Pharmacy technicians are entry-level healthcare professionals who assist pharmacists with filling prescriptions and serving customers in retail pharmacies, physicians’ offices and hospitals. While it is possible for those with a high school diploma to learn this position through on-the-job training, most employers prefer to hire candidates who have completed a one-year pharmacy technician certification program.

The demand for pharmacy techs (as they are often called) is projected to rise sharply in the coming years, making it an attractive option for those who are beginning their careers. The 2016 Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 12% increase in new jobs for pharmacy technicians through 2026.

What does a pharmacy tech do?

Pharmacy technicians work under the supervision of a pharmacist, and are responsible for performing a range of support tasks that help keep the pharmacy running smoothly. Although some employers may require additional responsibilities, the following list highlights the primary role of most pharmacy techs.

Typical pharmacy technician duties

  • Handle customer or patient phone calls and questions
  • Establish and maintain patient records
  • Assist pharmacist in filling prescriptions by measuring, packaging and labeling medications
  • Process payments for prescriptions and insurance claims
  • Manage all inventory in the pharmacy

 

What is the process to become a pharmacy technician?

The process for becoming a pharmacy technician can be summed-up in the following four steps.

  1. Decide if you want to become certified
  2. If you decide to become certified, enroll in a PTCA-accredited training program
  3. Complete pharmacy technician program and on-the-job training hours, as required by state
  4. Pass either the PTCE (PTCB) or ExCPT (NHA) Exam for certification

Step 1: Decide if you want to become certified

The first thing you’ll need to do is decide whether or not you want to become certified. Pharmacy technician certification is not a mandatory requirement for employment in every state, but it does offer a number of benefits and advantages.

Below, we’ll take a quick look at the pros and cons of both working as a non-certified technician, and earning your certification.

Working as a non-certified pharmacy technician

The boxes below illustrate the major pros and cons for working as a non-certified technician.

Pros

  • You can start working immediately after graduating from high school
  • Save money that would’ve been spent on a training program
  • No need to periodically re-test for certification

Cons

  • Some employers only hire certified technicians
  • Lower pay compared to certified peers
  • Less job security than certified peers
Becoming a certified pharmacy technician

The boxes below illustrate the major pros and cons for working as a non-certified technician.

Pros

  • Eligibility for hire with a greater number of employers
  • Higher starting pay than non-certified peers
  • Greater job security

Cons

  • Requires one year of training and study
  • Must pay for training and certification exam
  • Must periodically re-test for certification

Obviously, there are significant advantages to earning your pharmacy technician certification. Furthermore, a recent trend has seen a growing number of states make certification a requirement for employment.

With this being the case, it is strongly recommended that you pursue certification if you’re serious about starting a career in pharmacy. Should you decide not to become certified, you can skip the remaining steps and start looking for a job as soon as you graduate from high school.

Step 2: Enroll in PTAC-accredited training program

If you’ve decided to pursue your certification, the next step is to enroll in a pharmacy technician training program this is accredited by the Pharmacy Technician Accreditation Commission (PTAC). This body coordinates program curricula and standards with both the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) to ensure standardized quality in national pharmacy tech programs.

What is PTAC accreditation?

It is absolutely vital that you graduate from a program accredited by the PTAC, as only those students who have completed an approved training course are eligible to sit for one of the national certification exams.

About online pharmacy tech programs

In order to better accommodate students who work or have other responsibilities that make attending class a challenge, many schools offer online pharmacy tech programs. These programs are also ideal for those who do not live close to an institution that offers pharmacy technician training.

While it is possible to complete the academic portion of a program online, it will still be necessary to complete the hands-on training portion in-person at a specified location.

Step 3: Complete training program and required hands-on training hours

After finding an accredited program that satisfies your needs, the next step is to complete it. The academic portion can usually be completed in one year or less, but completing the necessary hands-on training hours (sometimes referred to as an “externship”) at an actual pharmacy can sometimes take longer.

The academic portion of your training will likely cover all of the theory and procedural-type stuff that will be included on the certification exam. The externship, on the other hand, will give you the opportunity to put what you learn into practice in a live, professional setting.

Step 4: Pass the PTCE or ExCPT Certification Exam

There are two nationally-recognized pharmacy technician certification exams – the PTCE and ExCPT. Once you’ve graduated from a PTAC-accredited program, you’ll become eligible to sit for either one of them. A passing score on either exam will award you with the title Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT).

The following is a quick breakdown of the two different exams.

Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE)

Offered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB), the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam, or PTCE as it is commonly called, is a multiple choice exam recognized in all 50 states. The PTCE consists of 90 questions administered in a one-hour, 50-minute timed format. Candidates who successfully pass the exam receive the title Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT).

To become eligible to sit for this exam, a candidate must have either:

  1. Graduated from a PTAC-accredited pharmacy technician program, or
  2. Acquired equivalent work experience as a pharmacy tech

Content covered on the exam is broken down into four different sections. They are:

  • Medications (names, drug interactions, proper storage, etc.)
  • Federal Requirements (handling and disposal, controlled substances, etc.)
  • Patient Safety and Quality Assurance (hygiene and cleaning standards, procedures, etc.)
  • Order Entry and Processing (formulas and calculations, equipment and supplies, etc.)

ExCPT Exam

Sponsored by the National Healthcare Association (NHA), the ExCPT Exam also awards the nationally-recognized title Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT) to candidates who receive a passing score. This multiple choice exam features 100 multiple choice questions, given in a two-hour, 10-minute timed format.

Eligibility for this exam also depends on the candidate having either:

  1. Graduated from a PTAC-accredited pharmacy technician program, or
  2. Acquired equivalent work experience as a pharmacy tech

Material included on this exam is organized into four distinct sections. These sections are:

  • Overview and Laws (laws and regulations, role and general duties of pharmacy tech)
  • Drugs and Drug Therapy (drug classification and frequently prescribed medications)
  • Dispensing Process (prescription and medication intake, dispensing prescriptions, etc.)
  • Medication Safety and Quality Assurance

How much does a pharmacy technician make?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a pharmacy technician in the United States was $31,750 as of May 2017. The following table reflects the fact that this number can vary considerably depending on which state you work in, however.

Pharmacy technician salary by state

StateTotal HHA EmploymentAVG Hourly wageAVG Annual SalaryEmployment per 1,000 jobs
Alabama50609.63200202.645
Alaska137016.00332904.237
Arizona1293011.55240304.874
Arkansas67709.53198205.682
California2591014.05292101.623
Colorado1323013.02270805.277
Connecticut690013.22274904.141
Delaware169015.04312903.845
Florida491013.33277306.991
Georgia2556011.25234103.109
Hawaii1092010.38215902.592
Idaho420012.78265906.644
Illinois204010.64221203.073
Indiana3873011.46238406.560
Iowa1302010.97228204.352
Kansas563012.97269903.666
Kentucky410011.53239802.983
Louisiana254012.36257101.356
Maine83109.53198204.325
Maryland289011.87246904.850
Massachusetts1174012.06250804.445
Michigan2702014.04292007.809
Minnesota3042010.85225607.222
Mississippi2520012.69263908.965
Missouri447010.19212003.996
Montana1080010.79224403.916
Nebraska134011.49239002.950
Nevada185011.92247901.914
New Hampshire143013.86288401.123
New Jersey128013.35277801.986
New Mexico3851011.17232309.737
New York805011.29234809.992
North Carolina17383011.612415019.108
North Dakota393209.70201709.293
Ohio142015.95331703.331
Oklahoma6571010.312145012.310
Oregon784011.91247704.938
Pennsylvania590011.52239603.295
Rhode Island4289011.22233407.463
South Carolina19809.00187202.236
South Dakota347013.14273307.309
Tennessee101309.96207105.117
Texas69013.32277001.648
Utah59509.93206602.058
Vermont671809.88205505.720
Virginia280012.80266202.036
Washington54013.22275001.758
West Virginia1134010.88226403.016
Wisconsin678012.33256402.211
Wyoming38609.64200605.538
Wisconsin(5500000)494012.56261201.762
Wyoming(5600000)88012.83266803.184

Source: www.bls.gov

Salary by employer type

WorkplaceAverage Pay
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities)$23,570
Continuing care retirement communities and assisted living facilities for the elderly$22,860
Residential intellectual and developmental disability facilities$22,510
Services for the elderly and persons with disabilities$22,410
Home healthcare services$22,390

Source: www.bls.gov

What is the job outlook for pharmacy techs?

As mentioned earlier the job outlook is amazing at a 12% expected growth over the next decade!! The time could not be any better for pharmacy technicians!

Top 5 Paying States for pharmacy techs

StateAvg. Hourly WageAvg. Yearly Salary
Alaska$16.00$33,290
North Dakota$15.95$33,170
Delaware$15.04$31,290
California$14.05$29,210
Massachusetts$14.04$29,200

Source: bls.gov

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