Why Choose an Accredited Pharmacy Technician School?
A career as a pharmacy technician is a smart move if you want to be a part of the healthcare industry without spending years earning a degree. A pharmacy tech works with patients and pharmacists, collecting information, measuring medications, packaging prescriptions, performing inventory management and more. They are essential partners in providing medications to patients.
To become a pharmacy technician, you must follow the guidelines and requirements set by your state’s pharmacy board. In some states, this includes completing an accredited post-secondary pharmacy tech program. Even if your state does not require it, choosing an accredited pharmacy technician school is a great way to start your career.
What is a Pharmacy Technician?
Pharmacy techs work with and assist pharmacists. Most work in pharmacies in drugstores and grocery stores, but techs also work in hospitals. They play an important role in keeping pharmacies running smoothly, ensuring medication accuracy and keeping patients safe. Some of the regular duties of a pharmacy technician are:
- Gathering patient information for filling prescriptions
- Measuring medications
- Packaging prescriptions
- Inventorying medications and notifying pharmacists about ordering needs
- Taking payments and processing insurance claims
- Answering phones and taking patient calls
- Entering patient information into computers
- Helping patients talk to pharmacists about their medications
Some techs have more advanced roles including compounding some prescriptions, calling physicians and using automated dispensing machines to fill prescriptions.
How Do I Become a Pharmacy Technician?
The requirements vary by state, but most people enter the career one of two ways, each beginning with a high school diploma or GED. Some land an entry-level pharmacy job after high school and train on-site to work as a technician. Others go from high school to community or technical college to earn a diploma or certificate in pharmacy technology.
Most states require licensing or registration through the pharmacy board. Some require that pharmacy techs hold a national certification as well. The most widely recognized national certifications are offered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) and the National Healthcareer Association (NHA).
Only Hawaii, Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware have no requirements for pharmacy techs. Even in these states, though, it is a good idea to complete a training program and certification. These types of programs solidify your skills and knowledge and show employers that you are qualified for the job.
The Benefits of Completing a Pharmacy Tech Program
Even if not required in your state, enrolling in a post-secondary program is the best way to launch your career. Not only will a program provide you with the foundational knowledge and skills to do the job, but it will also make you a better candidate for open positions.
Pharmacy techs play an important role in providing people with medications. They help keep pharmacies running smoothly and ensure patient safety. While on-the-job training can be effective, a structured academic program provides a consistent education to all future techs.
If you ever choose to move to another state with stricter requirements, having a diploma, certificate or degree may be essential to keep working. An educational program can also act as a stepping stone to a more advanced career in healthcare.
What Are the Advantages of an Accredited Program?
If you choose to complete a post-secondary program to become a pharmacy technician, your search for a school will turn up those that are accredited and those that are not. Make sure you understand your state’s requirements. You may have no choice but to enroll in an accredited program.
Regardless of requirements, there are significant advantages to choosing accredited pharmacy technician training programs:
- Accredited programs have been reviewed by experts.
- When you choose an accredited program, you know the school will deliver on what it promises to offer.
- Most employers prefer to hire techs who completed accredited programs.
- Many employers offer tuition assistance for accredited programs.
- Your state may require that you go through an accredited program.
- Accredited programs have been evaluated to ensure they provide a complete education that helps techs maintain patient safety.
- Medicine and technology change constantly. Accreditation is an ongoing process that ensures programs stay up to date.
- By choosing an accredited program, you know that you will get training that meets a high national standard of excellence.
What Will I Learn in an Accredited Program?
The PTAC accreditation standards include several elements that ensure students get the best education and training. Programs receiving accreditation must show that graduates will take courses and achieve competency in five broad areas:
- Personal and interpersonal skills. This includes ethical conduct, professional attitude, self-management skills, conflict resolution, critical thinking and supervisory skills.
- Foundational skills and knowledge for the pharmacy tech profession. Foundational knowledge includes understanding the role of a pharmacy technician, patient confidentiality, wellness promotion, pharmaceutical calculations, infection control, the investigational drug process and emerging drug therapies.
- Handling and processing of medication orders and medications. Students must learn how to collect patient information, handle medications, prepare and distribute medications, store medications, maintain equipment, apply quality assurance practices and deliver immunizations, among many other practical skills.
- Patient care, quality and safety. This includes applying patient safety practices, emergency procedures, verifying measurements, operating medication management services and more.
- Regulatory and compliance knowledge. Pharmacy techs must learn about state and federal laws related to medications and pharmacy, responsibilities of licensure, workplace safety rules and procedures and pharmacy compliance.
Entry-level programs must include 400 hours of coursework over at least eight weeks. For advanced programs, the requirements include 600 hours and 15 weeks of instruction. For both, the required hours include classroom instruction, laboratory work and experiential learning. Some examples of classes in an accredited program include:
- Statistics, algebra or health sciences math
- Medical terminology
- Pharmacy and healthcare systems
- Pharmaceutical calculations
- Prescription compounding
- Pharmacology for technicians
- Pharmacy experience, a hands-on rotation or externship
Who is Responsible for Pharmacy Technician Schools’ Accreditation?
