Pharmacy Technician

A 2016 article in the Journal of Community Hospital Internal Medicine Perspectives reported that “it is believed that preventable medication errors impact more than 7 million patients and cost almost $21 billion annually across all care settings.”

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, as noted by the research, is another set of eyes on the medication being dispensed. Researchers noted that “pharmacy technicians have substantial access to medications and a great potential to catch impending error, especially in the face of pharmacist fatigue.”

So how does a person join this crucial and in-demand career in healthcare?

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 2018 and 2028 the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019) estimates there will be a 10 percent increase in jobs in this field, translating into 31,500 new jobs nationally. Pharmacy technicians earn $33,950 per year on average.

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

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 hospital, clinic, and retail pharmacies.

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

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: $309 per credit-hour

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: $6,921 for the course

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 a 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 2019), the 417,780 pharmacy technicians in the U.S. earn an average annual salary of $35,250. Earning potential can vary by region, specialization, work environment, and level of experience. Here are the national percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $24,120
  • 25th percentile: $27,980
  • 50th percentile: (median) $33,950
  • 75th percentile: $40,440
  • 90th percentile: $49,130
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson


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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