How to Become a Pharmacy Technician

LearnHowToBecome Team
Erin Gobler
October 13, 2021

Pharmacy technicians are responsible for handling all aspects of the prescription fulfillment process and assisting the pharmacist with day-to-day operations. Aspiring pharmacy techs can complete a one-year diploma or certification program at a pharmacy technician school or a two-year associate degree program. This career guide provides in-depth information about pharmacy technician training, careers and job opportunities in this fast-growing field. Once they’re on the job, pharmacy technicians earn a median annual salary of $35,100 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics(BLS)

This career guide provides in-depth information about how to become a pharmacy technician, from going through the initial training to the job outlook over the next decade.

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How to Become a Pharmacy Technician

Step 1
Complete a postsecondary education program (Optional)
The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) is the accrediting body for pharmacy technician programs. ASHP-certified programs are available at many community colleges and vocational schools. Most certificate programs can be completed within a year or less, while associate degree programs typically take two years to complete. Coursework covers technical and practical training in the following areas:
  • Pharmacy law
  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacy ethics
  • Anatomy
  • Healthcare systems
  • Physiology
  • Medical terminology
  • Pharmaceutical calculations
Step 2
Complete on-the-job training
Most programs allow students to gain clinical experience during their training. Depending on state laws, students may also choose to gain on-the-job training without enrolling in a postsecondary education program. Clinical experience may take the form of a structured training program at a retail drugstore that has partnered with the school. Another option is to complete hands-on training at an approved pharmacy or medical center.
Step 3
Become certified
Some states require pharmacy technicians to become certified. Even in states where certification is not required, most employers will only hire pharmacy techs who are certified by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) or the National Healthcareer Association (NHA).
Step 4
Become specialized
Some pharmacy technicians choose to work exclusively for a retail drugstore chain and will complete specialized training to serve as a general pharmacy technician, community pharmacy technician or central pharmacy operations technician, or in a similar role.
Step 5
Maintain certification
Pharmacy techs need to pass a recertification exam, administered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) or National Healthcare Association (NHA) every two years. You need to complete at least 20 hours of continuing education before sitting for the exam. Approved continuing education activities can include seminars, workshops, conferences, college courses, and service to the credentialing agencies. As a technician you will have to document your continuing education and submit it online for verification. There’s also a biennial fee associated with recertification.
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What Does a Pharmacy Technician Do?

Pharmacy Technician Jobs: The Basics

Pharmacy technicians work under the direction of a licensed pharmacist to dispense medication and provide information to customers. Pharmacy technicians typically work behind a pharmacy counter at a drugstore, grocery store, hospital, nursing home or other medical facility. This position involves working with pharmacists, patients and occasionally with pharmaceutical reps.

Pharmacy Tech Salary and Job Outlook

Pharmacy Technician Salaries

Becoming a pharmacy technician can be a gateway to a career as a pharmacist, nursing assistant or other medical professional. Demand for pharmacy technicians is expected to remain high for the next decade, making this career path potentially rewarding for those who wish to work in a pharmacy setting.

The median annual wage for pharmacy technicians in 2020 was $35,100, although this varies by state. The bottom 10% of earners make less than $25,400 per year, while the highest 10% earn more than $50,430.

Pharmacy technicians in California, Alaska, Washington, District of Columbia, and Oregon are the highest earners, on average. The BLS reports that the highest-paying positions are available with outpatient care centers, the federal government, and colleges and universities. Pharmacy techs that work in food and beverage stores and health and personal care stores typically make lower annual wages.

State

Pharmacy Technician Job Projections

Job growth for pharmacy technicians is expected to grow 4 percent from 2019 through 2029, roughly the same as all occupations, according to the BLS. Demand for experienced and skilled pharmacy technicians is expected to stay strong as consumers live longer and increasingly turn to pharmacists for prescription medication to manage chronic diseases and take care of aging-related health issues.

The following states are projected to expand their pharmacy tech job openings the most by 2028:

1. Arizona
25%
2. Georgia
22%
3. Colorado
19%
4. Texas
19%
5. Utah
18%
6. Maryland
15%
7. Nevada
15%
8. D.C.
14%
9. California
13%
10. Idaho
12%

Types of Pharmacy Technician Programs

Diploma and Certificate Programs

A pharmacy technician diploma or certificate program can be completed in one year or less and provides the basic education and training needed to sit for the Certified Pharmacy Technician exam. These programs introduce students to basic concepts in pharmaceutical technology, record keeping, pharmacy law and ethics, and pharmacology. They typically include a combination of classroom learning and lab training so that students learn how to dispense medication, prepare sterile products, and manage prescription orders.

Graduates of a one-year program can apply for entry-level positions at drugstores, hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities, or with mail-order pharmacy companies. Pharmacy tech certification programs typically require students to complete an externship at an approved pharmaceutical facility, hospital or retail pharmacy.

