Most pharmacy technicians' work is divided equally between prescription preparation and customer care, so this career is a good choice if you enjoy performing technical tasks but also crave interaction with people.
What Does a Pharmacy Technician Do?
The primary responsibility of a pharmacy technician is to fill a prescription from start to finish under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist. Pharmacy technicians do much more than just help fill prescriptions; they're often the link between people and their much-needed and sometimes life-saving medications.
The following tasks are involved in filling a prescription:
- Receiving the prescription either electronically or by phone
- Verifying the accuracy of the prescription
- Entering the prescription into the computer accurately
- Alerting the pharmacist of any possible issues with the prescription
- Retrieving and preparing the correct amount of the prescribed medication
- Preparing and affixing all labels to the selected container
Steps to Becoming a Pharmacy Technician
The majority of pharmacy technicians get their training on-the-job, but those who choose to pursue a formal training program beyond a high-school diploma have a distinct advantage in the job marketplace. Here are the steps for attaining the more formal training and certification desired by many employers:
- Get good grades in math, science and English courses. Pharmacy technicians must accurately perform mathematical calculations and have good reading and spelling skills in order to interpret prescriptions and dispense medication correctly.
- Enroll in a formal education program from a community college, hospital, vocational or technical college, or the military. Some pharmacies also offer training programs to their employees as part of employment. Depending on the program, graduates will earn either a diploma, a certificate, or an associate's degree.
- Review the requirements set by one's state board of pharmacy, and consider getting certified. Certification, although still voluntary in most states, is a requirement in some states and by some employers. Whether mandatory or not, certification is a valuable credential.
- To get certified, an individual must take and pass one of the two recognized certification exams, given by either the Institute for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ICPT) or the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB). The exam given by the ICPT is called the Exam for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ExCPT) and the exam offered by the PTCB is the Pharmacy Technician Certification Examination (PTCE).
- Get hands-on experience. Search for pharmacy technician positions using a variety of methods, such as viewing pharmacy job boards, posting on networking sites and using personal connections. Apply for positions in a wide range of settings, as any experience is important in the beginning.
- Keep up with your certification requirements. Certified pharmacy technicians must get re-certified every two years and complete 20 hours of continuing education within this time frame.
How to Become a GREAT Pharmacy Technician
If you're planning on becoming a pharmacy technician, you may have opportunities to move up in your career. That's where a degree, certification, or continuing education credits can come into handy. Here are some tips on how to go above and beyond in your job as a pharmacy technician:
- Build on-the-job skills - These include strong customer service, time management, and teamwork skills, in addition to precision and accuracy when filling prescriptions.
- Take initiative - Pharmacists appreciate reliable, competent pharmacy technicians who can take on added responsibility. In addition to their typical duties, excellent pharmacy technicians express an interest in developing new skills and exploring new opportunities that will benefit both themselves and their organization.
- Do continuing education - Certified pharmacy technicians must complete 20 hours of continuing education every two years in order to attain re-certification. This can be completed with a combination of college courses and work experience with a licensed pharmacist.
- Consider career advancement - Consider specializing in a particular treatment area, such as chemotherapy or nuclear medicine. In all of these areas, successful pharmacy technicians exercise good judgment, close attention to detail, strong interpersonal skills and the ability to multitask well.
Pharmacy Technician Resources
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Pharmacy Technicians and Aides
- Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB)
- Institute for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ExCPT)
- American Society of Health-System Pharmacists
- American Association of Pharmacy Technicians (AAPT)
- National Pharmacy Technician Association (NPTA)
- Institute for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ICPT)
- National Healthcareer Association (NHA)
- Pharmacy Technicians, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacy-technicians.htm