How to Become a Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT)

A certified pharmacy technician (CPhT) works in a pharmacy, hospital, or other healthcare facility. They help customers and patients get their prescriptions filled and make sure that things in the pharmacy are kept organized and running smoothly. 

Certified pharmacy technicians play a vital role in ensuring that patients are kept safe from dangerous medication errors and do meaningful work while earning a decent salary 

But how do you become a certified pharmacy technician?

Most people who want to work as pharmacy technicians earn their certification through the Pharmacy Technician Control Board (PTCB). Before taking the PTCB’s CPhT exam, you must complete a training program and understand basic pharmacy and patient safety. 

This guide will break down the steps required to become a certified pharmacy technician, including certification options, licensing, job hunting, and more.

How to Become a Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT)

There are many benefits to becoming a certified pharmacy technician. Not only do they earn a decent living, but CPhTs are in high demand all over the country. You can earn your pharmacy technician certification in as little as four months

Almost all states, pharmacies, and healthcare organizations accept the PTCB certification for their pharmacy technicians. If you want to become a CPhT, just follow these steps: 

1) Obtain Your High School Diploma or GED

All pharmacy technicians, whether or not they are required to be certified, must earn their high school diploma or GED. If you did not finish high school or need to earn a GED, you can study for and take your GED exam in around three months.    

2) Research Pharmacy Technician Training Programs That Prepare You for CPhT Certification

Once you have your high school diploma or GED, you’ll want to research some pharmacy technician training programs and decide which one is right for you. 

There are several things to consider when choosing a training program including cost, the time it takes to complete, and the program's certification exam passing rate. 

We’ll go into more detail about how to choose a program later on. 

Note that both the PTCB and NHA allow you to take their pharmacy technician exams without attending a training program if you have work experience as a pharmacy tech.

3) Choose and Enroll in a Pharmacy Technician Training Program

Enrolling in a pharmacy technician training program may require a few more steps than other programs. 

Since pharmacy technicians frequently handle controlled substances like narcotics and benzodiazepines, many schools require some kind of background check for their students. Some schools may also require a drug screening test before you can begin courses, for the same reason. 

4) Take Your Classes & Prepare for Your Exam

Training courses to become a CPhT can last anywhere from four months to two years, depending on the program you choose. Although program lengths vary, they should all cover the information you need to know to pass the PTCB exam. 

Coursework for CPhT certification will include names and classifications of different medications, dangerous drug interactions/side effects, proper storage and handling of medications, federal requirements for controlled substances, error prevention and error reporting strategies, and equipment needed for drug dispensing. 

After you finish your classes, you’ll want to take some time to review your class notes and any quizzes or exams that you took during your training program. In addition, you can find several practice exams and test-prep materials online and can purchase official test-prep materials through the PTCB. 

5) Schedule & Pay for Your Exam

When you feel ready, you can schedule and pay for your exam. To schedule your exam, create an account through the PTCB website or the certification organization you plan on using.

Then, you can fill out your testing application and wait to receive an authorization to test email from PearsonVUE. You must schedule your exam for a date that falls within 90 days of your authorization to test. 

There is a $129 exam fee that is due at the time of application for the CPhT exam. 

6) Take your CPhT Exam from the PTCB or Another Certifying Organization

The last thing you need to do for your certification is pass your exam. 

On the date of your exam, make sure you arrive early to the testing center. Give yourself plenty of time to find a parking spot, walk to the center, get comfortable, use the restroom, and take care of any other personal needs you may have. 

Once you begin your test in the testing center or with an online proctor, you will have 2 hours to complete the exam. The exam contains 90 questions, 10 of which are unscored. Each question is presented in a multiple-choice format. 

You will be able to see your unofficial test results immediately after you complete your exam. Official results will be posted to the PTCB website within two to three weeks. 

The scaled passing score for the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE) is 1,400, with a range of possible scores between 1,000 and 1,600.

7) Apply for a License (Varies by State)

After you pass your pharmacy technician certification exam, some states require you to apply for a license. 

The following states require pharmacy technicians to have a license

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

To apply for a license, you’ll usually need to submit at least a licensure application with your full name and address, social security number, and proof of certification. Most states also require a background check and drug test. 

Some criminal charges will preclude a person from getting their pharmacy technician certification. If you have any prior criminal history or history of misconduct, you must submit an explanation of the misconduct for the board to review. Those with minor offenses or incidents that occurred far enough in the past may still be able to get their CPhT certification. 

