Behind the scenes of retail and mail-order pharmacies across the nation, pharmacy technicians serve a vital purpose: preparing prescription medications for customers. Over 333,000 pharmacy technicians were working in the U.S. in 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Pharmacy technician training options
While training is not required for some pharmacy technician jobs, it can increase an applicant's chances of landing a job. Certification and associate degree programs are common, taking from six months to two years to complete. Programs can be found online and on-campus at vocational schools, hospitals, community colleges and within the military. Longer training programs may include an internship.
In addition to the training programs mentioned above, professional organizations offer their own training and certification programs. The National Pharmacy Technician Association (NPTA) offers certificate programs in sterile products, chemo and hazardous drugs, and non-sterile pharmaceutical compounding.
Certification and associate degree training programs in pharmacy technician subjects generally combine technical and clerical skills. They often include training in pharmaceutical calculations, medical and pharmaceutical terminology, recordkeeping, and pharmaceutical techniques. Pharmacy ethics and law may also be covered.
Online pharmacy technician degrees
Online health care degrees and certification programs in pharmacy technology are available - and may be fully online or could require some hands-on study or internship requirements in addition to online study. Certification programs offered by the NPTA include both home-study and hands-on requirements.
Training online requires the ability to pace oneself and a high level of motivation. Online programs may have students sharing work with professors and peers in an online forum environment while also completing reading and assignment coursework on their own. As one might expect, the individual online training requirements vary by program.
Typical careers for pharmacy technicians
Pharmacy technicians should be accurate and precise. Taking control of a customer's prescription history and needs means that successful technicians should be detail-oriented and have the ability to work with exact figures at all hours of their shift. Not surprisingly, pharmacy technicians must also be drug-free, and employers generally require a drug test from applicants as well as participation in ongoing drug screenings.
Retail and mail-order pharmacies are the most common employment destinations for trained pharmacy technicians. Within that category, technicians can be found in retail and grocery stores, hospitals, and drug wholesalers. The BLS reports that while advancement options may be limited, some technicians eventually move into supervisory positions or sales. With additional years of training, pharmacy technicians can become fully licensed pharmacists.
At a glance:
- Employed pharmacy technicians in the U.S. in 2010: 333,500
- Mean annual wage in 2010: $29,330
- Degree holders commonly go into: health and personal care stores, general medical and surgical hospitals, other general merchandise stores, grocery stores, department stores
- States with the highest concentration of pharmacy technician jobs: West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Alabama