If you have ever needed medication, you have likely benefitted from the skills of a pharmacy technician.
There are many different types of pharmacy technicians, and they can help with everything from compounding medications to stocking the shelves in a hospital to helping customers fill their prescription medications at a retail pharmacy.
Besides the different types, there are also different levels of pharmacy technicians, including I, II, and III. Each of these levels has different training requirements as well as different responsibilities and varying salaries.
This guide will break down the different types and levels of pharmacy technicians so that you can decide what training you need based on the job you want to get.
Pharmacy Technician Levels Overview
When someone becomes a pharmacy technician, they can work as a level I, II, or III. Each different level has different training requirements, scope of practice, and pay.
Before we dive in, if you're interested in becoming a pharmacy technician, check out our 4-Month Online Pharmacy Technician Program that prepares you for the PTCB's CPhT exam.
Level I Pharmacy Technician
The level I pharmacy technician is the most basic pharmacy technician certification.
Level I pharmacy technicians typically handle mostly administrative tasks and keep things organized. These types of pharmacy technicians need good customer service skills and work under the close supervision of a pharmacist.
Level I pharmacy technicians often must complete a training program and pass a certification test, most commonly the PTCB’s CPhT exam. In some states, certification is not required.
Level I pharmacy technicians typically earn less than level II or II technicians, and salaries start around $18.67 per hour.
Level II Pharmacy Technician
Level II pharmacy technicians go through more training than level I technicians, usually have a year or two of experience, and have a larger scope of practice.
Level II technicians are often responsible for training level I pharmacy technicians. In addition to level I responsibilities, level II technicians may be responsible for recording statistical information for the pharmacy, preparing more complex medications, and maintaining complex medication files.
Most employers require level II pharmacy technicians to pass the PTCB certification exam and some require additional certifications such as a medication history certificate or billing and reimbursement certificate.
Level II pharmacy technicians earn an average of $22.59 per hour.
>> Read More: Pharmacy Technician Requirements by State
Level III Pharmacy Technician
Level II technicians may also be referred to as advanced pharmacy technicians.
These technicians can be trained in sterile compounding, chemotherapy medication handling, and giving vaccinations.
Level III pharmacy technicians earn the most and can make up to $28.36 per hour.
These types of pharmacy technicians usually have at least three years of experience, and four or more credentials in addition to passing the basic PTCB certification exam.
Salary of Different Pharmacy Technician Levels
The salaries of different pharmacy technicians vary based on years of experience, work location, and of course, level of pharmacy technician. While Level III pharmacy technicians have to complete the most training, they also earn the most money.
Here’s a breakdown of pharmacy technician salaries by level:
- Level I pharmacy technicians earn an average of $38,8333 per year or $18.67 per hour.
- Level II pharmacy technicians earn an average of $46,987 per year or $22.59 per hour.
- Level III pharmacy technicians can earn up to $58,988 per year or $28.36 per hour.
Types of Pharmacy Technicians
There are many different places pharmacy technicians can work. While all pharmacy technicians have to have a basic understanding of medications, each type has different responsibilities and skill sets.
Some spend more time working directly with customers, while others spend most of their time mixing different medications. Some advanced pharmacy technicians can even be trained to give vaccinations and mix sterile compounds.
There are even travel pharmacy technicians who sign short-term contracts to help fill staff shortages.
1) Retail Pharmacy Technician
- Duties: Fill patient prescriptions, handle billing and payments, organize medications
- Where they work: Retail pharmacies such as Walgreens and CVS
- Average salary: $17 to $19 per hour
- Requirements: May require PTCB CPhT, depending on the state
Retail pharmacy technicians work in retail pharmacies and primarily focus on filling medications, keeping the pharmacy organized, and handling administrative duties.
Most retail pharmacies will hire level I pharmacy technicians with little to no experience, and some even offer on-the-job training for pharmacy technicians.
2) Hospital Pharmacy Technician
- Duties: Compound medications, deliver medications to different hospital units, organize medication drawers, handle chemotherapy medications
- Where they work: Hospitals
- Average salary: $18 to $23 per hour
- Requirements: Most hospitals require pharmacy technicians to be certified and some only hire advanced or level III pharmacy technicians
Hospital pharmacy technicians work with hospital pharmacists to compound, organize, and deliver medications to the nurses caring for patients in a hospital setting.
These types of pharmacy technicians often work with chemotherapy medications, must be certified in sterile compounding, and frequently handle large amounts of controlled substances.
