How to Become a Pharmacy Technician

Learn how to become a pharmacy tech with our step-by-step guide including information on requirements, training, certification, job outlook and more.

A pharmacy technician acts as an intermediary between pharmacists and the pharmacy’s customers. Demand for pharmacy techs is expected to grow faster than many occupations over the next decade.

A capable pharmacy technician should possess the following skills and talents -

  • Be an organized worker.
  • Have flexibility with regards to work schedule – remember, some pharmacies are open every day, all day. 
  • Have the physical capability to lift a minimum of 50 lbs. 
  • Be capable of lifting items above your head.
  • Possess excellent communication skills. This includes active listening, retaining details, and the ability to convey a clear message.  

What are the responsibilities of a Pharmacy Technician?

As an assistant to a licensed pharmacist, the exact duties and responsibilities of a pharmacy technician’s position will differ and be directly contingent on the type of work, the pharmacist's instructions, state law, and the type of facility in which one works.  

 A pharmacy technician’s career generally follows two healthcare-based settings –

 The Retail Setting

Many pharmacy technician jobs are within a retail pharmacy establishment. Still, others work in pharmacies within larger retailers, like a grocery store chain.

When employed in the retail sector, a pharmacy technician working in the retail sector is generally responsible for the following tasks (although jobs vary by location, etc.) –

  • Managing prescriptions – through the website, face to face or, by phone.
  • Following up on refills of medication or insurance reimbursements
  • Accurately transferring data to the pharmacy’s proprietary system 
  • Handling the cash register 
  • Dispensing medication, pharmacist instructions only
  • Managing pharmacy inventory 
  • Applying medication labels to filled prescription bottles 

The Nursing Home or Hospital Setting

A pharmacy technician will also find pharmacy tech positions in hospitals, assisted living facilities, or nursing homes. When working in a hospital or assisted living facilities, a pharmacy technician is generally responsible for the following tasks –

  • Managing medication packages set up for nurses to give medication accurately and quickly
  • Dispensing medication to patients, where allowed
  • Managing patient medication charts and history following the facility's (and legal) standards

Pharmacy Technician Requirements

Pharmacy technicians have opportunities that allow them to start working with just a high school diploma (or equivalent); however, this path to a pharmacy technician position follows a comprehensive on-the-job training program. 

Still others interested in pursuing a career as a pharmacy technician decide to enroll in an accredited pharmacy technician’s training program.  These training programs are available online, from professional schools and local colleges. 

The coursework that is taught in the pharmacy technician program emphasizes the following topics–

  • The Handling of Medication 
  • Managing prescriptions orders 
  • Assisting pharmacy management
  • Maintaining pharmacy equipment 
  • Collecting and managing patient information

The requirements for earning a pharmacy technician license is set at the state level, not by the federal government. The state-run agency that administers and manages these pharmacy technician requirements (and exams) is the State’s Board of Pharmacy. Students are encouraged to have a full understanding of his or her state’s pharmacy tech credential requirements - before selecting an accredited pharmacy technician program. 

The pharmacy slice of the health care industry has begun to shift towards a preference for credentialed candidates when filling pharmacy technician positions that are opening now. As a result, in due time, every pharmacy technician will be required to meet state licensing requirements. 

In the near future, it will simply not be an option to become a Pharmacy Technician with only on-the-job training. 

Pharmacy Technician Certification

The concept of accreditation is applied at many levels of education. Accreditation is a standardized process whereby a neutral professional organization or agency evaluates the quality of the contents of an academic degree program against a set of preset industry-approved standards. 

Accreditation is both regional and specialized. The process of specialized accreditation is strictly voluntary. The accrediting agencies within the pharmacy field tasked with this responsibility include the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools & Colleges (ACCSC) and the Council on Occupational Education (COE). 

The ACCSC - The Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges 

The Accrediting Commission of Career Schools & Colleges is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as an accreditation agency that administers accreditation processes regarding trade, technical, and occupational degree programs.

The Council on Occupational Education (COE)

The Council on Occupational Education was initially established in 1971 as a regional oversight agency; however, the organization was elevated to a national accreditation agency status during the mid-1990s. The United States Secretary of Education recognizes the COE as a sanctioned authority of quality education. 

Available Pharmacy Technician Certifications

Most industries maintain oversight or professional agencies to ensure the industry provides quality/experienced professionals to those in need of its services. The pharmacy sector is only one thin slice of the healthcare sector; however, it, too, has several professional certifications maintaining the industry's reputation and quality.

