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Join the Healthcare Boom: Become a Pharmacy Technician

As the baby boom generation ages, our healthcare system must grow to keep up with the needs of an older population. In addition to an expanding infrastructure, this includes the increased production and distribution of prescription drugs. Rather than hiring more pharmacists to handle this growth, many pharmacies are turning to pharmacy technicians. As a result, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts the creation of roughly 91,000 new pharmacy technician jobs by 2016. If you are looking for a career with great opportunities for advancement in a thriving industry, consider enrolling in a pharmacy technician program.

Pharmacy technicians are playing an ever-increasing role in healthcare. The National Pharmacy Technician Association (NPTA) reports that 96% of the prescriptions filled at community pharmacies have passed through the hands of a pharmacy technician.

Pharmacy Technicians: What to Expect
Pharmacy technicians work under the direction of pharmacists. Technicians at mail-order pharmacies verify and prepare prescriptions, keep track of and replenish the inventory, and manage a database of patient profiles. In addition to these duties, pharmacy technicians at retail establishments help customers at cash registers and answer telephone calls from patients, doctors' offices, and insurance companies. Pharmacy technicians can also work at hospitals and nursing homes. At these facilities, they check patients' charts for doctors' lists of prescribed medications, and prepare and administer medication to patients.

Before any pharmacy technician can prescribe medication to a patient or customer, a pharmacist must check the prescription for accuracy. It is a pharmacy technician's duty to ask a customer if they have any questions about their prescriptions. If a customer does have a question, a pharmacy technician must refer him or her to the pharmacist.

Do You Have What It Takes?
Pharmacy technicians should be comfortable working with detail. Filling prescriptions requires the ability to pinpoint possible errors in both the type and the amount of medication being distributed. Failure to recognize certain mistakes could be detrimental to a patient.

Technicians who work at retail pharmacies, hospitals, and nursing homes also should be skilled in customer service. Frequently, pharmacy patients are sick, hurried, or frustrated. Pharmacy technicians ensure that customers receive caring, compassionate service even in less-than-ideal circumstances. Their reward lies in knowing they have played a major role in their patients' healing process.

Pharmacy Technician Training
You can find pharmacy technician training programs at junior and community colleges, trade schools, and some hospitals. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists offers accreditation to programs that meet high standards of academic excellence. Typical coursework in a pharmacy technician program includes:

  • Pharmacy and medical terminology
  • Pharmacy calculations
  • Pharmacy ethics
  • Pharmacy law
  • Pharmacology
  • Preparation of prescription medicines
  • Recordkeeping

To ease your transition into the job market, consider enrolling in a program that can help you find an internship. An internship at a pharmacy or hospital offers invaluable on-the-job training, as well as insight into what you can expect once you graduate. You can also try working in a variety of environments to figure out which one matches your skills and personality the best.

Though an accredited pharmacy technician program can help you prepare for work as a technician, it can also serve as a stepping-stone to a more advanced education. Some pharmacy techs use their training and work experience as a pathway to becoming a pharmacist.

Do You Need Certification?
Though no national standards for pharmacy technician training and certification currently exist, this could soon change. A bill was introduced in Congress that would require pharmacy technicians to complete a training course and pass the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board's exam to gain national certification. The NPTA also supports more stringent nationwide standards for pharmacy technicians. In mid-February of 2008, USA Today published a series of articles questioning the practice of giving pharmacy technicians responsibilities that formerly belonged to pharmacists. The series spotlighted several errors in prescription preparation by pharmacy technicians.

Earning certification as a pharmacy technician could help you avoid such skepticism, and make your resume more attractive to employers. To earn certification by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board, you must pass their qualifying exam. Successful completion qualifies you to work as a Certified Pharmacy Technician.

Financial Benefits for Pharmacy Technicians
According to the BLS, pharmacy technicians earned a mean annual salary of $26,510 in 2006. Because many pharmacies remain open twenty-four hours a day, pharmacy technicians might be called on to work evenings and/or weekends. Often, pharmacies offer their technicians a slightly higher wage for these less-desirable shifts.

Pharmacy technicians with significant training and proper certification often enter more specialized positions. This includes job titles such as nuclear pharmacy technician and chemotherapy technician. In larger establishments, some technicians advance to management positions, and assist in the training of less experienced peers. While varied, wages for such specialty occupations are often higher.

Despite the recent controversy regarding certification, pharmacy technicians can expect excellent job prospects over the next several years. If you attend a pharmacy technician training program and earn your certification, you could be one of the first technicians to benefit from this rapid growth.

"ASHP Encouraged by Bill Requiring Pharmacy Technician Registration and Training," ASHP
"Drugstore Chains Rely on Pharmacy Technicians," USATODAY.com
"Fact Sheet," National Pharmacy Technician Association
"NPTA Responds to USA Today Articles," National Pharmacy Technician Association
"Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2006," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
"Pharmacy Technicians," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Publish date: October 15, 2010