3) Private Pharmacy Technician
- Duties: Prepare prescription medications, compound medications, fill large medication orders for organizations like hospice companies and prisons
- Where they work: Private pharmacy offices
- Average salary: $20 per hour
- Requirements: May require PTCB CPhT, depending on the state
Private pharmacy technicians perform many of the same tasks as retail pharmacy technicians but have fewer customer service responsibilities. Private pharmacy technicians are more likely to fill large orders that are sent to organizations that need to keep a supply of medications on hand at all times.
Private pharmacies may provide services to hospice centers, long-term care centers, prisons, or schools.
4) Pharmacy Technician Informaticist
- Duties: Help maintain pharmacy technology including medication scanners, barcoding, lock boxes, and distribution machines
- Where they work: Hospitals, private pharmacies, retail pharmacies
- Average salary: Starting at $32 per hour
- Requirements: Most employers require at least a CPhT and a technician product verification certification is preferred
A pharmacy technician informaticist is responsible for managing the technology and machinery of a pharmacy. They will help to maintain and troubleshoot machines such as lockboxes, automated dispensing machines, and computer software used to record prescription medications and patient information.
Pharmacy technician informaticists must complete special training specifically for their jobs. They may also have to maintain point-of-care testing machines and machinery used for medication compounding.
5) Compounding Pharmacy Technician
- Duties: Prepare medications for patient use (typically sterile intravenous medications)
- Where they work: Hospitals, private pharmacies
- Average salary: $22 per hour
- Requirements: CPhT and Certified Compounded Sterile Preparation Technician (CSPT)
Compounding pharmacy technicians typically work in hospitals and private pharmacies. They mix and prepare medications that are used intravenously, and must be kept sterile in order to avoid giving patients a dangerous infection. Incorrectly prepared medications can cause severe harm or even death when given to a patient.
6) Mail-Order Pharmacy Technician
- Duties: Organize medication and ensure medications are quickly and accurately mailed to patients
- Where they work: Mail-order pharmacy
- Average salary: $17 to $27 per hour
- Requirements: May require PTCB CPhT, depending on the state
Mail-order pharmacy technicians prepare and ship medications that are ordered by patients online or over the phone. They typically have very little face-to-face interaction with customers and have to be extremely well organized and pay close attention to details. Many work-from-home pharmacy technicians work for mail-order pharmacies.
Mail-order pharmacy technicians are also responsible for working with insurance companies to ensure that medications are covered before they are shipped to patients. Unlike online pharmacies, mail-order pharmacy services are usually covered by insurance plans.
7) Pharmacy Benefits Manager Technician
- Duties: Maintain accurate records, ensure prescription validity and accuracy, verify insurance coverage
- Where they work: Private pharmacies, hospitals, retail pharmacies
- Average salary: $25 per hour
- Requirements: Advanced pharmacy technician credentials including billing and reimbursement certificate, controlled substances diversion prevention certificate, and regulatory compliance certificate.
A pharmacy benefits manager handles a lot of the paperwork, regulatory requirements, and insurance verification related to medications. They are responsible for tracking controlled substances and verifying the validity of patient prescriptions.
Pharmacy benefits managers play an important role in ensuring that patients are kept safe and that all providers and pharmacy employees are following pharmacy laws and regulations.
8) Lab Pharmacy Technician
- Duties: Organize, store, and dispose of chemicals used for medication compounding
- Where they work: Pharmaceutical laboratories
- Average salary: $23.97 per hour
- Requirements: CPhT, Compounded Sterile Preparation Technician (CSPT)
Laboratory pharmacy technicians maintain different chemicals and ensure that they are stored and mixed correctly. They typically don’t spend very much time working with patients. Instead, they spend their days keeping different compounds organized, labeled correctly, stored safely, and shipped to different locations for compounding.
9) Chemotherapy Pharmacy Technician
- Duties: Mix, organize, label, and distribute chemotherapy medications
- Where they work: Hospitals, chemotherapy infusion clinics.
- Average salary: $24 per hour
- Requirements: Advanced pharmacy technician certification, Hazardous drug management certificate
Chemotherapy is a medication used primarily to fight cancer. These medications can be dangerous if they are handled incorrectly. Because of this, chemotherapy pharmacy technicians must complete special training to ensure their own safety and the safety of others.
These pharmacy technicians may be responsible for compounding chemotherapy medications as well as packaging, labeling, and distributing chemotherapy. They most often work in hospitals or infusion clinics.
