Working under the supervision of a pharmacist, a pharmacy technician helps dispense medications to patients in retail or hospital pharmacies. They may help mix, count out, and label medications according to a doctor's prescription. Pharmacy techs may find employment at pharmacies and drug stores, but also work in hospitals and grocery stores.
In a retail setting, a pharmacy tech interacts with customers to collect health and payment information, clarify concerns, and facilitate conversations with the pharmacist to resolve them.
In a hospital setting, a pharmacy tech may prepare a wider variety of medicines (including intravenous medications) and may deliver them throughout the hospital.
A Day in the Life of a Pharmacy Technician
A pharmacy technician is likely to be busy all day, every day. Here are a few of the tasks these dedicated health care workers undertake on a daily basis:
- Work with customers, doctors and insurance carriers to collect information necessary to fill a prescription
- Update computer systems with patient information
- Mix, measure, count out, label and package prescription medications according to a doctor's prescription, which will then be checked and verified by the pharmacist
- Arrange for the pharmacist to advise patients about medications and how to use them
- Answer phone calls and process online prescription orders
- Track inventory of medications, supplies and products, advising the pharmacist of any shortages
- Accept payment and help process insurance claims for prescriptions
- Assist patients with routine questions such as where supplies and products are located
- Help ensure that medications are stored properly and securely in the pharmacy
- In a hospital setting, a pharmacy tech may also work with intravenous medications and may deliver medication to different parts of the hospital
The phone is often a significant part of the job, with patients calling in refills or doctors contacting the pharmacy with new prescriptions. Sometimes techs need to make calls back to doctors or others regarding dosages, strengths, quantities or to ask for another drug if the one prescribed is not carried at the pharmacy.
The pharmacy tech career does not have a typical start time since pharmacies can be open at all hours of the day, well into the evening and even sometimes late at night. Whatever the hours, it is critical to fill each prescription accurately. That makes the ability to focus on one prescription at a time essential, but knowing how to get everything done by the end of the day is important too.
A pharmacy tech may need a thick skin to work with customers who might be upset about waiting in line, may not feel well or could be frustrated with health insurance restrictions. Yet, many pharmacy technicians enjoy helping customers, particularly when they smile and appear satisfied with the care and service that has been provided.
Important Characteristics for Pharmacy Technicians
Beyond getting a pharmacy technician education, certain traits and skills may help you succeed in this career. Prospective pharmacy techs should be personable, outgoing and get along with a variety of people, including customers, other employees and pharmacists. They should hold to high ethical and safety standards for patient care and to protect powerful medications.
The ability to communicate well is essential for pharmacy techs. They must be attentive listeners, able to communicate information and concepts easily to patients and coworkers, and use logic to assess the best path forward when faced with alternatives.
Pharmacy techs need to be comfortable using computer software systems to manage clerical duties. Good math skills are also important to make accurate decisions when compounding and counting medications.
Typical Steps for Becoming a Pharmacy Technician
To become a pharmacy technician, education and on-the-job training are typically necessary. The step-by-step guide below provides details about pursuing pharmacy technician education, becoming registered with a state and obtaining certification:
1) Earn a high school diploma or equivalent. A high school diploma is a minimum requirement for those who will pursue post-secondary education, and for those who undergo on-the-job training as well.
2) Complete on-the-job training and/or a college degree program. Many pharmacy techs complete on-the-job training; but others may opt for a diploma, certificate or associate degree program. These programs can take several months on up to two years to complete, depending on the program chosen. In a program, students can learn about:
- dispensing medication
- pharmacy law and ethics
- pharmacy math
3) Look for a program that is accredited. Some programs may even help students prepare for a pharm tech certification exam. Because certification may require graduation from an accredited program, students should look for programs accredited through the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. College programs could be listed using any of the following titles:
- Pharmacy Technician Diploma
- Pharmacy Tech Diploma
- Pharmacy Technician Certificate
- Pharmacy Technician Training Program - Certificate
- Associate of Applied Science in Pharmacy Tech
- Pharmacy Technician's Associate Degree
4) Register as a pharmacy technician. States usually require pharmacy technicians to be registered in the state where they plan to work. Typical requirements for registration include a criminal background check, fees and an exam. Applicants also need to be age 18. There may be other requirements as well, which is why prospective pharmacy techs should check with a state's board of pharmacy for exact details.
4) Obtain pharmacy tech certification. Certification may be required for registration in some states, but also can be a way to show employers proof of knowledge and skills. Two organizations offering pharmacy tech certification are the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board and the National Healthcareer Association. Continuing education courses are usually required for recertification.
- Fulfill More Than Prescriptions, Rasmussen College, Accessed October 2017, http://www.rasmussen.edu/degrees/health-sciences/pharmacy-technician/
- Pharmacy Technician's Associate Degree, American National University, Accessed October 2017, https://www.an.edu/programs/pharmacy-technician-associates/
- Pharmacy Technician - Diploma/Certificate, Virginia College, Accessed October 2017, https://www.vc.edu/diplomas-certificates/pharmacy-technician/
- Pharmacy Technicians, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016-17 Occupational Outlook Handbook, Accessed October 2017, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacy-technicians.htm
- Summary Report for Pharmacy Technicians, O*NET OnLine, Accessed October 2017, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-2052.00#JobOpenings