How to become a pharmacy tech

Last updated: July 23, 2024
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Eleana Bowman
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How to become a pharmacy tech
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Ever pictured yourself behind a pharmacy counter playing an important role in healthcare? Maybe you're nervous about the daunting “how” and “where to start” questions. Because — let's face it — life's already a juggling act without throwing in career research.

But here's the good news: becoming a pharmacy tech is more doable than you think. It doesn't demand a decade of training or a mountain of student debt, and it lets you truly make a difference in people's lives.

Our team at Jobcase put together this post to simplify the pharmacy technician journey. We'll delve into what the role entails, the job outlook and salary expectations, and the necessary skills and education you'll need. More than that, we'll equip you with the knowledge to confidently step into your new role.

Ready to transform your dreams into a rewarding career? Let's get the ball rolling.

The basics: what is a pharmacy tech?

Ever interacted with a helpful person at a pharmacy counter? These individuals are often pharmacy technicians. They're healthcare pros who skillfully navigate tasks under the guidance of a licensed pharmacist.

From filling prescriptions to managing patient records, a pharmacy tech's role is multifaceted, which makes each day unique.

And here's something interesting: your role as a pharmacy tech can vary, depending on the pharmacy setting. This means becoming a pharmacy tech isn't just about securing a job. It's about stepping into an ever-evolving role in the healthcare industry.

A day in the life: roles and responsibilities of a pharmacy tech

So you're probably wondering, "What's a day in the life of a pharmacy tech like?" Well, grab a beverage and take a seat because it's quite a list! Remember, responsibilities can vary depending on the type of pharmacy and unique needs, but here's a general idea of a pharmacy tech's tasks:

  1. Counting and measuring medications: Ever played a game of precise counts and measures? That's part of the pharmacy tech world. Making sure patients get the right doses of their medicines is key.

  2. Mixing medication compounds: Some patients need customized medicines, and this is where a pharmacy technician comes in. These professionals mix different ingredients like a well-versed chemist. Special training might be needed here, though.

  3. Refilling prescriptions: Out-of-date prescriptions need physician approval for refills. Guess who's making that happen? You guessed it — pharmacy techs.

  4. Packaging and labeling prescriptions: Once meds are counted or mixed, they need clear labeling. It's not just about the patient's name and birthdate — directions for usage, possible side effects, and drug interactions also go on the label.

  5. Collecting patient info and payments: Patient details need to be accurate in the pharmacy's system, and it's the pharmacy techs who ensure this while also handling payments.

  6. Recording patient medical records: Accurate records of patients' meds are vital to avoiding dangerous drug interactions. Pharmacy techs play a role in maintaining these records.

  7. Managing medication inventory: Making sure there's enough medication in stock? That's another pharmacy tech responsibility.

  8. Processing insurance paperwork: Navigating the maze of insurance paperwork is a big deal in pharmacies, and pharmacy techs are often the ones who manage this.

  9. Helping with vaccinations: In some settings, pharmacy techs might help with administering vaccines, though this is regulated.

  10. Operating automated dispensing systems: In larger pharmacies, pharmacy techs might operate systems that count pills and fill bottles remotely.

  11. Counseling patients about prescription medications: How much to take, when to take it, and potential side effects are common questions. Pharmacy techs often support pharmacists in advising patients.

  12. Organizing inventory and reordering drugs: Keeping the pharmacy well-stocked is another key responsibility.

  13. Handling phone calls: Concerns and questions, including the odd "I forget — when should I take this?" are commonplace in the pharmacy world. Pharmacy techs handle these calls with patience.

  14. Arranging pharmacist consultations: For more complex questions, pharmacy technicians set up consultations with the pharmacist in charge.

So it's a full plate but also a fulfilling one, right? Each day brings unique challenges and the chance to make a real difference. How's that for a career?

Looking toward your future: pharmacy tech career prospects

Still not sure whether a pharmacy tech job is right for you? If you're looking at longevity, this is a career that's about not just starting strong but also growth, stability, and even a few nice raises down the line. In other words, it's a career that's got legs.

Job outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests demand for pharmacy technicians is set to boom, with a projected rise of 22,400 jobs from 2021 to 2031. That's an impressive 5% leap from 447,300 pharmacy techs in 2021 to over 469,700 in 2031.

Why? A potent mix that includes an aging population, a constant influx of new prescription drugs, and relentless drug research and development, propels this career growth. And investing time and effort in certification programs, like those from the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB), can turbocharge your career trajectory.

While a career as a pharmacy tech might seem like a big commitment — 20 hours of continuing education each year, renewing every two years — the potential payoff makes it a worthy investment. Plus, with 13 unique credential training programs offered by the PTCB, there's a good fit for everyone.

Work environment

Now, with such promising job prospects, where might you put those newly minted skills to work? As a pharmacy tech, your work environment can vary greatly.

