Here’s how to become a certified pharmacy technician (CPhT)

Last updated: April 24, 2024
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Here’s how to become a certified pharmacy technician (CPhT)
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Ever imagined yourself working in a pharmacy setting?

Becoming a pharmacist takes years of college studies, but it’s not the only career that can provide you with a structured work environment in a pharmacy.

Certified pharmacy technicians are an overlooked but crucial part of running a safe and effective pharmacy. They are an integral part of the healthcare system.

Let’s explore how to become a certified pharmacy technician and what you can expect to do once you get the job.

What is a certified pharmacy technician?

As a certified pharmacy technician, you help a licensed pharmacist and other pharmacy staff in the lab.

Techs are the ones who dispense medication to patients. First, they receive a patient’s prescriptions. Then, they make sure the prescription is correct. Next, they measure and package the medication, as well as label the prescription with the correct name.

A pharmacist will then review the prepared prescription before the tech hands them over to a customer.

Techs will also be in charge of answering simple questions from customers and patients. Because they’re typically the first person to greet customers at the lab, they also provide basic information about a customer’s medication.

A certified pharmacy tech also keeps track of what medications a patient receives.

When there are no customers, they’ll also keep the pharmacy lab clean and tidy, plus prepare labels in advance.

Jobs as a certified pharmacy technician are usually full-time. But that doesn’t mean you can expect a regular shift from 9 am to 5 pm.

Many pharmacies are open 24 hours, and they also need lab techs available. This means you can get evening shifts, night shifts, weekend shifts, and more.

As a pharmacy technician, you will fall under the direct supervision of a licensed pharmacist.

Certified pharmacy technician job responsibilities include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Greeting customers

  • Collecting customer information

  • Measure and package medication

  • Help with the medication compounding process under careful supervision

  • Make sure all customers receive the correct medication on time

  • Answer questions from customers and patients

  • Record and store deliveries of supplies

  • Run the cash register

  • Process patients’ medical insurance forms

  • Keep their working space tidy

  • Call doctors for permission to refill a customer’s prescription as needed

  • Get pharmacists to speak with customers if the latter are asking complicated questions related to their medications or health that you don’t feel comfortable answering

When you have a pharmacy technician career, you’ll be able to work in retail pharmacies like CVS, hospital pharmacies, or grocery stores.

In addition to regular responsibilities, certified pharmacy technicians also need to keep track of inventory and flag when there’s a medication shortage. They can recommend better workflows in the pharmacy as well if they see the need for it.

What do you have to study to become a certified pharmacy technician?

You won’t need to study pharmacology to become a certified pharmacy technician.

According to the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board, not all states have the same regulations to become a certified pharmacy technician.

Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, and New York have no specific requirements. This means you can apply right away at a pharmacy tech job without getting certified.

You’ll still need a high school diploma, GED, or equivalent to be eligible for this job. However, getting the certification can still help you by providing an advantage over those who don’t have it.

If it’s you against an almost-identical candidate who doesn't have a certification, you’re likely to get the job instead.

Also, just because a state doesn’t require a certification doesn’t mean employers won’t.

Several states, especially in the east, require a pharm tech to be registered or have a pharmacy technician license. They don’t require national certifications.

The remaining states require techs to be registered and licensed but also to be nationally certified.

Check with your state board of pharmacy to verify what applies to you and how much it will cost to get licensure. For example, in California, it costs $195 annually to get your license.

To be eligible to take the PTCB exam, you’ll need to pay an exam fee of $129. This doesn’t include tuition fees for your studies.

You have two different ways to become eligible for the certification. The first is to take a PTCB-recognized education or certification program.

This is what you have to study before you go for your PTCB certification exam.

Over 1,400 pharmacy technician training programs are available at adult schools and community colleges across the country. You’ll learn about medication safety, medical terminology, prescription medications, pharmacy practice, and much more.

You’ll also find accredited programs by visiting the directory on the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists’ website (or ASHP). This list is created with the collaboration of the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE).

Some are available via online or distance learning, which means you can take training from out of town or other states.

