CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a pharmacy technician.
Is becoming a pharmacy technician right for me?
The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:
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Attain a high school diploma or equivalent, with a strong background in mathematics, chemistry, biology, and physiology.
While in high school, consider volunteering at a hospital or in another healthcare setting to gain exposure to the field.
Pharmacy technician training programs are generally offered by vocational and community colleges, typically at the certificate/diploma or Associate’s Degree level. Students should seek out programs which incorporate hands-on training via an externship placement.
Effective 2020, the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board will require certification candidates to have successfully completed an education program accredited by the Pharmacy Technician Accreditation Commission (PTAC), in collaboration with the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP). A list of PTAC-accredited programs is provided here.
One-year Certificate/Diploma Programs
Certificate/diploma programs provide the basic education and training needed to sit for Certified Pharmacy Technician exam and apply for entry-level positions. The following are examples of courses included in their curricula:
Introduction to Pharmacy
Introduction to pharmacy practices and terminology
• Pharmacy and medical terms
• Basic pharmacy operations
Dosage Forms and Routes of Administration
How medications interact in the body after administration and how to use basic mathematic principles for dosing
• Administration of medication
• Basic measurement systems and best practices
• Mathematical techniques and methodologies used in pharmacies
Science of Pharmacology
The process by which drugs are approved for general use; drug administration issues for patients
• Understanding of the drug approval process
• Understanding of administration processes for individual patients
Hospital Pharmacy Practice
Basic pharmacy operations in a hospital setting
• Hospital pharmacy operations
• Basic guidelines for working in a hospital setting
• Role of the pharmacy technician in a hospital setting
The laws and ethics governing pharmacy practice
• Modern laws governing pharmacy and pharmacology practices in the United States
• Ethical considerations for different customer situations
• Pharmacy technician codes of conduct
Two-year Associate’s Degree Programs
Associate’s Degree programs provide a more comprehensive education – one which, in addition to pharmacy- and medical- specific courses, includes general courses in mathematics, science, psychology, humanities, and English. Coursework typically includes the following:
Interpersonal Communications for the Workplace
Effective interpersonal communication skills for working with customers in a medical environment
• Communication skills to interact with pharmacists and customers
• Customer service skills
• Non-verbal communication
Mathematical equations and best practices for managing calculations in a pharmacy
• Fundamental mathematical concepts
• Applied mathematics
• Best practices for using mathematical formulas to solve problems
Key principles of drug interactions and the human body; different types of drugs and their effect on the nervous system; basic principles of pharmacokinetics (the branch of pharmacology concerned with the movement of drugs within the body) and pharmacodynamics (the branch of pharmacology concerned with the effects of drugs and the mechanism of their action)
• Human anatomy and physiology of the nervous system
• Drugs for the treatment of nervous system disorders
Review of non-prescription drugs for common disorders and best practices for managing customer questions about self-treatment
• Advanced knowledge of non-prescription drugs and medications
• Customer service skills
• Pharmaceutical ethics
Federal and state laws governing the practice of pharmacies and rules regulating pharmacy technicians’ activities
• Comprehensive knowledge of relevant state and federal laws related to pharmacies
• Ethical considerations and legal issues pertaining to pharmacy technicians
While certification is not required in some states, most employers prefer to hire pharmacy techs who are certified by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) or the National Healthcareer Association (NHA).
The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) outlines state-specific requirements.
Employment & On-the-Job Training
After completing their formal education and gaining hands-on training via an externship, newly hired pharmacy technicians commonly undergo some on-the-job training specific to their place of employment. Under the supervision and guidance of experienced techs, new-hires are trained in the medical software programs used by their employer. This typically includes the following:
• Accounting software – for medical billing and reimbursement
• Database software – to check for drug compatibility
• Inventory management software
• Label-making software
• Medical software – to manage patient records and prescription processing
Continuing Education & Recertification
PTCB Certified Pharmacy Technicians (CPhTs) need to complete at least 20 hours of continuing education every two years for PTCB recertification.
