Pharmacy Technician Schools & Planning for a Career
Find out about Pharmacy Technician Schools and career info for pharm techs.
WHAT DO PHARMACY TECHNICIANS DO?
Pharmacy techs by definition help licensed pharmacists to prep and dispense medication. They also play a more active role in the operation of pharmacy work than ever.
This is creating an uptick in demand for pharmacy techs and faster than average job growth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) now predicts a 7% increase in jobs for pharm techs through 2028. There are a few reasons for this. To start, we are facing an aging population and there are more meds on the market to fight disease. Pharmacists also perform more patient care activities like giving flu shots. This means greater duties for pharm techs across many settings. Within these settings, per BLS data, pharmacy techs earn about $32,700 per year. Some may also earn upwards of $48,010.
One of the things that pharm techs do is input prescription data into a computer system. This means dealing with customers and health professionals alike. Once the script is in the system, pharmacy techs help dispense meds to each client. Or when working in a hospital, they may make rounds to nursing stations and surgical rooms. To do this, they measure amounts of medications, pack and label prescriptions. Depending on state laws, they may also mix some sterile compounds.
Many pharm techs have clerical duties too. From working a cash register to stocking shelves, securing meds (like narcotics) and third party billing. Other duties may arise as a result of where a pharmacy tech works. Duties also reflect things like level of education and certifications.
WHAT DEGREE SHOULD I EARN TO BECOME A PHARMACY TECHNICIAN?
If you’re looking to become a pharmacy technicians, you may choose to earn a degree or certificate. These are distinct options, so it is crucial to keep your goals in mind when making your choice.
Pharmacy Technician Certificate Program
A pharmacy tech certificate program is not a degree. It is a career diploma and may come with the chance to extern with a pharmacy chain. Many cert programs are basic. You may start out learning about the profession, medical terms and rules or laws.
As you move through the program you are likely to study drugs. Things like dosages, ratios, measurements and drug classes. Along with these topics, there may be a section on pharmacology. These courses speak to what each group of medication does. Is it an anti fungal? A muscle relaxer?
You can also expect to learn about insurance billing, infection control and inventory. Plus, how to interpret and process scripts. Many programs also prep you through an externship. And, serve as a prep for industry certification exams. Pharm tech cert programs tend to take one year or two semesters. So, they may suit your needs if your goal is to pursue a job in the near future.
Associate of Science in Pharmacy Technician
An associate in pharmacy technician program may award an Associate of Science (AS) degree. And as a degree, tends to include more classes and a longer time frame. For example, many programs entail about 60 credits. This may take about two years. Although there are faster paced programs and online formats.
Most AS degree programs mix core pharm techn classes with general education classes. These may cover areas like English, science and algebra. Getting these gen ed credits out of the way may be very useful.
Accredited schools tend to have transfer agreements. So, you may have fewer to complete if you decide to pursue a bachelor’s degree later. Approved programs may prep you to take industry certification exams too. In fact, in some schools students take the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE) at the end of their externship.
IS AN ONLINE PHARMACY TECHNICIAN SCHOOL FOR YOU?
The every day actions of a pharmacy techn can be incredibly important, and with online schooling, you may be able to discover what it takes to pursue a career in this field safely and effectively. What’s more, many students choose online courses for the flexible schedule and for the ability to learn at their own pace.
BASICS OF PHARMACY TECHNICIAN SCHOOLS
The employees at a local pharmacy are helping people stay well every day. From easing the symptoms of the common cold to providing relief to those with very specific and painful maladies, pharm techs ensure that people receive the medication they need in the exact dosages required for safe healing. When just a few little pills can literally be a matter of life and death, pharmacy techs are the ones who health beneficiaries trust to get all the details right.
Here are some things to consider when choosing an online pharm tech program:
- Many pharmacy technicians learn through on the job training programs, which can vary in terms of length and content. However, some also complete post secondary education programs specific to the field, according to the BLS.
- If you are interested in a post secondary education, it may benefit you to find pharm tech programs that are accredited by the American Society of Health System Pharmacists.
- Some states regulate pharmacy technicians. Check your state’s regulations by referring to its Board of Pharmacy. Regulation may mandate that candidates have a high school diploma, pass an exam, undergo continuing education or more.
- Some states also require certification, which is offered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) and the National Health Career Association (NHA).