>> Read More: Registered vs. Certified Pharmacy Technician

8) Build Your Resume

A strong resume is an essential part of getting your first job as a certified pharmacy technician. Make sure you start with a good outline and use easy-to-read font. Break up your resume into clear lists and bullet points, and avoid lengthy paragraphs. 

If you have little-to-no work experience, you can include school successes, extracurricular activities, service opportunities, and even soft skills as a part of your resume. Having a certification looks great on a pharmacy technician job application, even if you have very little work experience. 

There are many tools available online that can help you build a great resume. 

9) Apply for Jobs

Now, you are ready to apply for some jobs. Decide what type of pharmacy technician you would like to work as and look for those jobs.

Working in a retail pharmacy like CVS or Walgreens means you will be more likely to work during regular business hours and will spend a lot of your day refilling patient prescription medications. 

On the other hand, working as a hospital pharmacy technician may mean you work more weekend and night shifts, and you will be refilling medication dispensing machines rather than working directly with patients and customers. 

Using job search websites like Monster and Indeed makes applying for jobs relatively easy. After you create a profile and upload your resume, you can apply for multiple jobs with just a few clicks. 

10) Interview

The interview process can be quite intimidating for a lot of people. With practice, it gets much easier. If you can, try to find someone to practice some pharmacy technician interview questions with and come up with a few responses to the most common questions. 

Make sure you arrive at your interview a few minutes early, answer questions honestly, and dress professionally. 

11) Maintain Your Certification

When you start working as a certified pharmacy technician, you’ll need to ensure that you do not let your certification lapse or expire. 

To maintain your CPhT certification, for example, you must complete 20 hours of continuing education during your two-year recertification period, including one hour in the subject of pharmacy law and one hour in the subject of patient safety. You must also pay a $49 application fee with each recertification. 

An Alternate Way to Become a Certified Pharmacy Technician Through the PTCB

It’s actually possible to take the PTCB’s CPhT exam even if you haven’t completed an approved training program. 

If you’ve worked 500 hours as a pharmacy technician and have proof of your hours worked, you can submit them to the PTCB which will determine your eligibility.

If they decide you are eligible, you can apply for and take your exam to get certified.

Choosing the Right Pharmacy Technician Training Program

With so many different pharmacy technician training programs to choose from, it can feel overwhelming to make a decision about which program to attend. There are a few things you should consider when selecting a training program. 

1) Cost

Always consider cost when choosing a training program. More expensive programs are not necessarily better. As long as the program is accredited and has a good certification passing rate, you can feel good about choosing a cheaper training program. 

You can see free and cheap pharmacy technician programs available here.

2) Time to Complete

Some pharmacy technician programs can be completed in just a few weeks, while associate degree programs can last up to two years. Choosing a shorter program will help you get into the workforce more quickly so you can start earning an income. 

Keep in mind that accelerated programs will require a lot of work and study packed into a few short weeks. If you choose an extremely short program, you may have to temporarily stop working and ask for help with family responsibilities so that you can focus more of your attention on your training program. 

3) Certification Pass Rate

The reason most people attend a pharmacy technician training program is to earn their certification. You cannot earn your certification without passing a certification exam. Before you register for a program, find out how many of their students pass their exams. 

If certification pass rates are low, you’ll want to look into a different program. 

4) Resulting Certificate

There are several different types of certificates you can earn as a phlebotomy technician. If your state or job has a specific requirement, make sure that your training program will prepare you for the right certificate. 

Most certifications are accepted nationwide and by all healthcare facilities. 

5) If It’s Accredited

Make sure you choose an accredited pharmacy technician training program. Many certifying agencies will not allow you to take their exam unless you have attended an accredited program. 

In addition, accredited programs are more likely to give you a high-quality education and provide you with all of the tools and information you need to be a successful pharmacy technician. 

6) Online vs. In-Person

Consider your learning style and schedule needs when choosing between an online or an in-person program. 

Online programs offer flexibility and can be completed from the comfort of your own home. However, they require a lot of self-discipline and a lot of independent learning. 

In-person classes are best for people who learn better in a classroom environment, or who have trouble with procrastination. 