Pharmacy techs certified by the NHA must complete a minimum of 10 hours of continuing education every two years for NHA recertification.
In addition to becoming a CPhT, pharmacy technicians can earn other certifications, which may expand their job opportunities. Among these certifications are:
• Sterile Products (IV) Certification
• Certified Pharmaceutical Industry Professional
• Chemotherapy Certification
• Compounding Certification
• Nuclear Pharmacy Technician (NPT) Training
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to become a Pharmacy Technician?
Some pharmacy technician training programs last as little as 15 weeks. The most common however, are one-year diploma or certificate programs and two-year Associate Degree programs.
What are Pharmacy Technicians like?
Based on our pool of users, Pharmacy Technicians tend to be predominately investigative people. This finding is completely in line with the responsibilities of the profession. Investigative skills are prominent in counting, measuring, weighing, dosing, and dispensing medications according to very specific orders.
Should I become a Pharmacy Technician?
Perhaps the first question to ask yourself before committing to becoming a pharmacy technician is this: Am I prepared for career-long learning? This is one of those professions in which change is constant, requiring its practitioners to learn about the new drugs and generic brands that are always entering the market. There is also an ongoing need to stay current with the medical software programs that pharmacies use to check drug compatibility, manage inventory, accurately fill prescription orders, and manage patient billing information.
In addition to being comfortable with the need to consistently absorb new information, the best pharmacy technicians have cultivated these skills:
Attention to detail Almost needless to say, the work of a pharmacy technician demands particular attention to detail. Measuring, mixing, dosing, and dispensing prescription medication based on the pharmacist’s orders is a meticulous responsibility. In many cases, pharmacy techs are also charged with data entry tasks to update patient records and fill prescription orders. Entry of incorrect information can have potentially serious ramifications.
Organization In most work environments, disorganization can result in errors. In the pharmacy setting, specifically, disorganization can result in errors that affect people’s health and wellbeing. The ability to keep things organized behind the pharmacy counter is even more imperative in very busy, fast-paced, high-pressure environments.
Exceptional communication and customer service While pharmacy technicians do not provide medical advice, they frequently interact with customers when dispensing medication. They need to be comfortable communicating with medical professionals and medical representatives, as well as answering customer inquiries both in person and on the phone.
Another point to be made about the pharmacy technician career: it is both a respected profession unto itself and a great first step toward becoming a certified pharmacist.
Are Pharmacy Technicians happy?
Pharmacy Technicians rank among the least happy careers. Overall they rank in the 18th percentile of careers for satisfaction scores. Please note that this number is derived from the data we have collected from our Sokanu members only.
While we have no hard data to explain the profession’s markedly low happiness quotient, the repetitive nature of the work may explain some of the dissatisfaction.
Steps to becoming a Pharmacy Technician
Formal training, certification, on-the-job training, and continuing education all play pivotal roles in becoming a successful pharmacy technician.
How to become a Pharmacy Technician
There is currently no single standard of education for becoming a pharmacy technician. In the U.S. regulations regarding employment in the field vary from state to state. In some cases, a high school diploma and on-the-job training are acceptable. Many states, however, mandate that aspiring pharmacy technicians complete a specific number of formal training hours and once employed maintain continuing education credits.
Regardless of state requirements, most employers prefer to hire job applicants who are certified by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) or the National Healthcareer Association (NHA). It is important to note that starting in 2020, the PTCB will require certification candidates to have successfully completed an education program accredited by the Pharmacy Technician Accreditation Commission (PTAC). This requirement effectively means that greater numbers of technicians will undergo formal training, knowing that it is the route to professional certification, which is generally the key to employment.
Pharmacy technician degree and certificate programs are typically offered by community colleges and vocational schools. Curricula commonly include the science of pharmacology; pharmacy practice and terminology; medication dosage and administration; and pharmacy ethics and law. Externships during which students can gain experience in a real-world pharmacy are also integrated into many of these programs.