- Before signing up for online courses, explore whether particular programs prepare you to achieve these certifications. Moreover, check with any potential employers to inquire about particular on the job training practices.
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HOW DO I BECOME A PHARMACY TECHNICIAN?
Some pharmacy techs have a high school diploma and learn on the job. But most states regulate pharm techs and this tends to involve more formal education. And without formal training, one may function more as an aide. Someone who works the cash register, answers calls and helps clients find products on shelves.
When it comes to your core classes, the goal is to give you knowledge and skill in many areas of the field. Common core classes focus on ethics, law and even crime scenes. Having knowledge in these areas is an important part of your college degree. As a result, most aspiring pharmacy techs complete one of two types of programs. A pharmacy technician (post secondary) certificate or an associate degree.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO COMPLETE AN ONLINE PHARM TECH PROGRAM?
Most aspiring pharmacy techs complete one of two types of programs. A pharmacy technician (post secondary) certificate or an associate degree. Pharmacy tech cert programs often last about a year or less. While longer programs of about two years may lead to an associate degree. Both programs may be available at vocational schools and some community colleges. They include courses and clinical experiences for hands on practical training.
AREAS OF SPECIALIZATION FOR PHARMACY TECHNICIANS
With the proper education and certification, a pharm tech may be able to specialize in an area.
Vaccines and Immunizations
Depending on state law, a pharm tech may certify to administer an injection. But a licensed pharmacist is still the person who performs the clinical aspect of immunization.
Drugs used in chemotherapy are part of nuclear medicine. As they are radioactive, a pharm tech must first certify as a Nuclear Pharmacy Technician (NPT).
Sterile Products Admixture
Compounds are specialty mixtures that make drugs more palatable to people. For instance, it might adjust a dosage or take out something the patient is allergic to.
Sterile compounds are ones like IV meds and ones given via injection. As they need proper handling, some pharm techs become Certified Compounded Sterile Preparation Technician (CSPT).
Some pharmacy techs in retail pharmacies and hospitals order meds and supplies. This is part of keeping an intact inventory and filling patient scripts.
HIV Treatment and Prevention
The virus that causes Aids is HIV and is infectious. One of the goals to prevent HIV is to slow the progress of infection with specific drug measures.
Pharm techs who handle these measures need to understand all the guidelines about HIV. These relate to info about children and pregnant women as well as when to begin treatment.
Medical oncology has to do with cancer. As a pharm tech with a certificate in oncology, you might prep and give chemotherapy meds and infusions.
|Vaccines and Immunizations||Give injections|
|Chemotherapy||Work with nuclear meds|
|Sterile Products Admixture||Handle IV meds and ones given by injection|
|Procurement||Order supplies and meds|
|HIV Treatment and Prevention||Understand rules for AIDS medication|
|Oncology||Prep and give drugs to treat cancer|
KEY SKILLS FOR PHARMACY TECHNICIANS
Apart from being able to use data base software, pharm techs need a few key skills.
Regular and on point inventory management is crucial to the day to day of a pharmacy. It is a skill that takes a critical eye, sense of order and being able to understand product shelf life among others.
Pharm techs order, label, and count stock of meds, chemicals, or supplies. Then enter inventory data into a computer. They also need to stay abreast of drug recalls, shortages and higher demand. And, need to be able to communicate these issues with the pharmacist and other staff.
Pharm techs who work in retail pharmacies often handle insurance billing. They prepare and process insurance claim forms. Plus, they may spend a lot of time on the phone with insurance companies. Apart from patience, this task calls for an attention to detail. Especially since insurance companies may reject poorly filled out paper work.
Dispensing and mixing radio active materials used in nuclear medicine is nuclear pharmacy. It is a specialty pharmacy area and calls for specific skills. There are over 100 nuclear medicine procedures done today. These use certain classes of drugs such as the ones used in chemotherapy. A nuclear pharm tech (NPT) has to know how to handle them. What the laws and rules are and how to follow safety measures.
Pharm techs certified to do so, may work in compounding pharmacies. Here they might custom create compounds like creams, gels, liquids and pills. These compounds tend to be for people who cannot tolerate a commercial drug. And may call for mixing, altering, packaging, and labeling a drug.
Some pharm techs go an extra step and earn a certificate in sterile compounding. Sterile compounding involves meds given through injection or IV and come with high risk of causing infection.
