A Pharmacy Technician is a healthcare professional who is able to perform a number of pharmacy-related functions under the supervision and leadership of a licensed Pharmacist. Included in these functions, Pharmacy Techs can compound or mix some medications, call Family Physicians to have them authorize prescription refills and operate automated dispensing equipment. However, a Pharmacist must review all prescriptions before they are given to patients. Pharmacy Technicians should not be confused with the role of a Pharmacy Aide, which tends to encompass less responsibility.
“Thus far my career as a Pharmacy Technician has been quite interesting, and I have learned so much from the hands on experience,” Lynn Price, CPhT, a Certified Pharmacy Technician in Michigan, explained.
Pharmacy Aide vs Pharmacy Technician: The role of a Pharmacy Aide is similar to that of a Pharmacy Technician but has far less responsibilities. Whereas becoming a Pharmacy Technician requires on-site training or the completion of a state-approved program, becoming a Pharmacy Aide merely requires a high school diploma.
As a result of these advanced educational requirements, Pharmacy Technicians are able to complete more complex tasks such as filling, labeling, organizing and compounding prescriptions. Conversely, Pharmacy Aides are usually more responsible for clerical duties including answering calls and emails, placing supply orders and connecting customers and patients with the supervising Pharmacist as needed.
Note: Pharmacy Technicians employed at high-volume chains often do not have time to complete a full on search for manufacturer coupons and the like. Retail is just a small part of the pharmacy world.
Requirements to become a Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT) include a high school diploma and graduation from an online educational program. These professionals are also expected to learn about their duties through on-site training rotations, which depending on their program, may vary in length and subject matter.
Price added that she had taken a Pharmacy Technician course at a specialized school, and that the course took roughly 8 to 9 months to complete. However, she was then required to complete an externship consisting of 240 hours, which she chose to do at a pharmacy within a pain clinic. There, she was able to learn a lot about opioids and the problems associated with them, an important trend in pharmaceutical work today. Ultimately, she graduated valedictorian of her class with a 4.0 GPA.
“I feel going to Pharmacy Tech school is the best way to learn about pharmacy life,” Price said. “I can’t imagine attempting to do the career without brand/generic knowledge or mg per kg conversions.”
She continued that pharmacy law is a good thing to know, and that Pharm Tech programs teach that as well. Furthermore, she believes that there is so much that a tech does that requires specialized knowledge, and that the only way to attain this knowledge is by completing an appropriate program.
“I took my certification exam about one month after graduating, and at the time that was all that was required to be certified,” Price said. “About a year later the licensing came into play, but at that time anyone who was already certified only needed to go to a facility where you could be fingerprinted and get a background check. The cost was about 65.00 for the background check and $140.00 for the certification test and $65.00 for the license fee.”
While this was the path Price chose to take, some Certified Pharmacy Technicians alternatively choose to enter the occupation after having already completed a post-secondary education program, usually in pharmacy technology or a related field. Many of these programs are hands-on and are offered by community colleges or vocational schools, lasting one year or less and awarding a certificate* upon completion. Additionally, during the programs, students are taught how to use pharmaceutical arithmetic, record keep, dispense medications and interpret pharmaceutical names and doses, as well as to learn and the laws and ethics within the industry.
Furthermore, after the initial education requirements are met, most states do choose to regulate practicing CPhTs. These regulations can include exams, fees, continued education and/or a criminal background check. To determine each state’s requirements, consult the state’s Boards of Pharmacy.
To “climb the ladder” as a Pharmacy Technician, certification can increase a professional’s marketability. Also, after consulting an employer regarding wishes to advance, the employer may state they they will actually pay for a Pharmacy Technician to take a certification exam. More education creates more skilled employees!
“Advancing your career can be tough in retail pharmacy, but if you are good at your career in healthcare, organized and good with people and work for an independent, you could become lead technician and be responsible for other,” explained Price. “Or if your location does compounding you could learn that which pays better.”
In her own experience, once Price completed her externship, the owner of the pharmacy which she was working at asked her to become the store manager. Starting this position two days after graduating from her Pharm Tech program, she realized she had a lot of “learning and catching up to do,” but her commitment to learning enabled her to successful advance in this way.
“I became responsible for the hiring and firing of technicians, and was responsible for ordering both over-the-counter and RX medications,” Price said. “I found the work to be challenging and enjoyable in equal measure.”
To be a successful Certified Pharmacy Technician, these professionals must be able to prepare, measure, package and organize a large variety of medications, including intravenous medications. They must have strong math and organizational skills in order to collect information as needed, keep an organized inventory (alerting a Pharmacist if there is a shortage/surplus), manage excess payments, process insurance claims and complete necessary data entry. In terms of customer service, they should also be capable of answering phone calls from Registered Nurses, Nurse Practitioners, Physician Assistants, Surgeons and customers and arranging for the customers to speak with a Pharmacist if needed.
“Skills should also include being able to use office programs, a fairly good typing speed, knowledge of one or more of the pharmacy software systems and exemplary customer service skills,” Price added. “A Pharmacy Technician must remember that when they meet people, they are not necessarily having their best day, and may feel bad, are grumpy and tired and just want to get home into bed. So, Pharmacy Technicians should try to have endless amounts of patience.”
