When you need prescription medication and visit the pharmacy, the first person you're likely to encounter is a pharmacy technician. The job requires skill and precision to ensure medication is dispensed properly and according to the doctor's directions. The pharmacy technician also provides customer service, helps you navigate the complexities of health insurance co-pays and deductibles, and directs you to the pharmacist for any medication questions or concerns. Read on to learn about a day in the life of a pharmacy technician to see if it might be a good career for you.
What Does a Pharmacy Technician Do?
A pharmacy technician often works in a retail drugstore, grocery store, general merchandise store, or hotel pharmacy. Pharmacy technicians assist both the licensed pharmacist and customers who bring their prescriptions to be filled. Pharmacy technicians prepare prescriptions by mixing medications in the correct and precise manner, count and dispense medications, answer the telephone, and coordinate with health insurance companies to receive payments. They also communicate with doctors' offices to accept prescriptions and solve patient problems.
They also inventory the medications and help make sure that orders are filled to keep medications in stock, along with helping to keep the workplace clean and organized.
Retail pharmacy technicians spend a significant portion of their day providing customer service to patients. They dispense the medications that have been prepared, operate the point of sale systems to collect payments, explain insurance co-payments and coverage, and help coordinate for additional services offered such as vaccinations and blood pressure checks. If customers have questions about over-the-counter medications, supplements, or medical supplies for sale at the pharmacy, a pharmacy technician may provide help and direction.
Hospital pharmacy technicians require more experience and more extensive training to dispense the type of medications administered in the hospital. They fill prescriptions for doctors, surgeries, and patients sometimes in single doses or an IV. They also dispense medications for patients to take home when they are discharged. A hospital pharmacy technician may also conduct drug evaluations and counsel patients.
A pharmacy technician may also work at a rehabilitation center to prepare and dispense medications to residential patients. They must be comfortable interacting with the same patients, some with mental or physical challenges.
What Education Is Required to Become a Pharmacy Technician?
Becoming a pharmacy technician usually requires a high school diploma or the equivalent, like a GED. In states that don't require any advanced training, some pharmacy technicians receive on-the-job training and may be hired based on their aptitude, enthusiasm, and willingness to learn. Other pharmacies will require a degree or certificate, and a student who pursues post-secondary education to become a pharmacy technician will gain valuable training to pursue their career goals.
Many employers will prefer students with training in proper medication dispensing, acquiring patient information, practical lab work teaching how to use typical pharmacy equipment and machinery, the proper storage and distribution of medication, and learning about pharmacy management.
Students who pursue pharmacy technician education at Concorde will benefit from classroom-to-career training, including detailed and specific education related to the field, and completion of an externship that provides hands-on training. Some students are finished with their program in as little as six months. Financial aid and scholarships are available to those who qualify.
Once pharmacy technicians have completed their education, they may consider certification through the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) or The National Healthcare Association (NHA). Not every state requires certification, but acquiring a nationally-recognized certification can help set a candidate apart from others applying for a job. It shows motivation and an interest in keeping current on regulations and advancements in the field. Those certifications must be renewed every two years. PTCB requires 20 education hours while the NHA requires 10 hours.
Additionally, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) offers continuing education and professional development during the course of a pharmacy technician's career.
What Licensing Is Required to Become (and Maintain Employment) as a Pharmacy Technician?
In the United States, there is no national license or certification to become a pharmacy technician. Instead, each state has its own requirements, and the stringency varies state-to-state. Pharmacy Times has a complete list of each state's rules and prerequisites to be employed as a pharmacy technician (1). States like Colorado, Delaware, and Hawaii have no requirements, whereas Idaho requires passing an exam administered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) as well as certification. Many states also ask that pharmacy technicians register with the state's pharmacy board.
Where Do Pharmacy Technicians Usually Work?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018 pharmacy technicians held about 420,400 jobs (2). Of these jobs, 52% were in a retail pharmacy, with 17% employed in hospitals. Food and beverage stores and general merchandise stores each make up 8% of the job market. Though knowledge of medication and experience with pharmacy equipment are requirements for all kinds of pharmacy technician jobs, the work environment varies between a hospital pharmacy and a retail one.
What Is the Work Environment for a Pharmacy Technician?
A pharmacy technician works in a clean and orderly retail or hospital pharmacy, typically wearing business casual clothing underneath a lab coat or some kind of uniform if required. A pharmacy technician should be prepared to spend the majority of the day on their feet, walking and standing, and should be physically able to handle that kind of exertion. They may use disposable gloves or other protective clothing when dispensing medication.
