How to Become a Pharmacy Technician
The first step in becoming a Certified Pharmacy Technician is to enroll in a pharmacy technician training program. These programs are offered by community colleges, college or university continuing education programs or vocational schools. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists accredits pharmacy technician programs that include at least 600 hours of instruction and 200 hours of professional experience or externship training. Most programs are one year in length, although some programs last longer and lead to an Associate of Applied Science in Pharmacy Technician degree.
After completion of a training program, aspiring pharmacy technicians generally take a certification exam offered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board or the National Health Career Association. Most states regulate pharmacy technicians in some way, but the standards vary from state to state. Make sure to consult your state's Board of Pharmacy for the regulations that apply to you.
Once they have passed the certification exam, pharmacy technicians must recertify every two years by completing 20 hours of continuing education courses.
While some states allow pharmacy technicians to begin working without completion of a formal training program, certification opens the door to higher paying and more rewarding jobs for pharmacy technicians across the board.
Choosing a pharmacy technician program is a critical decision for aspiring pharmacy technicians. When choosing from any number of pharmacy technician programs, there are several key factors to keep in mind. For starters, is the program certified by the America Society of Health-System Pharmacists or otherwise in line with your state's Board of Pharmacy requirements? Is the school located in a convenient place for your home or workplace? Are classes offered online or in the evening to accommodate your schedule? These are just a few of the questions to ask yourself when considering a pharmacy technician training program near you.
The price tag for a pharmacy technician training program can vary depending on a number of factors, primarily geographic location and type of school (e.g., community college, vocational school, university continuing education, etc.). In addition to these factors, a one year certification program is generally less expensive than a two year program resulting in an Associate of Applied Science in Pharmacy Technician degree. The cost for a community college program typically costs $460-$4,260 for in-state residents.
In addition to tuition, students need to plan for additional fees such as the certification exam fee, course materials and books, as well as additional optional certification exam fees, such as the IV Certification or the Compounding Certification.
Once in school, aspiring pharmacy technicians will take courses in pharmacology, pharmacy math, pharmacy laboratory skills, and fundamentals of chemistry. In general, programs will involve classroom instruction as well as laboratory studies. Some programs may offer online coursework in addition to in person laboratory work. In addition, most programs will require hands on professional work in the form of externships where students will learn directly from pharmacists and working pharmacy technicians. Programs will culminate in students taking the applicable certification exam to become a Certified Pharmacy Technician.
Before applying to jobs, aspiring pharmacy technicians must have a formal resume that lists their educational background, professional work experience including externship details as well as their certification status. In general, employers looking for pharmacy technicians are looking for the following qualities in applicants' resumes:
- Customer Service Skills: Pharmacy technicians spend much of their time interacting with customers by answering questions and accepting payment for prescriptions, and employers want to see experience working with people in a courteous and helpful manner.
- Attention to Detail: It goes without saying that making a mistake when filling a prescription medication can have disastrous consequences, so employers need to hire pharmacy technicians with a keen eye for detail to avoid making these kinds of mistakes. Attention to detail is also needed for other daily tasks such as assisting with inventory or updating patient files.
- Pharmacy Math Skills: Pharmacy technicians need to have a solid understanding of the math involved in counting pills and measuring or compounding medications.
- Organizational Skills: A successful pharmacy technician needs to be able to juggle several tasks throughout the work day, including measuring medications, pricing and filing medications, answering phones, handling inventory and providing customer service. Good organizational skills help pharmacy technicians balance their customer service duties with work assigned by the pharmacists.
In an interview, aspiring pharmacy techs should expect to answer questions relating to all of the above qualities as well as specific to the work experience listed on their resume. Here are a few sample interview questions aspiring pharmacy technicians should be comfortable answering:
- Why are you interested in becoming a pharmacy technician?
- Tell me about a time you dealt with a difficult customer.
- What does excellent customer service mean to you?
- Walk me through the process of filling a prescription.
- How do you verify a prescription?
- Do you have experience with online prescription services?
- How to do you keep up to date with pharmacy best practices and new medications?
In addition to being able to answer these interview questions, applicants should also have a few questions prepared for the hiring manager. This shows interest in the company and the job, as well as interview preparation and organizational skills.
Most importantly, make sure to prepare for your job interview by dressing appropriately, practicing a few questions and/or talking about your professional background with a friend, getting a good night's sleep the night before, and always arriving on time.
Most pharmacy technicians work in retail pharmacies and drug stores, helping pharmacists dispense prescription medication to customers, measuring amounts of medications, packaging and labeling prescriptions as well as answering phone calls and basic customer questions. Pharmacy technicians also work in hospitals and other medical facilities, in which they may make rounds in the hospital providing medications to patients. Most pharmacy technicians work full-time. Because pharmacies are often open at all hours, pharmacy technicians may have to work nights or weekends and spend most of the workday on their feet. Learn more about working as a pharmacy technician.