Examples of courses available in pharmacy technician diploma and certificate programs include:

Introduction to Pharmacy

This course introduces students to pharmacy practices and terminology.

Skills & Knowledge Gained

Pharmacy and medical terms Basic pharmacy operations

Dosage Forms and Routes of Administration

Students gain an understanding of how medications interact in the body after administration and how to use basic mathematic principles for dosing.

Skills & Knowledge Gained

Administration of medication Basic measurement systems and best practices Mathematical techniques and methodologies used in pharmacies

Science of Pharmacology

This class covers the process by which drugs are approved for general use, as well as drug administration issues for patients.

Skills & Knowledge Gained

Drug approval process Drug administration processes for individual patients

Hospital Pharmacy Practice

This course details basic pharmacy operations in a hospital setting.

Skills & Knowledge Gained

Hospital pharmacy operations Basic guidelines for working in a hospital setting Role of the pharmacy technician in a hospital setting

Pharmacy Ethics

Students are introduced to the laws and ethics governing pharmacy practice.

Skills & Knowledge Gained

Modern laws governing pharmacy and pharmacology practices in the United States Ethical considerations for different customer situations Pharmacy technician codes of conduct

Associate Degrees

Students interested in a more comprehensive educational experience can enroll in a pharmacy technician associate degree program. Although a degree is not required to apply for entry-level positions, some students choose to pursue an Associate of Applied Science degree so they can advance in their careers and apply for jobs as a compounding lab technician, pharmacy service technician, pharmacy implementation specialist or similar roles. Earning an associate degree can also help a student prepare for a Bachelor of Pharmacy or a bachelor’s degree in a related field.

The comprehensive two-year program covers topics in pharmacy operations, pharmacology and advanced administration, and may include an externship component. Students take a series of general courses in mathematics, science, psychology, humanities, and English, in addition to pharmacy- and medical-specific courses to fulfill degree requirements. Graduates of this program can process medication orders, have extensive knowledge about pharmacy law as it applies to filling prescriptions, and demonstrate fundamental knowledge of medical terminology.

Examples of courses offered through a pharmacy technician associate degree program include:

Interpersonal Communications for the Workplace

Students learn effective interpersonal communication skills for working with customers in a medical environment.

Skills & Knowledge Gained

Strong communication skills to communicate effectively with pharmacists and customers Customer service skills Non-verbal communication

Pharmacy Calculations

This course covers mathematical equations and best practices for managing calculations in a pharmacy.

Skills & Knowledge Gained

Fundamental mathematical concepts Applied mathematics Best practices for using mathematical formulas to solve problems

Pharmacology I

Key principals of drug interactions and the human body are studied, along with the drug types and their effect on the nervous system. This course typically covers basic principles of pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics.

Skills & Knowledge Gained

Human anatomy and physiology of the nervous system Drugs for the treatment of nervous system disorders

Over-the-Counter Drugs

This is a review of nonprescription drugs for common disorders and best practices for managing customer questions about self-treatment.

Skills & Knowledge Gained

Advanced knowledge of nonprescription drugs and medications Customer service skills Pharmaceutical ethics

Pharmacy Law

This course details federal and state laws governing the practice of pharmacies and rules regulating pharmacy technicians’ activities.

Skills & Knowledge Gained

Comprehensive knowledge of relevant state and federal laws related to pharmacies Ethical considerations and legal issues pertaining to pharmacy technicians

Even after completing an associate degree, graduates will have to stay current with changes occurring in the industry or with particular pharmaceutical companies, since new drugs and generic brands are always entering the market. Additionally, they should have cultivated the following skills:

Attention to detail

Pharmacy technicians’ primary responsibility is dispensing prescription medication, which requires great attention to detail. Pharmacy techs must be able to measure, mix, dose and dispense appropriate amounts of medication based on the pharmacist’s orders. They may also be involved with data entry tasks to update patient records and fill prescription orders.

Pharmaceutical literacy

Sometimes, pharmacy technicians will need to read and interpret pharmaceutical literature and prescription information. They need to be knowledgeable about pharmaceutical and medical terms and, in some cases, translate information for the customer’s benefit.

Outstanding customer service

Even though it is not pharmacy technicians’ responsibility to provide medical advice, they will be responsible for interacting with customers when dispensing medication. They must have basic customer service skills to ensure they are providing customers with the correct prescriptions, contact customers to advise them that the prescription is ready and follow up with any inquiries customers may have about their order.

Organization

Pharmacy technicians can work in a variety of settings. Some settings, such as retail drugstores and grocery store pharmacies, may be busier than others on a daily basis. Pharmacy technicians, therefore, must be able to handle different types of customers, work with great precision under pressure and keep everything organized behind the counter.

