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Pharmacy Technician Education, Schools, and Career Overview

When it comes to dosing and dispensing medication, mistakes can be costly, which is precisely why pharmacists spend years in college learning their trade. Educational demands for the pharmacy technicians that assist them are not as extensive, but many employers still prefer to hire candidates who have completed formal certificate or degree programs. Pharmacy technician schools can often stand in place of on-the-job experience for those pursuing professional certifications, too. Read on to learn more about the different types of pharmacy tech programs and credentials available, and what they entail.

How to Become a Pharmacy Technician

Pharmacy technicians can often master their work through on-the-job training, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov), employers often prefer candidates who have completed formal training programs. Some states even require pharmacy techs to be certified or licensed -- a process that may demand formal training, especially for candidates without extensive experience.

Pharmacy technician degree programs

Whether looking to eventually be a pharmacist or not, the following are some of the most prevalent certificate and degree options for pharmacy techs:

  • Postsecondary certificate. Postsecondary pharmacy technician certificates are essentially the baseline credential for formally trained pharmacy technicians. Programs vary, but tend to require less than two years of study. According to O*Net, postsecondary certificates are the most common credential these professionals earn, at least among those who do not learn on-the-job.
  • Associate degrees. Associate degrees, though rarely required, can be tremendously helpful for pharmacy technicians since they may give job seekers an edge over lesser-trained competition. They can also serve as stepping stones to more advanced degrees and careers, particularly among budding pharmacists. Associate degrees vary, but generally require about two years of study.
  • Bachelor's degrees. Employers rarely require bachelor's degrees of their pharmacy technicians, but they may prefer to hire candidates who have them. It is not unusual for future pharmacists to earn a bachelor's degree in an area like pharmacy science, then get hands-on experience as pharmacy technicians while attending graduate school.
  • Professional certifications. The BLS reports that some states and employers require pharmacy technicians to become professionally certified to practice. Professional certifications are awarded through organizations like the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board or the National Healthcareer Association, and typically require candidates to meet minimum education or experience requirements and pass a formal exam.

Which of these credentials is right for you depends very much on your state, employer and long-term career goals. The BLS recommends consulting your state's Board of Pharmacy to get a sense for minimum training requirements.

Pharmacy tech training

Each of the pharmacy technician credentials outlined above is unique in scope, but all aim to provide students with the same skills. That means that even though programs vary, many offer similar coursework. The following are some of the most common courses available to those studying pharmacy technology or science, as reported by The College Board:

  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Pharmaceutics
  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmaceutical regulation and law
  • Pharmacy calculations
  • Statistics
  • Physics
  • Calculus

The BLS notes that certified pharmacy technicians must often complete continuing education courses in order to renew their licenses. These classes review basic skills and address any trends or advances impacting the field. Note that while internships are not necessarily required of pharmacy technicians, the PTCB and NHA will often accept one year of on-the-job experience in lieu of formal training during the certification process. Even students enrolled in pharmacy technician programs can benefit from the hands-on experience internships provide. Consult pharmacy technician schools, certifying organizations, local employers or your state's Board of Pharmacy to learn more.

Pharmacy Technician Salary and Career Outlook

A growing elderly population with increased pharmaceutical needs could help boost job growth, as will advances in pharmaceutical research that expand the types of diseases and medical conditions that can be treated with prescription medications.

Here's an idea of what the profession could expect in the coming years for job outlook:

Additionally, here's an idea of what type of salary someone employed as a pharmacy tech might expect:

The BLS reports that job prospects are typically higher for formally trained and certified pharmacy techs, and for those with experience in retail settings. Pharmacy techs may find that pharmacies and drug stores employed the vast bulk of pharmacy technicians, but hospitals, general merchandise stores and grocery stores are places to look for pharmacy tech jobs at, too. Most pharmacy techs worked full-time. Evening and weekend hours are not uncommon, especially among those working in hospitals of 24-hour drug stores.

Sources:

  1. National Healthcareer Association, http://www.nhanow.com/home.aspx
  2. Pharmacy Technician Certification Board, http://www.ptcb.org/
  3. Pharmacy Technicians, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacy-technicians.htm
  4. Summary Report for: Pharmacy Technicians, O*NET OnLine, 2013, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-2052.00

Pharmacy Technician Schools