If you have ever gotten a prescription medication, chances are that you have interacted with a pharmacy technician.
A pharmacy technician is the person who works at the front counter of a pharmacy or behind the scenes at the hospital to help others get the medicines they need.
This guide will go over what a pharmacy technician is, where they work, their responsibilities, and more.
What is a Pharmacy Technician?
Pharmacy technicians work in hospitals, pharmacies, drug stores, and grocery stores. They are responsible for getting people the correct medication, giving clear instructions about how to take and store the medication, and answering any questions about medications.
While a pharmacy technician is not the same as a pharmacist, they still have to have a basic understanding of many medications and what they are used for. Pharmacy technicians work together with the pharmacist to keep patients safe and healthy.
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What Does a Pharmacy Technician Do?
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.
>> Read More: Pharmacy Technician Job Description
Where Do Pharmacy Technicians Work?
While you may think that pharmacies are the only place that a pharmacy technician can work, there are actually many different places that hire pharmacy technicians. Here are some common types of pharmacy technicians:
Retail Pharmacy Technicians
Retail pharmacy technicians work in grocery stores, drugstores, or standalone pharmacies. They generally work regular business hours and some weekends in places like CVS and Walgreens.
Retail pharmacy technicians usually deal with both prescription medications and over-the-counter medications. Some might also help customers find medical equipment like glucometers, ice packs, and walking sticks.
It's important not to confuse pharmacy technicians with pharmacy assistants. Pharmacy assistants usually have more administrative responsibilities unlike technicians that are acutally dealing with medication. In addition, pharmacists are higher up than pharmacy technicians and are responsible for making sure medication interactions are safe and answering patients' questions.
Hospital Pharmacy Technicians
Hospital pharmacy technicians are less likely to work directly with patients. They are usually responsible for keeping medication stocked and organized in each different hospital unit.
Rather than giving medication directly to the patient or customer, they usually deliver medications to nurses who administer the medicine to their patients.
Hospital pharmacy technicians may also be called on to deliver emergency medications in life-threatening situations. Hospital pharmacy technicians should be able to work well during a crisis.
Mail-Order Pharmacy Technicians
Working as a mail-order pharmacy technician is similar to working in a retail pharmacy. However, instead of working directly with patients, you will take telephone orders from physicians and get prescriptions mailed out to the correct customer.
Skills Required to Be a Pharmacy Technician
There are a few special skills that help pharmacy technicians excel in their jobs. These include:
- Attention to detail. Many medications have similar-sounding names that can easily be confused with one another. It also takes focus to be able to keep track of hundreds of tiny pills every day. Pharmacy technicians should have a great eye for detail.
- Organization. Keeping medications organized is one of the biggest parts of the pharmacy technician's job. They should be able to keep their workspace clean and organized as well as organize their schedule and priorities while at work.
- Communication. When dealing with prescriptions, good written and verbal communication skills are essential. Poor communication skills can lead to medication errors that might be harmful to the patient.
- Professionalism. Sometimes pharmacies and hospitals get behind, and patients can become frustrated or even angry about having to wait. Pharmacy technicians have to remain professional and calm even when their day starts to get chaotic and customers get impatient.
- Memory. Pharmacy technicians have to have a great working memory to remember the names of medications and where to find them within the pharmacy.
Pharmacy Technician Salaries & Job Outlook
Pharmacy technician salaries average $36,740 per year or $17.66 per hour.
As with most jobs, this varies based on location and experience and can range from a low of around $28,740 per year to a high of more than $47,580 per year.
The job outlook for pharmacy technicians is about average when compared to other jobs in the United States. Job opportunities for pharmacy technicians are expected to increase by around 5% between 2022 and 2032.
>> Read More: Highest-Paying Pharmacy Technician Jobs & States
Education, Certification, & Licensing Requirements for Pharmacy Technicians
Before you can start working as a pharmacy technician, you need to have some basic knowledge about medication safety. Most states have specific pharmacy technician requirements for education and certification, though in some you can work without experience or certification.
All pharmacy technicians must have their high school diploma or GED. After that, the education requirements vary by state. However, most states require that pharmacy technicians attend some type of training program.
Pharmacy technician training programs can be completed through a university, technical college, or online. Online pharmacy technician training programs cost the least and last anywhere from 4 to 12 months.
Some people choose to attend an associate degree program for their pharmacy technician training. These types of programs take 2 years to complete. In most cases, a pharmacy technician degree isn't required.
Here at Stepful, we offer a 4-Month Online Pharmacy Technician Program that only costs $1,999 and includes an in-person externship, career coaching, and a 100% money-back guarantee.
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Often, states require pharmacy technicians to earn their certification before they can start working in a hospital or pharmacy. A certification shows that you have enough knowledge to achieve competency in your role as a pharmacy technician.
These exams are recognized by most states who require pharmacy technician certification.
While certification is obtained by passing an exam, licensing for pharmacy technicians is something that you have to apply for in your state. Most states require that you pass your certification exam before you apply for a pharmacy technician license.
Getting your license usually requires some education, obtaining a certification, paying a fee, and passing a background check.
As of May 2023, only Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, and Wisconsin have no certification or licensure requirements for pharmacy technicians.
>> Read More: Pharmacy Technician License vs. Certification
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.