Pharmaceutical or Drug Representative
Some pharm techs work with drug companies as reps for their products. This tends to provide a deep training about a specific brand or medication. Once a pharm tech has this training, they communicate what they learn to health care teams. For instance, they might inform doctors, nurses, and other techs.
Medication Therapy Management (MTM)
MTM is a process that involves educating patients. It ensures there’s a flow of communication between patient, prescriber and pharmacy. MTM, for example, helps patients know about the meds they take. What medical condition their script is for and how often to take a medication.
|Inventory Management||Counting, unpacking, stocking, ordering meds and supplies. It also includes removing and returning out dated or discontinued products as well as checking for drug recalls. |
|Insurance Billing||Submitting claims to insurance companies to help patients secure a reimbursement|
|Nuclear Pharmacy||Dispensing and compounding radioactive materials as well as knowing laws, rules and safety measures|
|Compounding||Mixing, altering, packaging, and labeling a drug|
|Pharmaceutical/Drug Representative||Receiving training in a specific medication to be able to communicate that knowledge to members of a health care team|
|Medication Therapy Management (MTM)||About patient education. It makes sure patients know what meds they take, for what medical condition and how often they need to take the medication |
TOP INDUSTRIES FOR ONLINE PHARM TECH PROGRAMS
Most pharm techns (52%) work in pharmacies and drug stores. Others may find work in hospitals, and retail stores. In each setting, a pharm tech may earn a different salary. Here are the top industries for pharm techs and average wages for each one.
|Industry||Annual Mean Wage|
|Hospitals (state, local, private)||$37,390|
|Food and beverage stores||$30,640|
|Pharmacies and drug stores||$30,470|
CHOOSING AN ACCREDITED PHARM TECH SCHOOL ONLINE
Pharmacy tech cert programs often last about a year or less. While longer programs of about two years may lead to an associate degree. Both programs may be available at vocational schools and some community colleges. They include courses and clinical experiences for hands on practical training. Some states mandate that pharmacy techs have a basic certification too. So, after you graduate from an accredited program, you may need to pass an industry exam.
There are two agencies that offer these exams. The PTCB and the NHA. For PTCB certification, one must have a high school diploma and pass an exam. PTCB also supports some on the job training available through some retail pharmacies. But for NHA certification there are other criteria. Such as being at least 18 years old with a high school diploma. You must also first graduate from a training program or have one year of experience.
Employers may prefer a pharmacy technician with a professional certification. A certification may also be necessary for pharm techs who want to work in a specific niche of the market. There are a few agencies who certify pharmacy technicians. And, a few common certs to earn.
NPTA offers cert programs in three areas. Compounding, Chemotherapy and Sterile Products (IV). These certifications are for already certified pharmacy technicians as well as pharmacists.
PTCB offers cert programs in a few areas. The Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPT) is one for newcomers to the industry. But they also offer credentials for people who want to achieve a next step. For instance, in sterile compounding, advanced pharmacy tech and hazardous drug management.
NHA offers basic certification to become a CPT. Each agency may have distinct criteria for its exams as well as different cert programs. Here are some of the most common certifications to look for when deciding about your career.
Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT)
CPhT certification is the basic credential for pharmacy technicians. There are two ways to be eligible for the PTCB credential as of January 2020. One is to complete a PTCB Recognized Education / Training Program. The other is to have the equivalent work experience.
Once you pass the exam (and there is a fee), you become certified as a pharmacy technician. Then, must renew every two years if your credential is from the PTCB. This process also involves extra learning. Called “continued education (CE)” it ensures you have up to date skills and info.
Advanced Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT Adv)
A credential soon to be available through the PTCB is the CPhT Adv. As the title suggests, it targets active PTCB CPhTs. To be eligible though, you need to have completed at least four of the certificate programs. And have 3 years of work experience.
Compounding Certification (CC)
The Compounding Certification (CC) is for CPhTs. It attests that you know about non sterile compounds. Things like nasal preps, ointments, flavoring and even veterinary compounds Available through the NPTA, the courses cover home based study modules. After, you need to take an exam then an onsite training with hands on labs.
Once you pass, you get two things. Your CC credential and 40 CEs.
Certified Compounded Sterile Preparation Technician (CSPT)
As a CPhT, you may want to help prep meds in a sterile setting to avoid contamination. To do this it may be useful to earn a CSPT credential. To apply to become a CSPT, you must be an active PTCB CPhT in good standing. You must also satisfy PTCB’s education and / or work criteria.
