Your Friendly Neighborhood Pharmacy Technician
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 54 percent of pharmacy technicians worked in drugstores and 18 percent worked in hospitals as of 2010 (BLS.gov/ooh, 2013). Pharmacy technicians working at drugstores may be required to work late hours if their store is open 24 hours.
Pharmacy technicians working in hospitals may be responsible for preparing a greater amount of medication, which would not be the case for those working outside of the clinical setting. This can include intravenous medication or inhalants. Additionally, hospital pharmacy technicians may be required to deliver medication to patients in the hospital (BLS.gov/ooh, 2013) and should therefore be prepared to encounter sick, injured or terminally ill patients.
Pharmacy technicians work under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist, who has a doctoral degree in pharmacy and is licensed. Pharmacy technician duties can include sorting medication, receiving orders and prescriptions, and mixing medication for combined prescriptions based on recipes provided from the pharmacist.
Pharmacy Tech: Education, Skills, and Salary Information
Generally there are no education requirements for pharmacy technicians beyond the applicant earning a high school diploma or a GED, although the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that some pharmacy technicians receive a postsecondary certificate from a 1-year vocational program. The BLS does list certain qualities that may be beneficial for those desiring a career as a pharmacy technician (BLS.gov/ooh, 2013). These qualities include the following:
- Customer-service skills - pharmacy technicians interact with costumers on a daily basis.
- Attention to detail - medication can be harmful if incorrectly prescribed.
- Organizational skills - pharmacy technicians may be responsible for keeping the pharmacy running smoothly.
While the BLS does project a national employment opportunity growth of up to 32 percent for pharmacy technicians between 2010 and 2020 -- which would be faster than average for all other occupations (BLS.gov/ooh, 2013) -- the median annual wage for pharmacy technicians in May of 2011 was $28,940 nationally, which falls below the median annual wage for all other occupations (BLS.gov/oes, 2013).
Pharmacy technicians in most states are regulated (with the exception of Colorado, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania) and may be require to be certified. Some employers may pay for noncertified pharmacy technicians to take the Exam for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ExCPT) or the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE) (BLS.gov/ooh, 2013). According to the National Healthcareer Association (NHA), one of two organizations which certify pharmacy technicians, earning certification may increase an pharmacy technician's job opportunities.
Passing the exam earns one the title of Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT). According to the NHA, the program was established by the Institute for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians; however, the CPT is now a part of the NHA. According to the NHA, a CPhT may perform any or all of the following tasks:
- Process written or electronically submitted prescription requests from patients or doctors (some states may allow CPhTs to process physicians' orders by phone)
- Retrieve, count, pour, weigh, measure and mix or compound medications as per the prescription
- Establish and maintain patient profiles
- Prepare insurance claim forms for prescriptions
- Manage the pharmacy's inventory of medication
In order to sit for the exam, the following are required of candidates and CPhTs:
- High school diploma or equivalent educational diploma
- Full disclosure -- and absence of -- any and all criminal and State Board of Pharmacy registration or licensure actions
- Absence of a record of criminal conduct involving the candidate
Tools of the Trade
Pharmacy technicians may use auger dosing machines, which utilize the common "drill" (auger device) to provide the exact amount of medication. This is useful when filling large bottles of medication. Smaller prescriptions are filled either by hand using a counting tray or by an automated tablet-counting device such the KL1Plus, which can verify that the type of medication being counted is correct and that the dosage is safe. Automated devices are also available for compounded drugs; however, research conducted by Pharmacy Purchasing & Products indicates that these devices are not widely used.