Pharmacy technicians work under direct supervision to assist pharmacists. Technicians handle a variety of duties, and they interact with the public and with health care professionals in addition to pharmacists.
What A Pharmacy Tech Does
Pharmacy technicians often perform intake for patient prescriptions. They take phone calls from doctors requesting new prescriptions or from patients who need refills, and they accept prescriptions from customers who visit a pharmacy.
Technicians count out pills and measure liquids, and they may also compound medications. Compounding can include mixing ointments, adding flavors to liquids or creating new mixtures for patients who are allergic to certain inactive ingredients. Pharmacy technicians monitor prescription prices, verify patient insurance coverage, create labels for medication bottles and provide instruction leaflets. While they are authorized to perform these various tasks, pharmacists must review every prescription before a patient receives it.
Other duties that pharmacy technicians perform include updating computer records, processing insurance claims, handling customer payments, keeping inventory counts and restocking shelves. Technicians must be very detail oriented and accurate in their work. Having good organizational skills is very important as is the ability to provide friendly customer service.
Where Pharmacy Techs Work
Pharmacy technicians work in all types of locations, including hospitals, drug stores, grocery stores and other retail outlets that supply prescription services. Technicians spend the majority of the workday on their feet, and they may be required to work varied hours around the clock, depending on the pharmacy's hours of operation. Positions can be either part time or full time.
Education and Training for Pharmacy Techs
In some cases, pharmacy technicians can learn through on-the-job training if they have at least a high school education or a GED certificate; studies in math and science are especially helpful. The trend, however, is to receive formal secondary training through a vocational school or community college.
Training programs are typically one year in length but may be shorter or longer. During training, students learn about the uses, effects and interactions of prescription drugs as well as dispensing techniques and record keeping. The laws and ethics of pharmacies are also included. Students generally serve a pharmacy internship as part of their training.
Pharmacy Tech Certifications
Training and certification laws vary by state, but even if a state doesn't require formal training or certification exams, many employers prefer job candidates who are certified. There is a fee to take the exam, but employers will sometimes reimburse the cost. The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board offers the exam as does the National Health Career Association. Certification will likely include a background check for felony convictions and for drug- or pharmacy-related convictions. Once certified, pharmacy technicians regularly take continuing education classes, and they must renew their certifications every two years.
Pharmacy Tech Salary and Job Prospects
Salaries for pharmacy technicians depend on experience and the pharmacy venue. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-time salary averages in 2010 ranged from slightly less than $20,000 per year up to nearly $41,000. Retail stores tend to pay lower wages while hospitals pay the most. Job prospects through the year 2020 are expected to be above average given the increased use of prescription drugs by America's aging population.