Some pharmacies may be open 24 hours a day and the pharmacy technician will work in shifts, sometimes overnight or early in the morning. Most retail pharmacies are open past a typical 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday, often seven days a week, and the technician will work various shifts during those open hours. Hospitals also may have 24-hour shifts. These varying schedules may provide flexibility for people who have daytime obligations like school or family concerns.
Pharmacy technicians are supervised by the pharmacist on duty and may work with multiple pharmacists and pharmacy technicians on their shift, depending on the size and busyness of the pharmacy. A new pharmacy technician should expect to have some kind of training period where they are frequently observed and have their tasks signed off by someone with experience or a senior position.
There are a number of skills that a retail pharmacy technician should possess, including:
- Good customer service skills. Pharmacy technicians interact with customers and patients for nearly all their shift. They answer the phone to answer customer questions and concerns, they retrieve the prescriptions from the pharmacy's sorting system to give to the patient, they answer questions and refer the customer to the pharmacist if necessary. Good customer service requires friendliness, politeness, willingness to help, patience with customers with health problems and possible payment and insurance concerns.
- Attention to detail. Dispensing medication and keeping track of the pharmacy's inventory requires precision and careful attention to detail. The pharmacist is ultimately responsible for medication quantity and safety, the pharmacy technician should pay attention to the process.
- Organization. The pharmacy technician may be responsible for keeping the medications organized and implement the store's systems and processes. They will need to know how to sort the prescriptions that are waiting to be picked up and be able to locate them quickly to deliver to the customer. They should keep a tidy workspace and use any downtime to keep the pharmacy area clean and organized.
- Listening and communication. A pharmacy technician will encounter many different customers every day and will need to be able to listen carefully to any concerns or confusion. A pharmacy technician should be able to navigate the complexities of health insurance policies such as co-pays, deductibles, and medication substitutions, and be able to explain those issues to the customer. They should communicate well with doctors' offices and record the prescription accurately.
- Multi-tasking. In a busy pharmacy, the phone may ring constantly while customers wait in line to collect their medications, and others are arriving with their prescriptions to be filled. At any time, the pharmacy technician may be handling all of those clients one after the other, while answering questions and meeting any demands of the supervising pharmacist. A successful pharmacy technician should be able to go from task to task with speed and accuracy, always maintaining friendliness and service.
Hospitals usually only hire certified pharmacy technicians. A hospital pharmacy technician may be required to work more independently, and have knowledge of IV medications, compound medications, and nutritional mixes. They should have excellent medication knowledge in order to prepare prescriptions for a variety of patients in many departments, medications in various dosages with frequent changes to the patients' regimens, and to update patient charts.
Unlike a retail pharmacy, a hospital pharmacy technician fills prescription orders for nurses and doctors, often in single doses for many patients daily. Hospital pharmacy technicians should take similar skills that they develop in a retail setting, providing polite service to hospital employees. Multi-tasking and attention to detail are equally important in both settings, with the ability to be flexible and adaptable to changing protocols for patients.
Both a retail and a hospital pharmacy employer may provide a full-time pharmacy technician with health and dental benefits, paid vacation and sick leave, and retirement donations.
Outlook for Pharmacy Technicians
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), growth potential in this field is 7% from 2018 to 2028, which is 2% higher than the average growth for all other occupations (3). The factors contributing to this growth include an aging population that lives longer and requires more medications. An increase in chronic diseases, such as diabetes, across all age groups means consistent dispensing of medications will be a necessity. Pharmaceutical companies' research and development allow for the potential for dispensing of more disease-curing drugs.
Additionally, as retail pharmacists provide additional services like vaccinations, the pharmacy technician may need to take on more of the daily responsibilities to keep patient care consistent.
Is Pharmacy Tech for you?
The pharmacy technician starts as a well-trained customer service provider, dispensing sometimes medications that provide comfort, healing, pain relief, and manage patients' illnesses to save their lives. It's a profession that gives people the ability to gain extensive knowledge about medications and pharmacy techniques and equipment. The ideal candidate is a friendly and ambitious person who has patience and compassion for the customers who may be sick or have insurance or payment concerns. Pursuing more education gives a motivated pharmacy technician the tools to succeed and advance in their career.
1. "State Regulations and Map," Pharmacy Technician Certification Board, https://www.ptcb.org/resources/state-regulations-and-map
2. "Occupational Outlook Handbook: Pharmacy Technicians," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacy-technicians.htm#tab-3
3. "Occupational Outlook Handbook: Pharmacy Techicians," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacy-technicians.htm