Pharmacy Technician

Each year the FDA receives more than 100,000 reports of medication errors. A recent study found that these errors cause between 7,000 to 9,000 deaths per year. These errors happen for many reasons, and safeguards in the pharmacy dispensing system are supposed to catch mistakes and mitigate harm. The most effective safeguard in pharmacy is another set of eyes on the medication being dispensed. 

Other research has noted that “pharmacy technicians have substantial access to medications and a great potential to catch impending errors, especially in the face of pharmacist fatigue.” 

Pharmacy technicians have received specialized training with an associate degree or certificate program; others have completed extensive on-the-job training. These professionals are knowledgeable about medications, order entry and processing, federal regulations, and how to dispense medications correctly. Additionally, they assist with pharmacy operations such as receiving payment, processing insurance, and answering basic customer questions. They work under the direct supervision of a pharmacist and are critical to a smooth-running pharmacy.

Hospital, clinic, and retail pharmacies all employ pharmacy technicians. As the population of the US continues to age, so does the demand for medications and the demand on pharmacies. Because of this, between 2020 and 2030, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021) estimates there will be a 4 percent increase in jobs in this field, translating into 16,600 new jobs nationally. Pharmacy technicians earn $36,450 per year on average. 

This growing essential profession has a relatively quick training and certification process.n Continue reading to learn what it takes to become a pharmacy technician, including top online or on-campus programs, how to become certified, and state licensure requirements.

Pharmacy Technician Specializations & Degree Types

Pharmacy technicians can begin their careers with a certificate program. These programs are offered at trade schools and community colleges across the country. If students wish to pursue a degree instead, many schools offer the opportunity to complete an associate degree as a pharmacy technician. 

Through taking additional courses, continuing education, or certificate programs, pharmacy technicians can specialize in fields such as HIV meds, chemotherapy, sterile products (such as IVs), or even automated medication dispensing.

Admissions Requirements for Pharmacy Technician Programs

Requirements for admission to pharmacy technician programs are straightforward. Applicants need to have completed high school or obtained a GED, fill out an online application, and pay an application fee. Most programs also require applicants to pass a criminal background check and a drug screening test. Lastly, many community colleges require a minimum level of math proficiency, which is evaluated through a placement test.

Pharmacy Technician Program Accreditation

Ensuring a pharmacy technician course is accredited is essential. With the wide variety of courses available, accreditation ensures that a program meets a minimum standard of quality in addition to meeting the requirements for certification.  

The primary accrediting body is the Pharmacy Technician Accreditation Commission (PTAC) formed by a joint project from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) and the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE). While not an accrediting agency, the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) also recognizes programs that meet the education requirements for certification.

On-Campus Pharmacy Technician Degree Programs

Cerritos College 

At Cerritos College, students can choose to complete a pharmacy technician certificate program in one year or an associate of arts in two years. Graduates of this program are not only eligible to sit for the Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT) exam, but they also meet the requirements for licensure in California. 

The 31-credit certificate program and 60-credit associate degree have overlapping pharmacy course requirements such as medication calculations, over-the-counter products, medical terminology, and a pharmacy skills lab. Admission requirements include graduating from high school and earning satisfactory scores on English and math placement tests. 

  • Location: Norwalk, CA
  • Duration: One-and-a-half to two years
  • Accreditation: American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP)
  • Tuition: $310 per credit

Chemeketa Community College

The pharmacy technician certificate program at Chemeketa Community College can be completed in as little as a year, or students can opt to earn an associate degree and complete the program in two years. At Chemeketa, students learn through a mix of classroom instruction and lab work. Graduates know how to maintain client and inventory records, how to dispense and mix medications, and how to be a leader as a pharmacy manager. 

Upon completion of the certificate or associate degree, graduates are eligible to sit for the Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT) exam. From 2015 to 2017, the most recently reported years, more than 90 percent of the graduates of this program passed the exam. Typical employers for graduates include hospitals, clinics, and retail pharmacies. 

  • Location: Salem, OR 
  • Duration: One to two years
  • Accreditation: American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP)
  • Tuition: $280 per credit

Pikes Peak Community College

Students can complete either a pharmacy technician certificate or an associate’s of applied science degree at Pikes Peak Community College. Both options have students completing the same coursework for the first year. The associate’s degree then has a second full year of studies that students must complete in order to earn their degree. Courses students must finish in their first year include pharmacology, pharmacy law, and organizational communication. In addition to lecture classes, all students must attend 320 hours of clinical experiences in both institutional and community pharmacies. 

This is a rigorous on-campus and in-person program. To be eligible for admission, applicants must complete prerequisite coursework in math, computer literacy, and English composition. 

