Step Up Your Career: How Pharmacy Technicians Can Advance in the Pharmacy Profession

Pharmacy technicians are essential to the growth of the pharmacy profession and the vitality of the healthcare landscape. As the pharmacy profession adapts to healthcare changes, pharmacy technicians need to advance in their roles to serve the needs of their patients and the organization they work for. Read on to discover what pharmacy technicians can do to distinguish themselves in the pharmacy profession and build rewarding healthcare careers.

Certifications and Certificate Programs

The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) offers certifications and certificate programs to technicians who want to specialize in certain areas. Their credential program allows technicians to work more effectively to offer safe and effective patient care.

Per PTCB's website, they indicate that the certifications assess a technician's mastery of job knowledge, require Continuing Education (CE), and award an acronym after one's name. Certificate programs evaluate learning outcomes from a PTCB-Recognized Education/Training Program. They do not expire or require maintenance, and do not award an acronym after the name upon completion. There are six certificate programs, which include controlled substances diversion prevention, medication history, technician product verification, hazardous drug management, billing and reimbursement, and immunization administration (in collaboration with the American Pharmacists Association).

The Advanced Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT-Adv) credential is bestowed upon active technicians who have completed at least four certificate programs including Technician Product Verification and/or Medication History, or three certificate programs and PTCB's Compounded Sterile Preparation Technician® (CSPT®) Certification and 3 years of work experience.

Advanced Technician Roles

The American Health System Pharmacists (ASHP) organization has nearly 58,000 members including pharmacists, student pharmacists, and pharmacy technicians. They have a dedicated resource page to feature advanced technician roles via case studies submitted by various health systems. These highlight some of the most common pharmacy technician roles in the hospital, which include informatics technicians, medication history technicians, and pharmacy purchasers.

  • Informatics Technicians work with frontline staff to resolve IT issues and advance various pharmacy-related IT products (EHR, automated dispensing cabinets, smart pumps, etc.).
  • Medication History Technicians are responsible for obtaining the most accurate medication history from patients to ensure that they receive the best, most effective care without medication errors.
  • The Pharmacy Purchaser's role is to manage drug inventory to meet the needs of day-to-day operations including managing drug shortages, ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements, and optimizing inventory management.

Other advanced technician roles and their descriptions can be found here.

Tips to Advance

There are huge demands for pharmacy technicians in various settings. Many employers want to retain their current technicians to maximize efficiency, reduce turnover rates and staffing costs, and keep overall team morale high. Hence, it is in the employer's best interest to create a wider career ladder for pharmacy technicians who want to advance. In addition, it's wise to have in-house training programs to groom current technicians to assume such roles and even financially sponsor technicians to obtain external certifications. It is also prudent for pharmacy technicians to advocate for advanced roles by talking to managers to express interests, volunteering for more projects, and coming up with solutions to workflow problems. When advanced roles are created, it is a win-win situation.

Phuoc Anne Nguyen, PharmD, MS, BCPS

What Is It Like to Work as a Hospital Pharmacy Technician?

Pharmacy technicians are taking on progressively expanding roles in the healthcare arena, and a need exists in the market for both new and experienced individuals. The healthcare system continues to become increasingly large and complex. There are many opportunities for pharmacy technicians, especially in a hospital setting. Read on to discover what pharmacy technicians can expect from a position in this sector.

The Initial Journey

Wuen Hernandez, a fourth-year pharmacy student (Class of 2021) from the University of Houston College of Pharmacy, has been working as a pharmacy technician in a large academic medical center. His interest in pharmacy was sparked when he enrolled in his high school's pharmacy technician preparatory class. This class was designed to teach high school students basic pharmacology, pharmacy mathematics, and pharmacy law. The main goal of this program was to allow graduating seniors to take the PTCB exam and hopefully obtain a job as a pharmacy technician post-graduation. As an incentive, the school offered to cover examination fees. Growing up, Hernandez always knew he wanted to work in the healthcare field, so this was an amazing opportunity that he couldn't miss.

The Transition

After five years of working retail chain pharmacy, Hernandez got tired of being overworked with minimal pay. There was always a constant push for more work, but with less help. He knew that he wanted to make a transition to find another job. He wanted to explore other fields of pharmacy – specifically, hospital pharmacy. A requirement for hospital inpatient pharmacy is having an IV certification, as it is a vital skill to serve acute care patients. He then enrolled in a pharmacy technician intravenous (IV) compounding certification class offered by a local company in Houston, TX. There are many organizations that offer this type of certification, which usually consists of a 2-day course with didactic and some practical applications.

Hernandez obtained his IV certification after completing the required training and started to apply for hospital pharmacy jobs, eventually finding employment at a tertiary hospital in the Texas Medical Center. By this time, he was getting ready to start pharmacy school and was not too sure which route in pharmacy he wanted to pursue. As a result, he kept both pharmacy technician jobs (in the hospital and in the retail chain). It is a good start to keep your options open by being in two settings if you have the time to dedicate and your manager is willing to work with your schedule. In addition, pharmacy technicians in retail sometimes get paid more than their hospital counterparts.

Onboarding Process and Job Duties

The hospital onboarding process requires the technician to complete various modules prior to receiving on-the-job training. Hernandez received a month-long training where he was able to shadow other pharmacy technicians to learn the daily workflow.

Hospital pharmacies have various roles for pharmacy technicians compared to retail pharmacies. During one shift, a pharmacy technician could be scheduled to do IVs, be the front technician to assist the pharmacy staff with first/cart fill doses, deliver medications, or prepare the oral syringe batch/pre-package medications. Other duties include preparing hazardous medication such as chemotherapy, preparing crash carts, RSI kits, and tackle boxes.

Hernandez’s hospital was big enough to have an operating room (OR) surgical satellite pharmacy where a pharmacist and pharmacy technician were staffed 24/7 to prepare any urgent/emergency (STAT) IV medication or deliver any medication needed in the OR. All hospitals have a central pharmacy where the main operations run from, but not all have satellite pharmacies, such as OR or intensive care units, as it takes more manpower and resources.

Key Takeaways

In many community hospitals, which comprise about 85% of all hospitals, resources are limited, so you learn to wear many different hats as a pharmacy technician. The evening team is responsible for pulling medications from the robotic inventory machine called MedCarousel for delivery/refill to all automatic dispensing units such as Pyxis. Again, depending on the size of the hospital and financial standpoint, different technologies exist due to capital costs. In general, when there is more automation, it helps to reduce some of the manual work. For example, with the robotic inventory carousel, it provides another level of protection in terms of retrieving the right medications with bar code scanning and reducing manual memorization of medications' locations.

When working at a hospital pharmacy you're working directly with a larger team, including doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, speech therapists, and pharmacists, which is very different from a retail pharmacy. Except for a few unique pharmacy technician duties, inpatient pharmacy does not usually deal with patients directly since their main job is to handle medications, stock them on the units, and work with nurses and pharmacists to take care of their requests. The hospital pharmacy technician job can be exciting for people who enjoy working with healthcare professionals and embrace a fast-paced environment with many growth opportunities.

Phuoc Anne Nguyen, PharmD, MS, BCPS