the pharmacist and other health professionals when taking prescription orders. They must also clearly understand the needs of the customer, and be able to decide when to refer a customer to the pharmacist or to require clarification from the prescribing doctor.
- Math skills
A Pharmacy Tech requires an adequate level of math skills, which are employed in counting pills, weighing and measuring medicines and understanding the formulas used in compounding medicines.
Training, experience and certification
Most pharmacy technicians gain on-the-job training in a retail environment. The better paid jobs, where the pharmacy tech is delegated greater responsibility, will require that you have more on-the-job experience, formal training from an accredited program and certification.
Different settings will appeal to different people. If you prefer working directly with the customer, then a retail job may be perfect for you. However, retail environments may also require more weekend and night work.
Salaries for hospital jobs tend to be around 20% higher than retail jobs, and although work in antisocial hours may be required, there are opportunities for a more balanced timetable. Also, the task of preparing medications may be more interesting in a hospital environment, as there is more variety.
How to find a Pharmacy Technician Program Near Me?
Our guide provides the most detailed information you’ll find anywhere online. We’ve combined our own research with information on programs from the US Department of Education and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. For each state there is salary information for each metropolitan district, sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As explained further in the disclaimer page, information is correct, to the best of our knowledge at the time of publication, and is updated frequently. Nonetheless, mistakes are sometimes made and tuition costs and accreditation status changes. Please confirm all information directly with the school before making your decision.