The Pharmacy Technician Accreditation Commission (PTAC) accredits pharmacy technician programs. PTAC is a collaboration between the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) and the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE). Both groups have decades of experience accrediting pharmacy programs. PTAC does several things:
- Reviews accreditation applications from schools
- Evaluates training programs to recommend or deny accreditation
- Recommends standards and policies for training
- Communicates with other stakeholders to assure quality in pharmacy technician training
Examples of Well-Known Accredited Programs for Pharmacy Techs
You can find PTAC-accredited pharmacy technician programs in most states. All of these programs provide what you need to begin a career in pharmacy tech. Some notable examples of accredit schools with great programs are:
- Wayne County Community College, Detroit, Michigan. This associate degree program provides a comprehensive pharmacy technician and general education. The benefits of earning a two-year degree include being able to transfer those credits to a four-year program if you want to advance your career. The program includes 89 credits of coursework that include algebra and chemistry as well as pharmacy technology and an externship. Students here learn on the PioneerRx software program, which is used in most pharmacies around the U.S.
- Pinellas Technical College, Clearwater, Florida. This is a unique certificate program that teaches students through a sequence of self-paced courses. It includes basic healthcare worker classes in communication, computer literacy, health care roles, medical math and related subjects. Three sections of pharmacy technician courses include topics like pharmaceutical terminology, medication dosing, mediation packaging and inpatient experiential training. Graduates are expected to sit for and pass the national certification exam.
- North Seattle College, Seattle, Washington. At North Seattle College, students can choose between a certificate program and an associate degree program in Pharmacy Technician. Both are accredited, but the certificate program takes three quarters to complete, while the degree program is twice as long. Coursework includes learning on the software used by most Washington pharmacies. The school places students in local pharmacies for over 400 hours of hands-on training, more than the minimum required. Many of these students end up taking jobs where they train. Nearly 100 percent of graduates pass the national certification exam.
- Bluegrass Community and Technical College, Lexington, Kentucky. The Bluegrass pharmacy technology program includes two options: the Entry Level Pharmacy Technician Certificate and the Advanced Level Pharmacy Technician Diploma. The certificate program is just 21 to 24 credit hours but still includes a pharmacy work experience. The diploma program includes 38 to 46 hours of courses with two sessions of work experience. Some of the advanced courses include intravenous medications, admixture preparations, career planning and additional general education courses. Both programs are accredited, but the advanced courses may lead to more career opportunities.
- New York University Langone Health, New York City, New York. For an accredited program that is part of a world-class medical center and hospital, consider NYU Langone’s Pharmacy Technician Training Program. It includes 35 hours per week of courses for nearly 12 weeks. Sessions begin three times each year and include overnight, day and evening shifts to accommodate all schedules. This is a great program for anyone interested in working in a hospital setting, which is a little different from working in a drugstore pharmacy. Graduates get hands-on experience and will be ready to work in any type of pharmacy setting.
- Austin Community College, Austin, Texas. Austin’s pharmacy technician program trains students over two semesters. A distance learning option allows working students to study at their own pace and participate in laboratory sessions on weekends. Students can choose pharmacy rotations for practical work experience during the day, in the evenings or on the weekends, to fit their schedules. In addition to being prepared to pass national certification exams, this program also allows graduates to become certified in sterile product preparation, an added skill and credential. One hundred percent of graduates become certified and the job placement rate is 98 percent.
Accredited Programs Lead to National Certification
National certification is a credential that shows to employers and patients that you have the skills and knowledge to do the job well and safely. It helps to standardize the role that pharmacy techs play in the workplace and ensure workers are qualified. Twenty states require national certification as well as state licensing or registration for pharmacy technicians. They are:
The two national certification programs for pharmacy technicians do not strictly require that you complete an accredited program to qualify. They do require you to have either completed an approved program, most of which are accredited, or an apprenticeship or training program.
The best way to know you’ll be prepared to take and pass the exam for certification is to go through an accredited academic program. This will provide everything you need to be ready to do the job and to pass the certification exam.
You can take your chances on a non-accredited program, but there is no guarantee that it will deliver what it offers. There is no guarantee that the program teaches everything necessary for certification through a national organization.
Becoming a Certified Pharmacy Technician
Having a diploma or certificate from an accredited program is the first step in achieving national certification, which may or may not be required in your state. There are two main agencies for certifying pharmacy technicians at the national level:
The PTCB offers two pathways to prove eligibility for the certification exam. The first is to complete a PTCB-approved pharmacy technician program. The other is to have the equivalent work experience. This must include at least 500 hours working in a pharmacy and training as a technician.