Maybe you'd prefer to work in a bustling retail setting, like CVS or Walgreens, or even Target or Walmart, where interacting with customers is part of your daily routine. A fast-paced yet customer-focused environment will allow you to serve customers at the counter, dispense medications, and provide the information customers need to use their prescriptions safely.

Or maybe you feel more comfortable in the intimate ambiance of a private pharmacy. These establishments offer a more personal touch, fostering a sense of community and personalized care.

Here, you'll build relationships with patients, tailoring your services to their unique needs and providing valuable guidance on medication management.

If you're seeking a more immersive experience, hospital pharmacies offer an exciting path. Within the walls of a hospital, you'll collaborate with a team of healthcare professionals, and your responsibilities will extend beyond what is typical in a retail setting.

You'll prepare complex IV medications, compound specialized drugs tailored to each patient's needs, and actively manage an inventory of medications crucial to patient care.

Long-term healthcare facilities and mental health facilities also present opportunities for pharmacy techs. Here your role becomes vital to ensuring that patients receive their medications accurately and in the right dosages.

You'll work closely with healthcare providers, collaborating on medication management plans and maintaining meticulous records to support seamless care delivery.

Regardless of your location, you'll have the chance to engage with patients, healthcare professionals, and diverse work environments as a pharmacy tech.

Whether they're managing medication inventory, providing crucial information to patients, or collaborating with a healthcare team, pharmacy technicians can choose which path they'd like to take, opening up a world of opportunities.

Earning potential: a pharmacy tech's financial outlook

Curious about pharmacy tech’s earning potential? It's rewarding, especially considering the minimal time and debt investment compared to lengthy college courses.

According to the BLS, pharmacy techs earned a median annual salary of $36,740 in May 2021, which equates to roughly $17.66 per hour.

For a broader perspective, technicians in the top 10% income bracket exceeded $47,580 annually, while those in the lower 10% earned less than $28,740. Interestingly, pharmacy techs in hospitals and care facilities typically out-earn their retail counterparts.

While the specifics hinge on your employer, the overall trend is clear: a pharmacy technician's salary isn't just about base pay. It's a comprehensive package that makes financial sense.

Every journey begins with a step, and the pharmacy tech journey starts with checking your state's requirements. The PTCB lists all the details for each state and territory, including Washington, DC.

So why the differences? Each state has unique healthcare needs and laws that shape its requirements.

Education and training

  • Often, the ticket to this career path is a high school diploma or a GED. Some states, like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, keep it simple with no additional requirements. Others, however, like Texas and Washington, up the ante with a requirement for national certification and registration or licensing.

  • Certification usually involves passing a certification exam and clearing a criminal background check and drug screening test. Seem daunting? It's just about maintaining the integrity of the healthcare field.

And, while it's not always required, a certification from the PTCB or National Healthcareer Association (NHA) can be your golden ticket. It can place you ahead in the job-hunting race and may even bump up your wage. Plus, the PTCB offers over a dozen different certifications to spice up your career.

  • Does your state require prospective pharmacy technicians to complete a pharmacy technician program? If yes, then you have two options: a quick, 6–12-month pharmacy technician certification program from a community college or vocational school or a more comprehensive associate degree program.

And what does “comprehensive” mean? Think broader subjects, like pharmacology, medical and pharmaceutical terminology, pharmaceutical calculations, and pharmacy law and ethics. An associate degree takes about two years to complete, but it may just give you the competitive edge you need.

  • On-the-job training (OJT) is another pathway. If allowed by your state and offered by an employer, it provides hands-on experience, allowing you to learn while you earn.

OJT includes everything from learning specific policies and procedures to mastering the pharmacy's proprietary software systems. Remember, it's not just about learning the ropes — it's also about adapting to a dynamic healthcare environment.

Soft skills

As a pharmacy tech, you'll work with a diverse group of people, from patients to doctors. So, good communication skills aren't just nice-to-haves — they're must-haves. Patience and empathy are key here, too.

Patients might be stressed, anxious, or scared about the medications they've been prescribed. Calmness and clear communication will help put them at ease.

And let's not forget the importance of being detail-oriented. When dealing with medications, accuracy isn't an option — it's a necessity. One small error could result in serious consequences for a patient.

While you might not learn soft skills in a classroom, they're necessary in all professions. Look for ways to hone them over time.

The journey begins here

You've taken the first step toward a rewarding healthcare career. You've mulled over the ins and outs of becoming a pharmacy tech, assessed the job outlook, done your research on salaries, and navigated the route to certification.

Sound like a lot? Well, you've done it. And now you're ready to get started.

Imagine yourself just one year from now working in a meaningful profession that doesn't break the bank or require years of study. Imagine being part of a rapidly evolving field where you're a key player in patient care. You're learning, growing, and earning.

So what's your next move? Head to Jobcase's Getting Hired Resource Center, where opportunities abound. You can also check out current job listings on our job board.

It's time to take the leap — to seize the chance to shape your future and become a crucial part of patients' healthcare journeys.

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