Highest-Paying Pharmacy Technician Specialties
Pharmacy technician salaries range based on training and skills needed to perform the job correctly. Jobs with fewer training requirements typically pay less than those that require advanced certifications. In addition, jobs that require odd hours may offer night shifts or weekend differentials with a slight increase in pay.
The highest-paying pharmacy technician specialties include:
- Pharmacy technician informaticist: $32 per hour
- Pharmacy benefits manager: $25 per hour
- Chemotherapy pharmacy technician: $24 per hour
- Laboratory pharmacy technician: $23.97 per hour
- Compounding pharmacy technician: $22 per hour
- Mail-order pharmacy technician: $17 to $27 per hour
- Private pharmacy technician: $20 per hour
- Hospital pharmacy technician: $18 to $23 per hour
- Retail pharmacy technician: $17 to $19 per hour
How to Choose Which Type of Pharmacy Technician Role is Right for You
With so many different options, it can feel overwhelming to choose which type of pharmacy technician role is right for you. Here are some things to consider before you make a choice:
- Work environment preference. When looking for a job, consider the type of environment you want to work in. Think about whether you would enjoy working in a retail store, or if working in a quiet laboratory sounds more appealing to you. If you can, try to spend some time touring different workplaces before you commit to a training program or a job.
- Desire for patient interaction. Some pharmacy technician jobs, like retail pharmacies, require nearly constant patient interaction. Others, like compounding or hospital pharmacy jobs, allow pharmacy technicians to keep to themselves.
- Comfort with fast-paced vs. steady work. Some pharmacies require their employees to work steadily for the entire shift, while others have periods of downtime mixed with periods of being busy. Check out different work locations if you can and pay attention to the workflow.
- Willingness to work odd hours. Hospital jobs may require their staff to evenings, nights, weekends, and holidays. Some people enjoy working odd hours and some try to avoid it. Retail pharmacies are more likely to require only normal hours.
- Interest in compounding medications. Only more advanced pharmacy technicians are allowed to compound most medications. Think about whether or not that is something you are interested in before you commit to a job or a pharmacy technician training program.
- Desire for a more administrative or hands-on role. Read pharmacy technician job descriptions carefully to find out whether or not your organization expects more administrative or hands-on type work. Some pharmacy technicians prefer to handle more tasks like payments and insurance, while others prefer to do more hands-on tasks.
- Long-term career goals. Consider your long-term career goals when choosing a pharmacy technician specialty. More advanced roles are better for those who hope to become pharmacists, while level 1 roles are fine for those who hope to become office administrators.
- Educational requirements for specialization. While level III pharmacy technicians are paid a higher salary and have a bigger scope of practice, they do have to spend more time and energy on their education. If you need to get working right away, you may want to choose training that can be completed more quickly.
- Availability of jobs in your area. As you begin pharmacy technician training, search job boards for specific pharmacy technician jobs in your area. Find out whether or not the facilities near you require specialization or advanced training.
How to Become a Pharmacy Technician
Here are the steps required to become a pharmacy technician:
- Obtain your high school diploma or GED. No matter where you live, you will need a high school diploma or GED before you can become a pharmacy technician. If you need to, you can prepare for and pass your GED exam in as little as 3 months.
- Get the necessary training & education. Once you have your high school diploma or GED, you can complete a pharmacy technician training program. You can choose an online certification program, a technical college, or a degree program to complete your education. Pharmacy technician training can last anywhere from 4 months to 2 years, depending on the program you choose.
- Take your certification exam. Certification exams are available through both PTCB and NHA. Even if your state does not require certification, becoming a certified pharmacy technician might help you get a job or earn a higher salary.
- Apply for a license. If your state requires licensure, you will have to apply for a license and pay a fee. This often includes submitting proof of certification and passing a background check.
- Look for jobs. Pharmacy technician jobs can be found on websites like Indeed and Monster, through pharmacy and hospital websites, or on bulletin boards at colleges and universities. Some pharmacy technician training programs have counselors available to assist you in your job search.
- Start working as a pharmacy technician. Once you start working as a pharmacy technician, make sure you stay up to date on safety standards, new technologies, and updated guidelines to keep your patients safe and protect your license.
- Keep up with your continuing education. After you receive your certification and license, make sure you do not let them expire. Check with your State to find out exactly what the continuing education and recertification requirements are, since they are slightly different in each area. For example, pharmacy technicians in New Jersey must pay a $140 fee and complete 3 continuing education credits every 2 years.