Pharmacy Technician Training
By Ashley Boyce, an allied health world staff writer
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What are the prerequisites for pharmacy tech training programs?With a high school diploma or equivalent GED, students can enter a pharmacy tech training program. There are no academic prerequisites beyond graduating high school, but the course work in pharmacy tech programs will tend to come easier to those who are confident in math and who did well in their study of the sciences.
What’s the significance of on-the-job training?We spoke with a pharmacy technician who explained that what is learned on the job at the pharmacy is the overwhelming bulk of what is used in the course of performing the work day to day. Classroom and clinical training that is provided through pharmacy tech programs lays the groundwork for relevant training, the vast majority of which is actually gained on the job. This is largely because training provided through online programs or vocational schools is general enough to apply to any type of pharmacy work, whether it is retail, or in-facility. For example, formal training would include learning IV calculations which are only relevant to in-facility pharmacy techs. Retail techs will never work with IVs and will therefore never make use of the coursework specific to calculating IV potency. On the other hand, formal training will spend little time addressing customer service skills which are absolutely vital to retail pharmacy work. Pharmacy techs should stay open to acquiring new skills and information even after they complete their formal training with an understanding that many of the most important skills will be developed on the job.
What can be expected from pharmacy tech training programs?Most pharmacy tech training programs can be completed in a year or less while going to school part-time. Vocational schools, community colleges, and online schools offer programs that will prepare graduates for entry-level positions as pharmacy technicians to begin their careers in either retail, hospital, online, or mail order pharmacies. All programs would consist of classroom and clinical components. Some schools that have partnered with working pharmacies provide externships as part of the program for real-world on-the-job experience. The cost of pharmacy tech programs differ based on region and the type of school, but most are very affordable. The cost of a program through a community college or vocational school is between $1,500 and $3,000 including books, materials, and liability insurance fees. Online programs are similar in cost, but usually represent the higher end this spectrum.
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What does the classroom component consist of?The classroom component of most pharmacy tech programs consists of pharmacy law and ethics which introduces students to federal and state laws that govern the handling and dispensing of pharmaceuticals, as well as the code of ethics that applies to all pharmacists and pharmacy technicians. They would also learn medical and pharmaceutical terminology specific to each of the body systems and the different classifications of pharmaceuticals and their abbreviations. These comprehensive programs teach communication skills as well as insurance and inventory procedures to prepare students for a job that balances the handling of insurance company bureaucracy with person to person customer contact.
Training in pharmaceutical calculations teaches the two most common international pharmaceutical systems of calculation and measurement: Roman and Arabic. This math-centered aspect of the program teaches ratios, percentages, metric measurements, and conversions all in the context of measuring dosages of pharmaceutical drugs. The calculations component of the training also deals with the flow-rate of drugs administered by IV.
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Pharmacology is taught to provide a basic understanding of pharmaceutical classifications and the applied use of immunobiologic agents, anti-infectives, cardiovasculars, respiratory agents, hormones, and many, many other pharmaceutical agents.
What does the clinical component consist of?The clinical portion of pharmacy tech programs is typically 40 hours in length and involves practice with handling pharmaceuticals, and the use of tools for measurement and accurate counting and dispensing of pills and capsules. The clinic is also where students learn IV admixture, aseptic technique, and compounding.
The clinical component deals with inventory control and order entry, as well as the delivery, stocking, and distribution of drugs. Students would learn how to visually identify certain drugs, and be trained in packaging techniques and pharmaceutical record-keeping. Programs will also introduce students to basic, but necessary skills, like cash register operation, computer entry, as well as phone skills.
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Are internships or externships available for pharmacy techs?Most common in the world of pharmacy are externships. These programs provide the same real-world on-the-job experience of internship programs, but are offered only for the experience and educational benefit since there is zero financial compensation. These externships are offered as the final component to many certificate programs and are indispensable to providing students with exposure to actual clinical practice. Externships are highly recommended by pharmacists and working pharmacy technicians. When determining which school to pursue a pharmacy technician program through, verify they offer an externship through a partnership with working pharmacies. Externships are considered job experience and can be listed as such on a resume. This gives a considerable advantage when submitting an application for employment.
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