How Long Does It Take to Become a Pharmacy Technician?
Pharmacy technicians are an important part of the pharmacy clique. Working in a pharmacy is tough, and these technicians are responsible for helping fill prescriptions, answering the phone, ringing customers, calling insurance companies to check for medical aids, and sometimes even giving injections or vaccinations.
Being a pharmacy technician can be a rewarding job. If you are thinking about going on this journey, you should know how long it takes to become a pharmacy technician and other important information.
The Timeline of Becoming a Pharmacy Technician
Pharmacy programs can take different times to complete, ranging from a couple of months to one to two years. The length of time and mode of delivery for a pharmacy technician also depends on the state’s requirements and the type of pharmacy training chosen.
You need the following to be a certified pharmacy technician:
- Having a high school diploma or GED
- Completing formal education
- Passing the certification exam
- Passing a criminal background check
Three types of pharmacy technician programs are the following.
Associate degree program
This is working through a pharmacy technician school or community college. The program includes general education, pharmacy law, pharmacology, and other coursework. This pharmacy technician program is best suited for a student who wants to become a pharmacist in the future, as these points can benefit pharmacy school.
Length of program- 2 years
A certificate or diploma program
This program is accredited by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP). Certain states will require licensure or certification after completing pharmacy training. This type of pharmacy technician program usually includes a certification exam prep and an externship or internship as an opportunity to get hands-on experience.
Length of program- 1 year, sometimes less.
On-the-job training at a pharmacy
Some states don’t need any requirements to become a pharmacy technician. You can get a job in a retail pharmacy and learn from there. This is hands-on learning without formal education.
Length: 1 to 2 months, depending on the pharmacy
Online pharmacy technician programs
You can also study virtually to become a pharmacy technician. These programs usually require the same prerequisites as physical classes and cover the same coursework. The online program will prepare you for the certification exam as well. Studying online saves you money, as it is convenient, does not require you to travel, and is perfect for those who have other commitments.
After completing one of the above pharmacy technician programs, some states need you to get a license and/or pass a certification exam before becoming a certified pharmacy technician.
The pharmacy technician certification exam is an exam given by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB). There is also another option that is given by the National Healthcareer Association (NHA).
You can also apply for a license, which is given by the state board of pharmacy. This shows that you have met the requirements to work as a pharmacy technician. The requirements differ by state but usually include registering with the state, a minimum amount of training, or passing the verification exam.
Whether you get a national certification and/or license depends on the state where you obtain your qualification. However, experts say that the national certification is the basic credential across the pharmacy industry, and most employers expect pharmacy technicians to have this certification. This is even in states that don’t ask for it.
After completing your pharmacy technician training program, most states have a continuing education requirement to maintain the validity of your license or certification every 2 years.
The Process of Becoming a Pharmacy Technician
Here are the five steps to becoming a pharmacy technician.
Step 1: Complete a pharmacy technician training program
The ASHP-accredited programs are available at many vocational schools and colleges. Most of the programs can be completed in a year or less. Associate degree programs usually take two years. You could cover coursework such as:
- Pharmaceutical calculations
- Pharmacy ethics
- Pharmacy law
- Medical terminology
- Healthcare systems
Step 2: Complete on-the-job training
Most programs allow you to gain experience during the training. Depending on the laws of the state, you may choose to have on-the-job training without having a formal education.
Clinical experience may be in the form of a structured training program at a retail store that partners with the school. You can also opt for hands-on training at an approved medical center and pharmacy.
Step 3: Become a certified pharmacy tech
Some states need you to get certified. This is not necessary for all states; however, it’s best to have it anyway, as some employers will only hire you if you are certified by the pharmacy board or the National Healthcareer association.
Step 4: Become specialized
After you have your experience, you can now decide whether you want to work in a drug store as a general technician or work in a specialty field, such as a hospital, clinic, or lab. You can also become a type of pharmacy technician.
Step 5: Maintain the certification
After you pass your certification exam, you have to maintain it every two years. You need to complete 20 hours of education and experience before taking the exam. Approved continuing education activities include college courses, workshops, seminars, and conferences, paired with service to the agencies.