What to Look For in Online Pharmacy Technician Programs

Even though pharmacy tech certification and degree programs require hands-on training, some general coursework can be completed online. Many accredited schools offer online pharmacy tech programs that make it easier for a student taking care of a family or working a full-time job to complete their education. Here are some things to look for when exploring online pharmacy technician schools:

Accreditation

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) and the Commission on Credentialing (COC) accredit pharmacy technician training programs in the United States. Enrolling in an accredited program ensures the program maintains a high standard of quality and complies with the accrediting institution’s requirements.

Hands-on Training Opportunities

Since most certification and degree programs for pharmacy technicians require hands-on training through an externship or similar training, it’s important to determine what types of partnerships the school has secured for externships. Some schools offer externship placement as a courtesy to students, while others require students to seek out and apply for training on their own. In either situation, students are typically responsible for organizing their own transportation to the pharmacy, lab or other approved facility to complete this component of the program.

Certification Preparation

Certification is not required in some states, but most employers prefer pharmacy techs to be certified. An online pharmacy tech certification program needs to provide comprehensive training to prepare a student to sit for the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) exam. Those interested in National Healthcareer Association (NHA) certification must have at least one year of work experience, which can be acquired through an externship program offered by the school.

Components of a Successful Career
as a Pharmacy Technician

What Skills Are Required?

Pharmacy techs must have strong attention to detail, as the majority of their daily tasks involve measuring, dosing and dispensing prescription medication according to very specific orders. They must also have good written and verbal communication skills to communicate effectively with the pharmacists they work with, patients, and medical professionals or medical representatives they come into contact with.

Pharmacy technicians must take the lead in educating themselves on drug information and any major changes occurring in the industry. They may be required to read about drug studies, review pharmaceutical literature or produce reports about different prescription medications and dispensing activities. Since many work in busy retail drugstores or emergency rooms, they must also have strong organizational skills and be able to work in a fast-paced environment without making mistakes.

Credentials

In addition to becoming a Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT), pharmacy techs can acquire other certifications that allow them to explore attractive job opportunities. Options include:

Tools and Technologies

Pharmacy technicians are typically trained in all medical software programs used by the pharmacy so that they can fill prescription orders accurately, manage patient billing information and coordinate patient communications in a timely manner. Most become proficient in the following types of software programs:

Similar Careers

With additional training, certifications and education, pharmacy technicians can advance in their careers to serve as pharmacists, doctors or other medical professionals. Below is an overview of the median salary, projected job growth and educational requirements for selected related occupations.

Cardiovascular
Technologist
39%
Salary

$54,330

Education and Training:

Associate degree or postsecondary certificate

Dental Assistant
25%
Salary

$35,390

Education and Training:

Some states require completing an accredited educational program and passing a state exam.

Dispensing Optician
23%
Salary

$34,280

Education and Training:

High school diploma or associate degree; on-the-job training

Doctor
18%
Salary

$111,630

Education and Training:

Four years of medical school and 3-8 years in an internship or residency program

Mail Order Pharmacy
Technician
20%
Salary

$29,810

Education and Training:

High school diploma; on-the-job training; state licensure in some states

Medical Secretary
12%
Salary

$32,240

Education and Training:

High school diploma; on-the-job training

Medical Technologist
22%
Salary

$59,430

Education and Training:

Bachelor’s degree; licensure in some states

Pharmacist
14%
Salary

$120,950

Education and Training:

Doctor of Pharmacy and a license

What Do Similar Occupations Earn?

Individuals completing a training program at pharmacy technician schools can explore other careers in healthcare after completing a bachelor’s or graduate degree in a related field. Pharmacy techs may move their career forward by serving as pharmacists, medical assistants or registered nurses.

FAQ

How long does it take to become a pharmacy technician?

It can take up to two years to become a pharmacy technician, depending on the education program you choose. In fact, most pharmacy certification programs can be in a year, or less than eight months.

Is being a pharmacy technician worth it?

Pharmacy technicians have a median salary that is less than the national median number, but it comes with the benefit of limited education requirements. For that reason, many may find it to be worth it, and less likely to take on large amounts of school loans.

Is pharmacy tech a difficult career?

Like many careers, there are parts of being a pharmacy technician that can be difficult, such as the work hours and dealing with difficult customers. For example, most pharmacy technician positions don’t follow the typical 9-5 work schedule, since many retail and clinical pharmacies operate longer hours to provide health services. Also, as a technician you will need to take your PTCB or NHA certification every two years to keep your title.

Search Pharmacy Technician Schools

Accredited pharmacy technician certification and degree programs are available at many colleges across the country. Use the search tool below to explore programs by state and degree level.

Related Careers at a Glance

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Erin Gobler
Contributing Writer

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