One way is to graduate from an approved program. And have a year of full time compounded sterile preparation (CSP) work experience. The other option is to have 3 years of continuous CSP work experience. Either way, the exam tests your knowledge of hazardous and non hazardous CSPs.
Once you pass the exam and have your credential, you have to keep it going. So, expect to renew it every two years and stay current with CEs. CSPTs must also submit a Competency Attestation form in order to renew.
Joining a professional organization may be useful to a pharm techn. Many such agencies offer networking, CEs, and conferences. Also, some may have LinkedIn profiles which may provide helpful links to potential jobs.
Here are 5 popular ones and a bit about membership:
- American Association of Pharmacy Technicians. AAPT offers CEs, networking and formal scholarships. Members may also get discounts at conventions and there is a sliding scale of fees. For instance, it’s $15 for students but goes up to $75 for one year.
- National Pharmacy Technician Association. NPTA offers cert programs, CEs, events, e newsletters and more. As a member you also get access to discounts. Membership starts at $29 for one year.
- American Pharmacists Association. APhA represents practicing pharmacists, student pharmacists, pharm techs, and others. They also offer exam prep material, a career center and more. Membership for techs is $129 for one year.
- Pharmacy Technician Educators Council. PTEC is an agency made up of people who teach pharm techs. A non profit, it holds a yearly conference and aims to bring a single standard to pharm tech education. To become a member, it costs $65 or $500 for one year.
- American Society of Hospital Pharmacists. ASHP represents pharmacists who serve as patient care providers in acute and ambulatory settings. They offer meetings, conferences, CEs, certificates and more. Annual membership for technicians is $54 for one year.
WORKING AS A PHARMACY TECHNICIAN
Pharm techs may find jobs across the US. But some states may have more openings than others. According to the BLS, the highest number of jobs are in Kentucky, West Virginia, Rhode Island, Arkansas and Alabama. Salaries in these states vary with the lowest annual mean wages in West Virginia ($28,650), Kentucky ($29,270), and Arkansas ($29,640).
Annual mean wages are higher in Alabama ($30,040) and Rhode Island ($37,410). In these states, some of the larger pharmacy chains are possible employers. Like Walgreens, Rite Aid and CVS Health who may have many locations. There may also be jobs available through staffing firms. American Healthcare Resources (AHR) for example, recruits allied health care professionals.
TOP SALARIES BY STATE FOR PHARMACY TECHNICIANS
The following information is for Pharmacy Techs. Salary and employment numbers will differ for other career paths.
|State||Employment||Annual Mean Wage|
PHARMACY TECHNICIAN CAREER PATHS AND POTENTIAL SALARIES
There are many career paths you may choose to pursue after taking online courses in a pharm techn program. For some, work in a pharmacy may be used as a stepping stone to other areas in health care. For others, the training they received may be beneficial to pursuing assistantships. Study which options may be available using stats compiled by the BLS.
Pharmacy techs help pharmacists to fill prescriptions. A main duty is to take information from health care teams and patients. Then measure and prepare scripts.
On the administrative side, they often oversee inventory and insurance billing. So, must be able to navigate specific software and tools like automated dispensers.
Median Salary: $32,700 per year
Job Growth Through 2028: 7% (Faster than average)
Typical Entry level Education: High School Diploma
Pharmacists have expert knowledge about medications. They dispense prescription meds as well as explain how to use them and about side effects. They may also take on patient care duties. Giving flu shots, for example or simple health screenings.
Some pharmacists are also business owners or managers. When this is so, they may spend time on administrative tasks too.
Median Salary: $126,1200 per year
Job Growth Through 2028: 0%
Typical Entry level Education: Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD)
MEDICAL RECORDS AND HEALTH INFORMATION TECHNICIANS
Medical records and health information techs manage patient data. Things like medical history, symptoms and test results.
As most health care data is electronic (EHRs), these pros know the ins and outs of databases. They also work to ensure data stays intact, accurate, accessible and safe.
Another key duty is to use the proper classifications and codes. This assists health care staff to analyze data and makes sure people get their money back from insurance claims.
Median Salary: $40,350 per year
Job Growth Through 2028: 11% (Much faster than average)
Typical Entry level Education: Post secondary non degree award