The Certified Pharmacy Technician Credential (CPhT)

The Certified Pharmacy Technician Credential (CPhT) is considered the most preferred of the various pharmacy technician certifications. The CPhT certification is administered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB). The CPhT requires each candidate to meet the following certification criteria - 

  • Be a high school graduate
  • Disclose an accurate account of criminal actions or regulatory action taken by PTCB.
  • Pass the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE)
    • The PTCE is offered through proctored testing sites throughout the country and on military bases. 
    • The certification candidate must set up a PTCB account and pay the testing fee ($129).
    • The Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam is a two-hour exam. The format of the exam requires the test-taker to complete 90 questions, although ten of these questions are not scored and used for other internal processes. Exam results are typically released in about 21 days. 
    • When enrolled, the PTCE test-taker will have a 90-day period to schedule their test. This can be done online.
  • Certified pharmacy technicians are required to update the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board regarding new complaints or convictions occurring between certification cycles. 
  • To remain eligible for recertification, CPhT credential holders are required to complete at least 20 hours of continuing education during each two-year certification cycle. 

A CPhT certificate candidate may be potentially rejected for the following reasons – 

  • Documentation of a certification candidate’s illegal/criminal activity.
  • Previous action against the candidate by a State Board of Pharmacy (BOP)
  • The violation of the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board’s Code of Conduct and any other policies 

Candidates preparing to take the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam are encouraged to take advantage of the many free PTCB practice tests to allow enough time to prepare for the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam appropriately.  

In January 2020, students earning their CPhT certification will be required to meet revised (and additional) pharmacy technician certification criteria. The other measures include-

  • The pharmacy tech-training program (which you attend) must be recognized by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board
  • A documented work history (that evidences a minimum of 500 hours of professional experience) as a pharmacy technician

Additional information regarding the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board’s CPhT certification requirement changes is available in the 2020 Knowledge Reference guide. 

The Advanced CPhT (CPhT-Adv)

In October 2019, the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board launched the advanced assessment based specialized credential for – 

  • Pharmacy Technician Product Verification (TPV) – This certificate denotes that the credentialed technician is qualified to do a medication final check. 
  • Medication History for Pharmacy Technicians (MHPT) - This certificate denotes that the credentialed technician is qualified to analyze a patient’s medication in-depth and to identify potential mistakes. 

 The PTCB will be launching three additional specialized certification programs by the end of the calendar year 2020. 

  • Hazardous Drug Management. 
  • Billing and Reimbursement. 
  • Controlled Substance Diversion Prevention.

Pharmacy Technician Salary Statistics & Job Outlook

In 2018, there more than 400,000 pharmacy technicians working in the United States. While most pharmacy technicians work full-time, there are many who prefer the available part-time positions. 

For the calendar year of 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for pharmacy technicians was $15.72/hour, or $32,700/year. The states that pay the highest wages for pharmacy technicians are – 

 State  Mean Wage - Yearly
 Alaska  $43,150
 California  $42,610
 Washington  $42,470
 Oregon  $40,920
 District of Columbia  $39,980

The states with the highest pharmacy technician employment levels include -  

 State  Employment  Mean Wage - Yearly
 California  37,630 $42,610
 Texas  37,200 $34,290 
 Florida  30,080 $32,090 
 Illinois  21,490 $33,140 
 New York  19,320 $34,640 

 The industries that pay the highest wages for pharmacy technicians are – 

 Industry  Mean Wage - Yearly
 Federal Exec Branch (OES)  $44,900
 Outpatient Facilities  $42,260
 Local Gov’t (OES)  $41,720
 Med/Diagnostic Labs  $41,470
 The Education Industry $41,100 

Pharmacy Technicians earning near the top of the wage earnings range have annual salaries above $48,000. However, based upon the above-noted statistics, yearly salaries for pharmacy technicians vary depending on the industry, line of work, or location.  See Test-Guide.com's guide to Pharmacy Tech salaries for more detailed information.

Job Outlook

Further, the Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates that the job growth outlook for the pharmacy technician field to be approximately 7%, a bit faster than the job growth of all industries combined. This expected job growth rate equates to about another 31,000+ new jobs by 2018. The increased need for health care services (due to the aging baby-boomer population) will create a strong demand for qualified health care specialists, like pharmacy technicians. 

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