As a pharmacy technician, you have to note your continuing education and submit it online to get it verified.
What’s The Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam Like?
The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board exam shows your understanding and knowledge of pharmacology. They offer the exam on a computer with 90 multiple-choice questions. Not all of them are scored, as 10 are left unscored.
The exam is sectioned into 9 categories:
- Sterile and non-sterile compounding
- Medical precautions and safety
- Pharmacology for technicians
- Pharmacy regulations and laws
- Filling processes and entries
- Pharmacy information systems and technology
- Billing and insurance knowledge
- Quality assurance
This pharmacy certification test takes two hours to complete, with your results being available after a post-exam survey. While the exam may be difficult, there are many study guides to practice the exam. The pharmacy technician programs may also help with exam prep.
Where Does a Certified Pharmacy Technician Work?
Most pharmacy technicians work in retail stores, which means they take a job at a pharmacy inside a small chain of drug stores. Pharmacy technicians can also work in hospitals, mail-order pharmacies, medical clinics, labs, specialized care centers, private institutions, and many more.
Like pharmacists and other medical professionals, pharmacy technicians can practice in a specialty trade, such as community, government, or academia, or in a specialized field, such as pediatrics, critical care, or oncology.
While these technicians may perform normal pharmacy technician duties, they may get additional tasks according to the type of work, location, and other factors at their job.
What Skills Do Pharmacy Technicians Need?
Apart from meeting the pharmacy technician training programs’ requirements, you should also consider your skill set and personality when going on this career path. Being a pharmacy technician requires more than one might think, as they are responsible for important aspects of the pharmacy.
Pharmacy technicians are responsible for labeling and packaging prescription medication, keeping track of inventory, ringing up customers, sorting out their insurance claims, and helping the pharmacists with other tasks, such as answering the phone. Different kinds of pharmacy technicians can also compound medication.
A successful pharmacy technician has these skills.
Regardless of their level of expertise or specialization, pharmacy technicians have to have proficient organization skills as they are responsible for storing medications. If a technician is a level two or three specialization, they need this skill to manage and keep track of medication inventory and efficiently know when to refill.
Other types of pharmacy technicians, such as those who work in the lab, have to organize chemicals as part of their duties.
Certified pharmacy technicians handle a lot of medication, so they have enough medical skills and knowledge to understand and tell the patients about the effects of the medication. With this knowledge, they can answer any questions about the medications, especially when it comes to prescription medications.
They have a general understanding of medication interactions. Those who work in the lab may have even more knowledge of medication’s medical and chemistry aspects due to their complicated identification and storage responsibilities. It also helps to know medical terminology.
Depending on their specialty, pharmacy technicians need different degrees of customer service proficiency. Technicians working in retail stores, clinics or hospitals must deal with customers throughout the day. Pharmacy technicians who work in the lab and private technicians may not have to deal with customers at all; however, it is still necessary to have them.
Attention to detail
A pharmacy technician has to have attention to detail which helps them identify and differentiate medications from one another. Technicians have to have the ability to know what certain medication looks like rather than looking at the label.
They also have to count properly, as some patients buy tablets by a certain number. When managing customers, the pharmacy technician must be attentive to ensure they give them the right medication.
Ability to work in a team
Pharmacy technicians have to work with their team members to ensure that they provide the best service to customers. They have to use their teamwork skills to quickly package and deliver medications to customers. Since there are different pharmacy technician jobs, some technicians have to rely more on their teamwork.
For example, pharmacy techs who work in a hospital have to be equipped to work in a fast-paced environment where everyone works together to deliver medications quickly, even in an emergency.
No matter the pharmacy environment, retail, hospital, and other workplaces, all pharmacy technicians get overwhelmed and exhausted with the weight of many responsibilities and pressures.
The pressure to meet the need of patients and employers and dealing with angry patients can be a lot to handle. When you become a pharmacy technician, you may face unreasonable expectations while still trying to maintain a professional standard.