  • Location: Colorado Springs, CO 
  • Duration: One to two years
  • Accreditation: American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP)
  • Tuition: $629.25 per credit

Wake Technical Community College

Wake Technical Community College offers students the option to complete either a pharmacy technology diploma in one year or a pharmacy technology associate of applied science (AAS) degree in two years. Both programs prepare graduates for entry-level work as pharmacy technicians. 

However, the associate’s degree includes additional general education classes and more clinical experiences. Students must pass the PTCB exam prior to the start of their second semester of either program. Therefore, all graduates are eligible for state licensure. 

Admission to this program is relatively easy. Students must be 18 years old and provide a GED or high school diploma along with official transcripts. Once admitted, students will undergo a background check to ensure they can work in a pharmaceutical setting.  

  • Location: Raleigh, NC
  • Duration: One to two years
  • Accreditation: American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP)
  • Tuition: $391 per credit

Sinclair Community College

Graduates from the one-year pharmacy technician technical certificate at Sinclair Community College have the necessary training and education to work in a variety of pharmacies, including hospital, retail, long-term care, and home health. Upon completion of this certificate, students will be able to demonstrate knowledge of pharmacy practice, sterile compounding, and pharmaceutical calculations. 

For admission, applicants must complete an online or in-person application. Most students are admitted without having to provide a high school diploma or GED. However, all incoming students must take placement tests to accurately place them in the appropriate classes.   

  • Location: Dayton, OH
  • Duration: One to two years
  • Accreditation: American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP)
  • Tuition: $334.40 per credit

Online or Hybrid Pharmacy Technician Degree Programs

Central Oregon Community College 

The online pharmacy technician program at Central Oregon Community College allows students to gain the necessary skills to enter this profession without having to relocate. Graduates learn how to work in fast-paced environments and follow pharmacy regulations and guidelines. As this is an accredited program, graduates are eligible to sit for the Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT) exam. 

Students are able to complete the majority of their coursework for this one-year program online. However, students are required to travel to campus twice in each of the fall and winter terms for in-person labs. During the spring term, students complete their practicums in their home communities. Admission to this program happens once a year for the fall term. 

  • Location: Bend, OR 
  • Duration: One year 
  • Accreditation: American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP)
  • Tuition: $318 per credit

Spokane Community College 

Spokane Community College offers students seeking a pharmacy technician program the option to complete a certificate program or an associate in applied science (AAS). This accredited program trains students on how to dispense medications, watch for potential drug interactions, calculate dosages, manage pharmacy inventory, and maintain client records. 

Both the associate and certificate programs are offered completely online each spring, but only ten students are accepted into the program; therefore, admissions can be competitive. 

Requirements for admission include graduating from high school, national and state background checks, three letters of recommendation, a minimum typing speed of 35 words per minute, an appropriate ALEKS math score, and an interview with a program instructor. Students must maintain a 2.0 GPA average to remain in the program.  

  • Location: Spokane, WA
  • Duration: One to two years
  • Accreditation: American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP)
  • Tuition: $11,512 for the course

Penn Foster Career School

The online pharmacy technician certificate at Penn Foster Career School is a self-paced curriculum that prepares graduates for entry-level work. Courses covered include career readiness, pharmacology, and pharmacy law and regulations. In total, students must complete 13 courses and 31 exams. 

This is one of the most flexible programs available with no due dates, and students can start at any time. Despite the independent nature of the program, students do have access to online student communities and expert faculty in order to network or receive support. 

This program is designed to prepare students to sit for the national certification exam and obtain state licensures. Included in the cost of this program is a voucher for the PCTE practice exam and actual exam.  

  • Location: Scranton, PA
  • Duration: Six to nine months
  • Accreditation: American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP)
  • Tuition: $1,209 for the course

Ashworth College 

With just five lessons, the pharmacy technician career diploma at Ashworth College is a quick and affordable way to enter this career. In addition to the traditional pharmacy technician education, students in this program will also learn apothecary conversions in order to be able to compound medications. An active online community of students and faculty also sets this program apart. 

Students who complete the program with at least a 2.0 GPA, are 18 years old, and pass a background check are eligible to enter the externship program. Upon completion of the career diploma, eligible students will be placed at a pharmacy local to them where they can put the skills they have learned into practice. Many students are hired by the pharmacy where they complete their externship. 

  • Location: Norcross, GA
  • Duration: Four months
  • Accreditation: American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP)
  • Tuition: $1,199 for the course

University of Alaska, Anchorage – School of Allied Health

The University of Alaska, Anchorage School of Allied Health offers an entirely online pharmacy technician occupational endorsement certificate. This program consists of 16 credit hours of coursework, and students can choose between a fall or spring start date. Graduates of this program are well prepared to sit for the PTCB exam. While this program is geared towards students looking to start a career as a pharmacy technician, it can also be a stepping stone to a pre-pharmacy degree or even a PharmD program. 