Those interested in a career as a Pharm Techs should possess strong customer service skills, as much of their work is dependent upon interacting with pharmacy patients who may be in dire need of certain medications. This means Certified Pharmacy Technician should also be able to listen to customers and understand their specific needs, ultimately to determine if they need to speak directly with a Pharmacist. Lastly, Pharmacist Technicians should be detail-oriented, as serious health issues can arise from incorrect doses or prescriptions.
“Pharmacy Technicians should be fun-loving, always happy and an optimist,” Price said. “They should be the kind of person who only sees the good in other people, but is ready to handle them at their worst.”
The majority of Pharmacist Technicians work full-time schedules, although the hours most often are determined by the employer’s hours of operation. For example, some pharmacies are open 24/7, in which case a CPhT would be needed to work evening, night and weekend hours. In addition to these varying schedules, it’s important for professionals looking to pursue a career as a Pharmacy Technician know that the profession involves standing for long periods of time.
“As far as lifestyle goes, I believe if you can leave work at work, and you almost have to with H.I.P.A.A. laws,” Price said. “You can enjoy any lifestyle you choose, as Pharmacists and pharmacies are usually very family oriented. So, time off is usually a mute point.”
The majority of Pharmacy Technicians work in retail pharmacies and hospitals, although some also find employment in general merchandise stores. An exciting time to gain employment at one of these facilities, this career is projected to grow at a rate of 7 percent over the next decade. This fast growth largely due to increased demand for prescription medications. Factors contributing to this need range from a large, aging population, higher rates of chronic disease and more advanced pharmaceutical research and disease-fighting medications. Learn what the 10 fastest growing careers in healthcare are today!
Also leading to increased employment opportunities, Certified Pharmacy Technicians may soon be needed to perform other necessary roles, such as collecting patient information, preparing more types of medications, and verifying the work of other technicians. This is because today, Pharmacists are needed to perform an increasing number of patient care activities (such as administering flu shots).
“Employment largely depends where you want to begin and end with your career,” Price explained. “If you love people and want to get to know your patients personally, then retail is the first place to look. If compounding is more for you, try a specialty pharmacy or hospital setting.”
Currently, the states employing the top number of Pharm Techs are California, Texas, Florida, Illinois and New York.
Earning a self-sustaining salary with employment as a Pharmacy Technician is entirely possible. While the lowest 10 percent of Pharmacy Technicians earned less than $24,120, the median annual wage was $33,950 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $49,130 (BLS).
“The earnings in this industry are all over the map, but chains usually pay the least, around $9 an hour, whereas independent pharmacies pay better usually starting around $9.50 to $12 an hour,” Price explained. “Hospitals bring a whole different set of problems, but the wages are higher still, and start at around $15+ an hour. However, they require more experience, longer hours, split shifts, nights, holidays and weekends.”
The top earning CPhTs were found in the state of Washington, followed by California, Alaska, North Dakota and Oregon. The highest earning Pharm Techs were employed by state, local and private hospitals, followed by general merchandise stores, grocery stores and lastly pharmacies and drug stores.
The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists has been at the forefront of efforts to improve medication use and enhance patient safety for 75 years. It’s mission is to help people achieve optimal health outcomes by advocating and supporting the professional practice of pharmacists in hospitals, health systems, ambulatory care clinics and other settings spanning the full spectrum of medication use.
“There are also many social media groups as well as publications like Pharmacy Times and the Pharmacy Technician Letter.”
- Go to local trade schools to learn more about their programs
- Consider sitting in on a class or two to see if the material is of interest
- Apply to a program
All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meet the professional: Lynn Price
Practice: Independent Retail Pharmacy
Location: Taylor, Mich.
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“That’s a hard question, and I try not to influence others decisions, but I guess it would be to come to this field with an open mind, an open heart and a lot of empathy. We see people who are probably at their worst, meaning that when we don’t feel well, or our loved ones don’t feel well, it’s sometimes difficult to be happy, friendly or patient. So it can be helpful for the pharmacy staff to remember this and not to overreact to any given situation.”
What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“They think that the career is going to be easy. Just slapping labels on stuff. It is not easy, and it can and is sometimes exhausting, exasperating, thankless and your pharmacist will often not be very appreciative of all you do. Not to mention the 8+ hours as day you will spend on your feet.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“How personally involved will I become? The answer is even more than you ever thought you would, especially in retail. It is much more difficult to remain ‘detached’ or impersonal than you would think.”
Why did you choose to become a Pharmacy Technician?
“In my younger days I began taking classes to become a Pharmacist. I was working for one of the ‘big 3’ auto companies and they were offering tuition reimbursement and I decided to take advantage of it. However, once the plant went on overtime it was no longer a do-able situation. By the time I got back to it I decided that I was just too old to get involved in 6 or 7 years of education. The trade type of school offered the Pharmacy Technician course at a reasonable price and duration of time.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would that be?
Credentialing organization: The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists