A pharmacy technician is someone who works in either a retail pharmacy or a hospital. They are responsible for helping patients get their prescription medications, keeping things organized, and keeping patients safe from dangerous medication errors.
While pharmacy technicians are not required to have an advanced degree, they do need to have skills and knowledge to handle potentially dangerous medications. In fact, each year between 7,000 and 9,000 people in the United States die as a result of a medication error.
Skilled pharmacy technicians can help prevent these errors by being detail oriented and having a good understanding of medications, which medications interact with each other, and potential medication side effects.
This guide goes over the most important pharmacy technician skills you need to succeed.
Pharmacy Technician Skills List
There are a few particular skills you’ll need to thrive as a pharmacy technician. Pharmacy technicians need to be skilled in:
- Attention to detail
- Stress management
- Medical terminology
- Computer skills
- Manual dexterity
- Quick learning
- Medical knowledge
- Comfortable with technology
- Knowledge about interactions
- Knowledge about side effects
- Filling prescriptions
- Phone etiquette
Medication-Related Skills Required to Be a Pharmacy Technician
As a pharmacy technician, you’ll spend the majority of your time dealing with over-the-counter and prescription medications.
Skills that will help you handle medications safely include:
- Attention to detail. Perhaps one of the most important skills a pharmacy technician can have is attention to detail. Medications can have similar-sounding names, confusing dosing instructions, or tiny markings. Paying close attention to these details is essential when working in a pharmacy.
- Medical terminology. When working with medications, a pharmacy technician should have a basic understanding of medical terminology. Knowing medical terminology will help you understand what a medication is for, what the side effects might be, and how to administer it.
- Manual dexterity. Working in a pharmacy may require you to handle tiny pills, unscrew tight medication lids, and mix compounds using small syringes. Having good manual dexterity will help you do this without dropping medications on the floor or making mistakes while compounding medications.
- Honesty. Pharmacy technicians often handle medications like opiates and benzodiazepines. These medications are addictive and are often abused. If you feel that you would be tempted to steal these types of medications from a patient, then being a pharmacy technician is the wrong job for you.
- Quick learning. Medicine is constantly changing and evolving. Pharmacy technicians need to be able to understand the basics of new medications as they are released. Since so many new medications are coming out all of the time, you will have to be able to learn about them quickly and keep them in your memory.
- Medical knowledge. As a pharmacy technician, you will allow the pharmacist to answer medication questions that a customer may have. However, having basic medical knowledge will help you prioritize which patient should see the pharmacist first, and what medical issues or medication reactions would be considered a medical emergency.
- Knowledge about interactions. Pharmacy technicians should be aware of dangerous drug interactions. For example, a pharmacy technician may notice that a patient is taking two sedative medications, and notify the pharmacist about the problem. Pharmacy technicians are the last line of defense before a patient takes their medication home.
- Knowledge about side effects. Like understanding different medication reactions, a pharmacy technician can help keep their patient safe by understanding basic medication side effects, and notifying the pharmacist if they see anything concerning.
- Filling prescriptions. A pharmacist will spend most of their day filling prescriptions. This means they understand how the process works, what labeling requirements have to be met, and how to be efficient when working on filling new prescriptions for patients to come and pick up.
Administrative Skills Required to Be a Pharmacy Technician
In addition to helping with medications, pharmacy technicians are responsible for handling billing and payments and triaging phone calls to the pharmacist.
- Problem-solving. Customers in pharmacies are often stressed about how to pay for their medication. In addition, many of them have just gotten a new diagnosis or are not feeling their best. A pharmacy technician should be able to think clearly when a problem arises and offer reasonable solutions to problems when they come up.
- Computer skills. A pharmacy technician will have to keep computer records of medications as well as record prescriptions in patient records. Pharmacy technicians will use computers to count inventory of medication, order supplies, and handle payment information given by customers.
- Organization. A pharmacy technician has to be able to keep medications in the pharmacy organized, keep patient records organized, and organize their time. One lost medication or incorrect medical record can be devastating to a patient who comes to the pharmacy for help.
- Comfortable with technology. Besides computers, pharmacy technicians will have to be comfortable with different technologies like barcode scanners and medication safety locks. If you want to be a pharmacy technician, it is wise to stay current on all of the latest technologies.
Customer Service & Other Soft Skills Required to Be a Pharmacy Technician
No matter where you work as a pharmacy technician, you will have to have good customer service skills and the ability to function well in a work environment. Skills that help with this include:
- Stress management. Just like any other job, pharmacy technicians need to have good stress management skills. People in the pharmacy are not always feeling their best, and because of this, they may take it out on the employees. Managing stress well is a vital part of being a pharmacy technician.
- Communication. While at work, pharmacy technicians must have perfectly clear communication between themselves and the pharmacist, the customers, and the insurance companies. Leave nothing up for interpretation.
- Stamina. Pharmacy technicians often spend the entire day on their feet, and some pharmacists stay busy from morning until night. If you work as a pharmacy technician, you need to be able to stay energetic and focused throughout your entire shift.
- Phone etiquette. Many pharmacy technicians are responsible for answering phone calls. These may be as simple as calling to see if a medication is ready, or as scary as a patient calling to report a negative side effect. Knowing how to speak clearly on the phone is a different skill from in-person communication, but it is just as important.
- Teamwork. A pharmacy technician will always work under the guidance of a pharmacist. Pharmacy technicians have to know how to cooperate well and get along with others. It takes an entire team of people to make sure that the correct medication gets to the customer.
How to Use Our Pharmacy Technician Skills Checklist
As you progress in your career as a pharmacy technician, it is good to do frequent self-evaluations to assess your strengths and weaknesses. Look at the list above, and for each skill, rank yourself as good, average, or poor.
You can also give the list to a trusted instructor, supervisor, or mentor and have them fill it out for you. Notice where your weaknesses are and make a commitment to work on those. Make goals that are SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
Remember that every skill can be improved with guidance and practice. Even your weakest skill can be turned into a strength if you focus on it and commit to small improvements every day. If you are still in school, see if your program has guidance counselors who can look over your goals and help you find resources to make them happen.
How to Develop Skills as a Pharmacy Technician
If you want to become a better pharmacy technician, you have to do more than show up for work and hope for the best.
Complete a Training Program
The best thing you can do to develop your skills as a pharmacy technician is to attend an accredited pharmacy technician training program.
Whether you choose an online certificate program or an in-person associate degree program, getting some formal instruction will help you make big improvements in your pharmacy technician skills.
Here are some resources to help you learn more about pharmacy technician training programs and becoming a pharmacy tech:
- Stepful’s 4-Month Pharmacy Technician Program
- Cheapest Pharmacy Technician Programs
- How Much Pharmacy School School & Certification Cost
- How to Become a Pharmacy Technician
- How Long It Takes to Become a Pharmacy Technician
- Pharmacy Technician Requirements by State
Find a Mentor
If you can have a program that offers mentors or career coaches, you have an even better chance of developing skills and improving your weak areas. Having someone work with you on your specific goals can make a huge impact on your success.
Participate in an Externship
Getting experience is another good way to develop your skills. Participating in a pharmacy technician externship is a great way to get real-life practice with the guidance of an experienced pharmacy technician. Having someone guide you and give you feedback is invaluable.
Complete Continuing Education Courses
Even after you complete your training program and earn a pharmacy technician certification and/or license, you can continue to learn and improve by participating in continuing education.
Many certifying agencies offer continuing education classes in pharmacy law, ethics, medication safety, and more. Some companies will even pay you to spend time working on continuing education.
Pharmacy Technician Duties
Pharmacy technicians usually work in a busy environment helping people get the medication they need. Their responsibilities include:
- Collecting patient information. Medications can be dangerous if given to the wrong patient. Pharmacy technicians make sure that the name, birthday, and address match the prescription label before giving a medication.
- Measuring medications. Medications come in many different strengths or concentrations. Pharmacy technicians measure medications and count pills to make sure that their customers go home with the correct amount.
- Create clear labels. Pharmacy technicians must check labels to make sure that the patient name, administration instructions, and expiration date are all clearly visible.
- Organizing inventory. With so many different pills, liquids, sprays, and drops to keep track of, pharmacy technicians have to work hard to keep everything organized. Pharmacy technicians also help keep track of potentially addictive substances like narcotics and must ensure that they are always kept safe.
- Handling customer payments. Before a customer can leave with their medication, the pharmacy technician must figure out billing and charge the patient appropriately. Pharmacy technicians often help patients find coupons or discounts for their medications.
- Processing insurance claims. If the customer's medication is covered by insurance, the pharmacy technician is responsible for submitting the claim to the insurance company for payment.
- Getting important questions answered. Pharmacy technicians make sure that the patient understands the correct dose, timing, and route of administration for their prescription before they go home. If the patient has questions about safety, side effects, or drug interactions, they can direct them to the pharmacist for more information.
- Keeping customers safe. Most importantly, the pharmacy technician is the last line of defense for the patient before they take their medication home. The pharmacy technician has to stay alert for anything that seems dangerous like an extremely high dose, allergy risk, or risky combinations of medication.