To complete this program, students must be degree-seeking students at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. At the time the application is submitted, students will designate that they are pursuing the pharmacy technician program. Recommended qualifications to be successful in completing this program are a high school diploma, English and math proficiency, and the ability to type at least 35 words per minute. 

  • Location: Anchorage, AK
  • Duration: Two semesters
  • Accreditation: American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP)
  • Tuition: $800 per credit 

How Long Does it Take to Become a Pharmacy Technician?

Pharmacy technician certificate programs can be completed in as little as one year after graduating from high school. Students can also choose to complete a two-year program which will result in an associate degree.

How To Become a Pharmacy Technician – Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)

Most pharmacy technician programs require applicants to have completed high school or have obtained a GED. Alternatively, if a professional pursues the work experience path instead of completing a pharmacy technician certificate, most employers require a high school diploma. High school students who wish to pursue this career should focus on courses such as math, chemistry, and biology to help prepare for further studies. 

Step 2: Complete a Pharmacy Technician Program or Obtain Required Work Experience (One to Two Years) 

Becoming a pharmacy technician can be accomplished through the completion of a pharmacy technician certificate or associate’s program or through work experience. Prospective pharmacy technicians should ensure they attend an accredited program to meet certification education requirements. 

In lieu of formal education, prospective pharmacy technicians can complete on-the-job training or work experience. The number of hours depends on the licensure pursued and individual state pharmacy boards, but they typically require at least 500 hours of verified work experience as a pharmacy technician.

Step 3: Earn a Pharmacy Technician Certification (Timeline Varies)

Pharmacy technicians are required to be certified in 21 states. The most common certification is as a Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT) through the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PCTB). Candidates need to have 500 hours of work experience or have completed a PTCB approved or nationally accredited pharmacy technician program. See the certification and licensure section below for more details.

Step 4: Obtain State Pharmacy Technician License (Timeline Varies)

All but four states require pharmacy technicians to be licensed. Licensure is done on a state-by-state basis and requirements vary. Some states require certification while others do not. Candidates should contact their local pharmacy board to ensure they meet all the requirements.

What Do Pharmacy Technicians Do?

Pharmacy technicians work in hospitals, clinics, and retail pharmacies. They work under the direct supervision of pharmacists and typical job duties include:

  • Collecting patient data in order to fill a prescription
  • Receiving prescriptions from physicians 
  • Dispensing medications that do not require making a professional judgment decision
  • Measuring and labeling medications 
  • Receiving payments for medications
  • Assisting with insurance billing for medications
  • Managing medication inventory in the pharmacy
  • Compounding medications 

Pharmacy Technician Certifications & Licensure

Twenty-one states require pharmacy technicians to earn a national certification such as the Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT) through the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PCTB). 

Candidates must have completed an accredited (or PTCB-approved) pharmacy education course or have at least 500 hours of work experience as a pharmacy technician. The exam takes two hours, comprises 90 questions, and costs $129. Candidates are expected to answer questions about medications, federal requirements, patient safety, quality assurance, and order processing. Certification renewals are required every year and require a $49 renewal fee as well as proof of 20 hours of continuing education units. 

Pharmacy technicians are required to be licensed in 46 states. Licensing is done on a state-by-state basis and aspiring pharmacy technicians should check with their local pharmacy boards to learn about requirements. 

How Much Do Pharmacy Technicians Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2020), the 415,310 pharmacy technicians in the U.S. earn an average annual salary of $36,450. Earning potential can vary by region, specialization, work environment, and level of experience. Here are the national percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $25,400
  • 25th percentile: $29,090
  • 50th percentile: (median) $35,100
  • 75th percentile: $41,660
  • 90th percentile: $50,430

Pharmacy Technician Career Alternatives

Here are a few alternatives to a career as a pharmacy technician. 

Become a Phlebotomist

Patients who are ordered to get blood drawn for testing must visit a phlebotomist. These healthcare professionals have received the necessary training to perform venipunctures, draw the correct amount of blood into the appropriate vials, and adequately store and transport the samples collected. 

  • Typical Education: Certificate 
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Medical Technologists (AMT), National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT), American Society for Clinical Pathology Board of Certification (ASCP-BOC)

Become a Medical Assistant

Medical assistants work in clinics, long-term care facilities, hospitals, and outpatient centers. They can provide basic patient care such as taking vital signs and administering medications per a physician’s orders, or they may work on the office side helping schedule appointments, bill insurance, and check patients in. 

  • Typical Education: Certificate
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: National Commission for Certifying Agencies

Become a Surgical Technologists

Operating rooms must be sterile environments. Surgical technologists are responsible for setting up and maintaining a sterile field so that physicians and their teams can complete procedures without worrying about contaminants. They are also responsible for ensuring that the necessary supplies are available for any given procedure. 

  • Typical Education: Certificate
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) or the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson

Writer

Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.

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