How to Become a Pharmacy Technician

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Pharmacy technicians are healthcare workers who help accurately dispense medications and maintain pharmacies.

This page outlines how to become a pharmacy tech, including education and certification requirements and what to expect from pharmacy tech classes. It also covers topics like what to look for in a pharmacy technician program, common pharmacy tech specializations, and potential career paths and salaries for graduates.

Education

Students seeking pharmacy tech training programs that lead to certification have two options: an approved training program from a hospital or retail pharmacy or a program from a college accredited by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP).

Accredited pharmacy technician training programs include classes in pharmacy law and ethics, introduction to pharmacology, institutional pharmacy, and pharmacy calculations and compounding techniques.

It typically takes about one year to complete an ASHP-accredited program. Typical entry requirements for accredited pharmacy technician training programs include a high school diploma or GED. Students may also need to pass a background check.

Pharmacy tech training programs run by hospitals or retail pharmacies include the same types of courses and entrance requirements. They often enroll individuals who already work at their institutions and then hire them upon graduation.

Prospective pharmacy tech students can find a list of ASHP-accredited pharmacy technician training programs here. Pharmacy techs may be able to advance their careers by pursuing professional development opportunities, like continuing education classes or advanced training in a specialization.

Certification and Licensure

Certification and licensure requirements for pharmacy technicians vary by state. Most states require pharmacy techs to hold a license to practice. State licensure requirements may include passing a qualifying exam, applying to the state pharmacy board, and passing a background check.

Twenty-two states require pharmacy techs to earn certification. Although not all states require pharmacy technicians to hold certification, many employers prefer or require it. To become a certified pharmacy technician (CPhT), students must pass the qualifying exam from either the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) or the National Healthcareer Association (NHA).

To maintain certification, pharmacy techs must complete a set number of continuing education hours every two years: PTCB requires 20 continuing education hours, while NHA requires 10.

What to Look for in a Program

When choosing a pharmacy tech training program, students should consider factors like accreditation status, available courses and specializations, and cost. Students should also consider the program's faculty and whether they hold relevant experience, education, and teaching credentials.

Program Requirements

Typical entry requirements for pharmacy technician certification programs include a high school diploma or GED. Successful pharmacy tech students often have a background in science or mathematics. Some students may work or volunteer at a hospital or in another healthcare setting to build experience and demonstrate their commitment to the field.

Career Information

The BLS reports that pharmacy technicians make a median annual salary of $32,700 and projects a 7% growth rate for the profession between 2018-2028. Pharmacy techs can make more, depending on where they live: The highest-paying cities for pharmacy technicians include Los Angeles, Dallas, and Phoenix.

Salary and Job Growth for Pharmacy Technician
Salary Job Growth (2018-2028)
Pharmacy Technicians $33,950 7%
Source: BLS
Highest Paying Cities for Pharmacy Technicians
City Salary
Los Angeles, California $39,848
Dallas, Texas $35,000
Phoenix, Arizona $37,755
Source: Payscale

Where Can You Go From Here?

Pharmacy technicians can pursue a variety of educational and career opportunities. For example, some may use their training and experience as a springboard to pursue a specialization. We cover several common pharmacy tech specializations below.

Nuclear

Nuclear pharmacy techs specialize in compounding and dispensing radioactive materials that patients use in nuclear medicine. Not many pharmacy techs hold this specialized knowledge, so those who do are in demand.

Chemotherapy

Pharmacy techs who specialize in chemotherapy dispense chemotherapy medications for cancer patients. They must handle these toxic medications carefully and pay attention to details to make sure patients receive the correct medicine and dosage

Compounding

Compounding pharmacy techs create compound medications for hospital and commercial pharmacies. They must understand how different drugs interact with each other. Typical duties include receiving medication orders, mixing ingredients, and measuring quantities.

Why Become a Pharmacy Technician?

Pharmacy techs enjoy stable careers, with the opportunity to work in a variety of settings and specialties. Succeeding as pharmacy techs rquires strong math, listening, and organizational skills. This career also requires a detail-oriented mindset. Many pharmacy techs spend much of their time working with customers and helping pharmacists, so they also need strong interpersonal skills.

How to Get Hired

Pharmacy tech candidates must first ensure they meet minimum education, experience, and licensure or certification requirements. Candidates with professional experience, technical pharmacological knowledge, and strong initiative typically find employment quickly.

Students should try to complete an internship or work part-time in a pharmacy while in school to gain relevant experience. Many students land their first pharmacy tech jobs straight out of school through networking connections made during these experiences.

Organizations

Pharmacy Technician Certification Board

PTCB provides credentialing services for pharmacy technicians in the United States.. The organization offers the Certified Pharmacy Technician credential, continuing education classes, and a career center.

American Association of Pharmacy Technicians

AAPT offers leadership, continuing education, and networking opportunities for pharmacy technicians. The group also hosts conventions, runs a scholarship program, and coordinates publications.

American Society of Health-System Pharmacists

ASHP represents more than 55,000 pharmacists and pharmacy technicians in the United States. Members have access to professional development opportunities, meetings and conferences, and practice resources.

Tools and Technology

The pharmaceutical industry is constantly changing and adopting new ways of doing things, so pharmacy technicians need to stay updated on new and emerging tools and technologies. Below, we describe some common tools and technologies that pharmacy techs use in their day-to-day work.

  • Lab Balances: Pharmacy techs use lab balances to count tablets, prepare prescriptions, and perform measurements. Pharmacies may have many different types of lab balances, including analytical and portable.

  • Autoclaves: Autoclaves ensure that pharmacy equipment is sterile. Most autoclaves use high-pressure steam to sterilize tools and surfaces.

  • Bottle-Filling Machines: Pharmacy techs use bottle-filling machines to automatically fill bottles with liquid or powder products and drugs. Bottle-filling machines increase the efficiency and reliability of the pharmaceutical packaging process.

  • Emulsifiers:Pharmacy techs may use emulsifiers to prepare drugs and other products. Emulsifiers bind two substances together.

  • Medication-Dispensing Software: Pharmacy techs use medication-dispensing software to dispense medications and receive prescription orders. Medication-dispensing software can increase the efficiency and accuracy of pharmacy tasks.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Being a Pharmacy Technician Stressful?

It depends. Most pharmacy techs work in busy environments, which can be stressful, but their stress typically minimizes as they gain knowledge and experience.

Is Working as a Pharmacy Technician a Dead-End Job?

Pharmacy technicians enjoy strong projected job growth and opportunities in a variety of settings outside of pharmacies, including hospitals and nursing homes. They can also pursue a variety of specializations.

Is It Hard to Become a Pharmacy Technician?

Becoming a pharmacy technician takes effort and dedication, but candidates can usually become certified in one year or less.

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