This qualifies you to take the PTCB exam for a Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT). In addition to passing the exam, you must also disclose any criminal record or licensure actions from the State Board of Pharmacy. You must comply with the certification polices of the PTCB. The cost of the exam is $129.
The NHA also offers multiple pathways to qualify for their Pharmacy Technician Certification (CPhT). One pathway is to have completed a pharmacy tech program within the last five years. You may also qualify if you have 1,200 hours or more of work experience over the course of at least a year in a pharmacy. A U.S. Department of Labor Registered Apprentice Program in pharmacy tech also qualifies you for the exam.
What Are the Benefits of Becoming Certified?
Certification may not be required to work as a pharmacy technician where you live, but it is a requirement in many states. State pharmacy boards are increasingly including this requirement, so it may change in your state in the coming years.
Even if certification is not required, there are several reasons to seek this credential anyway:
- It makes you competitive for jobs you want. An employer will hire a certified technician over a non-certified tech most of the time.
- If you ever want to move out of state, you may need the certification.
- A national certification proves that you have the skills and knowledge to excel in this career.
- Being certified keeps you up to date, as it requires ongoing education and regular renewals to stay credentialed.
- Certified techs may earn more with most employers.
- With certification, you may be able to land a job with more responsibilities or take on management duties in your current job.
Can You Become a Certified Pharmacy Tech Online?
Yes, it is possible to become a certified pharmacy tech online. There are plenty of programs that offer virtual learning. Not all of these are accredited, though. Be sure you choose a reputable online program, preferably one that is accredited. It should also include an internship or externship requirement so that you get hands-on work experience to complete your education.
Are There any Online Accredited Programs?
Most ASHP/ACPE-accredited programs or pharmacy technicians are in-person only. The accrediting agency strives to maintain a high standard of quality in professional education and training and does not believe you can learn all the needed skills online.
Accredited programs include both classroom instruction and work experience in real pharmacies. The entire course must be at least eight weeks long. It is impossible to meet these requirements with an online or virtual program.
You can, however, find ASHP/ACPE-accredited programs that include an online learning component and an externship. This provides both the academic coursework requirement and the hands-on training and real-world experience. Online programs that have received accreditation must include this externship component. If you only complete the online courses, you may not qualify for certification or to work as a pharmacy tech in your state.
How to Choose a Good Online School for Pharmacy Technicians
If you decide to go with an online program to become a pharmacy tech, choose wisely. You will find a lot of advertisements for these programs that promise a lot but do not necessarily deliver. The best way to ensure you get a quality education through a program that is not a scam is to choose one that has earned accreditation. If you are uncertain if the credential is valid, check with the ASHP/ACPE. They can verify accreditations.
You may be interested in online learning because it is less expensive, or it fits your schedule. The convenience of virtual classes is hard to beat, but it isn’t always the best way to learn. Maximize the value you get from an online program by making a smart choice. In addition to accreditation, look for other factors when choosing an online program:
- The total number of hours of coursework included
- The instructors and their credentials
- Instructor-led classes in real time
- Instructor accessibility and office hours
- Forums for discussion
- Textbooks and other resources
- Required hands-on training
- Preparation for certification exams
An online program can be a valid, and smart, way to become a pharmacy technician. Just be careful about the choice you make and avoid scams.
Is Penn Foster Pharmacy Tech Program Accredited?
Penn Foster is a recognized leader in providing high-quality, online education. The pharmacy technician diploma is accredited by ASHP/ACPE. They developed the program to align with the standards set by the accrediting agencies in recognition of the fact that more students are interested in accredited programs.
The program includes online courses and a partnership with CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens. Students participating in the accredited program must complete an externship set up with one of these national pharmacies. You may complete the online courses only, but you will not have met the requirements for certification. (Get more information here).
There are several good reasons to choose Penn Foster for your pharmacy tech education:
- The courses are self-paced, so you can choose when to learn and go as fast or slow as your schedule allows.
- Coursework includes simulations and virtual laboratories to mimic real-world pharmacy situations.
- The curriculum prepares you for both national certification exams.
- The Student Services Department is a built-in community for studying and asking questions. You can connect with faculty in real time.
- The program is mobile-friendly, so you can learn on the go for utmost convenience.
- Mobile flash cards help you study.
- You can access goal-setting tools and a progress tracker to make sure you stay on track.
- The Penn Foster Student Community connects students in real time.
- Penn Foster has tens of thousands of successful graduates to vouch for the quality of the education.
- The tuition is reasonable and affordable for most students.
Choosing a path to becoming a pharmacy technician is a big step toward this rewarding career in healthcare. As you select a school and a program to train to work in the industry, consider the importance of accreditation. While it is possible to get a good education at a non-accredited school, it’s a risk. With accreditation, you have the guarantee that your diploma will be accepted and that you will be prepared for a job in a pharmacy. Learn more.