How to become a certified pharmacy technician

The second way to become eligible for the certification doesn’t require you to perform extra studies.

However, it does require you to have experience as a pharmacy tech. For instance, if you live in a state that doesn’t require certification, you can find a job in the field before you take this path.

To do that, you have to find an employer who’s fine with you not being certified, though you may need to pass a background check.

Next, you have to perform 500 hours of work in a drug store to get equivalent work experience.

This amount of work will give you knowledge that the training could have given you. It’s a form of job training. As a result, you become eligible to take the pharmacy technician certification exam.

The exam itself includes 90 multiple-choice questions, which will usually take two hours. Upon completion, you’ll get an unofficial score for your exam.

It takes two to three weeks to receive the official results in your PTCB account. At that point, you’ll be able to download your certificate.

You’re now fully certified to work as a pharmacy technician!

How to keep your job as a certified pharmacy technician

If you want to remain certified, you’ll have to renew your certification every two years. If you don’t apply for a renewal before your certification expires, you’ll have one year to apply for reinstatement.

This recertification requires you to undergo continuing education. Therefore, in your two-year period, you need to complete at least 20 hours of continuing education.

For your continuing education to be valid, at least one of these hours needs to be about pharmacy law, and another needs to be about patient safety.

It costs $49 to get re-certified and $89 to get reinstated if you’re late to re-certify.

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Certified pharmacy technician salaries and employment rates

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for certified pharmacy technicians is $35,100 per year. The average hourly wage is $17.52.

From 2019 to 2029, pharmacy technician job growth is expected to be 4%. This falls in the national average for all occupations.

In addition to the job outlook, pharmacy technicians will likely need to take a bigger role in the pharmacy. That’s because pharmacists will become busier and busier with patient care.

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Most common pharmacy technician interview questions

Want to make sure you ace your interview once you get one? Here are the most common pharmacy technician questions recruiters ask so you can prepare for that interview.

1. Describe your experience handling insurance claims

Most pharmacies work through their customers’ insurance companies to get payment for medications.

Your employer will want to know that you are comfortable with the intricacies of insurance claims. If you don’t have any prior experience specifically handling insurance claims, discuss your attention to detail and communication skills.

2. What would you do if you noticed an error with a prescription?

Prescription errors will happen. They’re not unavoidable.

However, they need to be dealt with properly because they can be a safety risk to patients.

The recruiter will want to understand how you can help your team if they make a mistake. In addition, they’ll want to know if you can be accountable for the safety of customers.

3. What is your experience with pharmacy software and applications?

It takes specialized software to organize and maintain all the information about patients and their prescriptions.

If you’ve never used any of these tools before, you can instead explain your capacity to adapt to complex software. However, if this isn’t the case, you should develop this skill before your interview.

4. What skills and qualifications do you have that you believe will help you succeed in the role of pharmacy technician?

With this question, you can discuss your certification and studies if you have them. But you should also discuss some of your skills.

For example, the following skills can help you succeed in this career:

  • Aptitude in math

  • Active listening skills

  • Customer service

  • Detail-oriented

  • Organizational skills

5. How would you react if one of your coworkers showed suspicious behavior?

Ethics and protocol are an important part of maintaining a safe and secure environment in a pharmacy.

Handling sticky situations with coworkers isn’t easy, but it can happen. The interviewer will likely want to see that you’re able to adhere to protocol and that you have a good sense of ethics if a situation like this comes up.

Certified pharmacy technician jobs hiring now

Once you have your certification — or other credentials, if your state doesn’t require certification — you’re ready to enter the labor force as a pharmacy technician.

You can click here to see which pharmacy technician jobs are hiring right now near you by using Jobcase.

Find a job as a certified pharmacy technician

If you enjoy teamwork, helping customers, and working in a structured environment, becoming a certified pharmacy technician could be for you.

Ready to look for pharm technician roles near you? Browse the Jobcase job search for pharmacy technician openings.

For more tips and advice on your job search, visit the Getting Hired Resource Center.

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