7) Location (if In-Person)

If you choose an in-person program, consider commute time and travel costs when selecting a specific school. Paying a few hundred dollars less for a program might not be worth a longer commute. 

8) If an Externship is Included

Pharmacy technician externships are opportunities to practice the skills you learn in a real-life setting. It is especially important for online programs to include an externship. Good online programs will help you find a pharmacy near you and help you get in touch with a working pharmacy technician to work with. 

9) If There’s a Job Placement Guarantee

Earning your certification is a great first step on your way to becoming a pharmacy technician. However, some people have difficulties finding a job after they finish training. Programs that offer a job placement guarantee will help you find employment after you graduate, or give you your money back. 

Paying for Pharmacy Technician Schooling or Training

Everyone knows that getting an education can be expensive. Luckily, there are resources available to help you pay for your training as well as pharmacy tech programs that accept financial aid.

1) Scholarships

If you attend a certificate program through a college or university, you can apply for a pharmacy technician scholarship. Scholarships are available based on need, academic performance, athletic skill, service, and diversity. 

2) Grants

Whether you choose a certificate or associate degree program, you may be able to receive a grant that does not have to be paid back. Programs like CalGrant are available for non-traditional and certificate-seeking students. 

3) Student Loans 

It is a common misconception that student loans are only available for degree programs. You can get a private or federal student loan to help you pay for a pharmacy technician certificate program. 

You should always max out federal student loans before turning to private student loans, which often have higher interest rates and less favorable repayment terms.

4) Employer Sponsorship

Often, healthcare organizations will pay for their employees to earn their certifications or advance their education. Many companies offer tuition reimbursement in exchange for a commitment to the company for a specified amount of time. 

Skills Required to Become a Certified Pharmacy Technician

Not just anyone can be a certified pharmacy technician. Pharmacy technicians have to be able to manage potentially harmful drugs, keep track of hundreds of medications, and stay calm in a fast-paced environment. 

Essential pharmacy technicians skills include:

  • Great organization
  • Attention to detail
  • Professionalism
  • Good customer service skills
  • Good memory
  • Math skills
  • Eagerness to learn

FAQs About Becoming a Certified Pharmacy Technician

Is the PTCB the only nationally recognized pharmacy technician certification program?

The PTCB is the only nationally recognized pharmacy technician certification program. Some states have their own certification requirements and exams, but they are not nationally recognized. 

What is the best pharmacy technician certification?

The best pharmacy technician certification is one that you get through the PTCB. The CPhT exam offered by the PTCB is accepted by almost all states and healthcare organizations and gives you more flexibility than any other pharmacy technician certification. 

Is the PTCB’s CPhT exam hard?

The PTCB’s CPhT exam is not particularly difficult, but you will have to learn the material and commit some time to study. The pass rate for this exam is about 70%

Do I have to attend a training program to become a CPhT?

You can become a CPhT without attending a training program, but you have to get work experience. Candidates who complete 500 hours working as a pharmacy technician can take the CPhT exam if they comply with all other applicable PTCB certification policies. 

How long does it take to become a pharmacy technician?

If your state does not require certification, you can start working as a pharmacy technician as soon as you earn your high school diploma or GED. If you need to earn your certification, you can complete a self-paced pharmacy technician  program that takes 6 weeks or less or a regular program in as little as 4 months. 

How much do pharmacy technician training programs cost?

Pharmacy technician training programs cost anywhere from $400 to $40,000 depending on the type of program.

Is it hard to become a pharmacy technician?

Becoming a pharmacy technician does require a commitment to training and studying, but most people would say that it isn’t very hard to become a pharmacy technician. 

What is the average pharmacy technician's salary?

The average pharmacy technician salary is $37,790 per year. 

What is the job outlook for pharmacy technicians?

The job outlook for pharmacy technicians is good, with employment expected to grow by 6% between 2022 and 2032. 

What are the continuing education requirements for pharmacy technicians?

Certified pharmacy technicians through the PTCB must complete 20 hours of CE every two years. Classes must include one hour on the subject of pharmacy law and one hour on the subject of patient safety. There is a $49 fee that must be paid with each recertification. 

Is it worth it to become a certified pharmacy technician?

Pharmacy technicians earn a decent salary, have a good job outlook, and get to make a difference in the lives of others. Because you can become a pharmacy technician so quickly, and training programs are relatively inexpensive, it is well worth it to become a pharmacy technician.  

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