You can find a pharmacy on almost every corner and they all need techs to handle inventories, assist the pharmacist, work with customers and perform special work like compounding medications for patients with very specific medication needs. Here’s a look at how to become a pharmacy tech and the schooling you will need.
Pharmacy technicians act as the link between the pharmacist and the customer. They provide customer service and relay patient requirements to the pharmacists. Technicians also take care of inventory, compound medicines and stock machines. The specific duties of a tech vary depending on the where they are working. A pharmacy tech might work at:
- Chain drugstores
- Big-box retailers
- Mail-order pharmacies
- Independent Drugstores
- Wholesale druggists, such as Costco
Hospital-based pharmacy techs, for example work with IV medications and do laboratory preparation to ensure that patients get exactly what they need. The lab work can also include in-depth cleaning to ensure sterility and the safest possible pharmaceutical environment. Other techs in the hospital may be charged with maintaining the drug-dispensary machines that nurses rely on to access medications at a moment’s notice.
Retail pharmacy techs are public facing and deal directly with patients and customers who need medications and advice to enhance their quality of life. Where a hospitalized patient might ask a drug-related question of their doctor, in a retail pharmacy the technician is likely to be asked about the administration of a specific medication, like the correct dosages and if medication be taken with food or on an empty stomach. When questions extend the scope of knowledge of a tech, it is then relayed to on to the pharmacist for the correct answer. In the retail inventories also need to be maintained, but unlike a hospital, only the main pharmacy inventory is maintained, rather than multiple machines and the primary supply area.
A mail-order pharmacy tech is in a more office-like environment, filling prescriptions from a workstation while working amount many other techs. The day of a mail-order pharmacy tech might start with meetings with pharmacists and other techs, fand then duties could include preparing compounds, updating the patient database, filling vials of medicine and inventory work. Just because a mail-order technician is behind-the-scenes and is not public facing, does not mean that their jobs are easy.
Steps to Become a Pharmacy Tech
Becoming a pharmacy tech is a rather straightforward process:
- Have a sincere interest in pharmaceuticals and the medicines that help health and recovery from illness, as well as biology, chemistry and math and a real desire to assist patients with meds. You must be able to communicate with people from a wide range of backgrounds
- Find the best, accredited, program to learn pharmacy tech. You can choose between an online or campus program, although some schools both types of classroom. Make sure the program includes an externship and make sure to research student success in passing the PTCB exam for national certification.
- Complete either the certificate program or degree.
- Complete an externship in a real-world pharmacy.
- Apply to a pharmacy location that best meets your interests and skills.
Types of Programs
There are a wide variety of programs available to pharmacy techs. One of the first big decisions is whether get a full degree or a certificate. Next, you need to find a program that is on a traditional campus or one you can access online.
Certificate programs are an excellent option for students who are changing careers and need to make a quick, smooth transition to a new field. They can also be a great choice for people who know that they will likely not pursue education beyond their certificate.
A certificate program takes about a year and is focused exclusively on the profession of pharmacy technician. When the academic work is complete, there is an externship portion that introduces you to the daily life of a pharmacy tech and offers a modicum of of experience that will help round out your resume.
A degree program is typically two years and results in an associate’s degree (AA) which distinguishes your credentials and gives you a foundation on which to build. Once you complete your AA you will have a transcript of accredited courses that can apply to a full, four-year degree in the future.
What to Look for in Online Pharmacy Tech Programs
Online pharmacy tech programs are expanding to meet the growing demand for the profession. They offer students flexibility that can aid in their education to a great degree. For example, you may work as a pharmacy tech while pursuing your formal education. When researching programs, keep a few specific things in mind:
Accreditation. Be sure your program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE)
Externship. Even if you attend a virtual campus, your program can still help facilitate an externship with pharmacies in your local area. Check with your admissions counselor about how you can complete this portion of your education and what types relationships the program has with national or local pharmacy locations.
Certification. Research how well alumni of the program do on the PTCB test, even if you do not plan to sit for it. You want to have same level of knowledge to best serve your patients, customers, and pharmacists. The PTCB gives you a national certification that can give your resume a special distinction.
Professional Certification for Pharm Techs
When you have competed your classroom or online program, you can take your career further by becoming professionally certified. The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) offers the CPhT credential to those who want to distinguish themselves in the field.
To be certified you need to meet the following requirements:
- Have a high school diploma or a GED
- Fully disclose any criminal background to the State Board of Pharmacy
- Comply with all certification policies
- Receive a passing score on the certification exam
The PTCB has a practice test section on their website, that allows you to get a feel for the difficulty of the exam. The exam itself consists of 90 multiple choice questions, 80 of which are scored and ten are unscored and spread randomly throughout the exam. You have an hour and 50 minutes to finish the exam; it covers some of the following topics:
- Pharmacy law
- Medication safety
- Pharmacy quality assurance
- Billing and reimbursement
- Information systems application
- Order entry and the fill process
- Sterile and non-sterile compounding