Building resilience is vital because it is sometimes impossible to present an empathetic and professional self while you are stressed with problems. Having proper techniques to wind down and handle your emotions will also ensure your success as a pharmacy technician.
Pharmacy techs who work with various chemicals in a lab need extensive know-how about them. They have to know proper storage and organization methods. This knowledge is vital for pharmacy technicians to understand which chemicals cannot be stored together.
For example, some chemicals need specific temperatures to remain effective and stable. These technicians should also know how to safely handle and transfer these compounds so that nothing reacts with or destabilizes them.
Pharmacies are extremely busy, with many patients coming in for medications. There are always multiple tasks that need to be done in a short time. As a pharmacy technician, you need to be flexible and have the ability to multitask. Being able to go from one duty to the next is an important skill of being a pharmacy technician.
Is It Hard Being a Pharmacy Tech?
The pharmaceutical industry is always changing and advancing to new ways of doing things, so pharmacy technicians must stay on top of the tools and technologies. Apart from having the necessary skills and certifications, you must know how to use these tools.
- Autoclaves- This is a tool that ensures that pharmacy equipment is sterile. It uses high-pressure steam to sterilize surfaces and tools.
- Bottle-filling machines- Pharmacy technicians use these machines to automatically fill bottles with powder and liquid drugs. The machine increases the amount of efficiency and reliability of the packaging process.
- Lab balances- This is used to count tablets, perform accurate measurements and prepare prescription medications. This varies across different pharmacies and includes portable and analytical lab balances.
- Medication-dispensing software- This software is to receive prescription orders and dispense medications. This increases the accuracy and productivity of daily pharmacy tasks.
- Emulsifiers- These are used to prepare medications and other products. It combines two substances together.
What Drives the Employment of Pharmacy Technicians?
According to research, these are the main factors that increase the employment of technicians:
- The increasing role of pharmacists- These roles are expanding, which require them to do more patient-care activities, such as giving flu shots and vaccinations. Technicians are now taking over more activities that were performed by pharmacists. This includes preparing a range of medications, getting patient information, and looking over other technicians’ work.
- Aging population- These age groups need more prescription medications compared to the younger population.
- The increasing rate of chronic diseases- As this rate of chronic diseases goes up, more medications are needed. This includes medicines for arthritis, cancer, asthma, and diabetes.
- Research advances- There is always growing pharmaceutical research, which leads to more medications and treatment approaches to combat disease. Therefore, this expands the role of the pharmacy technician.
What is the schedule of a pharmacy technician?
There is no definite schedule for pharmacy techs. Since pharmacy technician jobs vary from drug stores and hospitals, you may work days, evenings, holidays, and weekends. It depends on the place you work.
What is the job scope for pharmacy techs?
According to the US Labor Statistics, pharmacy technicians’ jobs are expected to grow by about 4% between 2020 and 2030. This is slower than other jobs; however, there are quite a lot of job openings every year.
How much does a pharmacy technician make?
Pharmacy technicians in the US earn a salary of $30,913 per annum. Certain employers may offer more for those who have lots of education, certification, and experience. The earnings also depend on the state you work in. Certified techs usually make around $42,842 yearly.
Can I become a pharmacy technician without going to school?
The fastest way to become a pharmacy technician is to work in a pharmacy and get job training, then take the exam or apply for a license. However, your state may not allow you to skip the pharmacy technician programs, so you have to check with the local pharmacy board.
How long do pharmacy techs go to school?
In the United States, pharmacy technicians typically need a high school diploma or equivalent and may attend a post-secondary educational program.
Most pharmacy technician programs last around 12-16 weeks and award a certificate or diploma upon completion. Programs that are accredited by the American Society of Health System Pharmacists (ASHP) meet rigorous standards and typically offer more comprehensive training.
No matter what route you choose to become a pharmacy technician, the journey will not be easy; however, it will be worth it. Being a pharmacy technician is rewarding work, and it exposes you to advanced medical trends and technologies. This certification is also valuable, as it will help you if you want to change jobs or career paths.