Pharmacy Technician Training and Education

Training to be a Pharmacy Technician

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Pharmacy Technician Job Description
Pharmacy Technician Salary

Pharmacy technicians perform a lot of the hands-on work alongside Pharmacists in both retail and hospital settings. A pharmacy tech will be responsible for jobs like measuring and counting out pills, labeling medications, and cleaning equipment. They are also often responsible for maintaining patients’ records, collecting insurance information, taking inventory of drugs and supplies, and even making supply orders. Technicians will often perform many similar duties to the pharmacist; however, a technician’s work will always need to be checked by a pharmacist before medication is dispensed to the public.

The Skinny on Pharmacy Technician Training

Chinese pharmacy technician grabbing medicine for …

Chinese pharmacy technician grabbing medicine for …—kafka4prez (Flickr.com)

A high school diploma or GED is generally required before you can obtain a position as a pharmacy tech. Further training requirements vary greatly from one employer to the next. Some pharmacy technicians will receive their training on the job, as they go about their day-to-day duties. Most, however, are wise to attend post-secondary schooling programs to earn certification in the field. Many vocational schools and community colleges offer pharmacy tech programs, which typically require one to two years to complete. Most employers will also give preference to techs who are licensed by the Institute for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ICPT) or the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB).

Certification

A college program for pharmacy tech certification typically requires one year of study. Some programs do offer accelerated courses that can be completed in as little as six months, though many students find it hard to keep up with an intense study program while maintaining work or other commitments.

However you choose to study, your pharm tech certification course will include training in the various duties you will be expected to perform throughout your career. That training will include topics like:

  • Medication dispensing procedures
  • Pharmacology and pharmaceutical math
  • Microcomputers
  • Pathophysiology

Aside from classroom studies, you will typically practice your procedural skills in a simulated pharm tech lab. You will practice compounding (measuring, weighing and mixing) medicines, filling capsules and bottles with the correct quantities, labeling medicines, and filling dosages of prepackaged medications.

Associate’s Degree

While on the job training is definitely the bulk of your preparation for joining this field, furthering your education can definitely improve your chances of being hired and receiving a higher starting salary. An associate’s degree will typically take two years to complete. The course work will cover many of the same topics as a certificate program; however, you will also receive a broader base in general education. In many cases you will also have opportunities to gain work experience through internships.

If you’ve already completed a pharm tech certificate program, some schools will allow you to transfer some of your coursework toward your associate’s degree. This will shorten the time required to complete your degree. In addition, some colleges also offer the opportunity to earn credits toward general education classes if you can get a passing score on their College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests. The earned credits would reduce the time it would take you to earn your degree.

Some typical courses in a pharm tech associate’s degree program would include anatomy and physiology, pathophysiology, psychology and human relations, and medical terminology. The more pharmacy-specific courses would center around subjects like pharmacology, pharmacy administration, processing and dosages, inventory management, and pharmacy computer software.

Often in the course of your studies, you will have the opportunity to participate in an externship at a school-approved pharmacy. However, to participate in a program like this – and in fact, to receive your license – you will need to clear a criminal background check and a drug screening test.

Licensing

While there is no national standard for pharmacy technician licensing, most states do regulate the profession in some way. It’s a good idea to contact your state’s Board of Pharmacy to find out the particular regulations where you live. In addition, most employers will choose to hire applicants who are certified by the Institute for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ICPT) or the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB).

The PTCB is the more popular of the two choices, with over 310,000 pharmacy techs now certified through this exam. It is also more widely recognized than the ExCPT exam (administered by the ICPT), though both exams cover very similar topics, pertinent to the job of a pharmacy technician, including:

  • Pharmacy laws and regulations
  • Drug classifications
  • Frequently prescribed medications
  • The drug dispensing process
  • Preparing prescriptions
  • Calculations
  • Controlled substances
  • Drugs and drug therapy
  • Sterile products and unit doses
  • General technician duties

The licensing exam will be administered via computer and questions will be multiple-choice. You will have two hours to complete the exam and will be notified immediately whether you made a passing or failing score. If you fail the exam the first time around, you can apply to retest after four weeks.

Continuing Your Education

Since the medical profession is constantly changing with new drugs being introduced every day, your certification will need to be renewed every two years. You will need to complete 20 hours of studies throughout every two year period to further your education.

At least one of your study hours must be spent studying pharmacy law, though the remaining 19 hours are more flexible. You can earn up to 10 hours of credit by working under a licensed pharmacist, though these should not be your normal work duties, but rather projects selected with your training in mind. In addition, up to 15 hours of credit can be earned through a college level course in pharmacy-related science or math. Just remember that all of your continuing education credits will need to be earned in that two year period – they cannot carry-over from previous certification periods.