Your Prescription for How to Become a Pharmacy Technician
By Gordon Hanson on 04/11/2017
If you’ve ever needed to fill a prescription, you’ve likely come into contact with a pharmacy technician, whether you knew it or not. People often confuse the pharmacy technician career with that of a pharmacist. But once you’re aware of the distinction between the two, it may excite you to learn that there is a path to the field that doesn’t require several years of school.
It’s equally exciting to hear that jobs for pharmacy technicians are expected to increase at the faster-than-average rate of nine percent through 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The demand for these healthcare professionals has you considering this career path.
But you’re still left wondering how to become a pharmacy technician.
To help you in your research, we used government data and expert insight to identify six important steps for getting started in this profession. Use this list to help you create your own plan of attack.
How to become a pharmacy technician in six steps
1. Determine if you would make a good pharmacy technician
Being a pharmacy technician (pharm tech) requires someone who has a unique blend of hard and soft skills. There will be a significant amount of customer interaction involved, which means people skills are a necessity. On the flip side, the precise measurements and accurate calculations call for an analytical mind.
We used real time job analysis software to examine nearly 75,000 pharmacy technician job postings from the past year.1 The data helped us identify the ten skills in highest demand. Here’s what we found:
- Knowledge of HIPAA
- Customer service
- Occupational health and safety
- Patient privacy
- Retail experience
- Legal compliance
- Insurance knowledge
- Data entry
- Customer billing
As you can see, the list above features a blend of technical and transferable skills. You may already have experience in some of these areas, but don’t let the rest intimidate you. These are all learned skills that are typically covered in the curriculum of a Pharmacy Technician Certificate Program or are learned on the job.
2. Look into pharmacy technician training programs
It is possible to land a pharmacy technician position with a high school diploma alone, with on-the-job training provided upon hiring. But many employers prefer candidates to have some postsecondary training and education. Requirements also vary by state, so it’s essential to check your state’s restrictions.
If you choose to enroll in a Pharmacy Technician Certificate Program, you will learn the fundamentals and build skills that will prepare you for the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE). Becoming a certified pharmacy technician (CPhT) means your credentials will be recognized by pharmacies nationwide, increasing your marketability.
Because these programs can be completed in as few as nine months2, it’s an efficient way to become a qualified professional and prove your commitment to your career.
3. Prepare for success as a student
Going to school is always a big commitment. Consider how classes will impact your personal schedule because you’ll likely need to shift some priorities around. While the time commitment for school and studying has many variables, here is a good starting point for planning how much time to devote:
“A general rule of thumb is for each credit hour, you should spend about two or three hours per week studying, reviewing and completing work for that course,” suggests Dr. Jeremy Barthels, Department Chair of the Rasmussen College Pharmacy Technician Program. For example, he says in a three-credit course, students typically spend about six to nine hours each week.
By knowing this upfront and planning accordingly, you’ll be better prepared for the workload and less likely to fall behind. A little preparation can go a long way.
4. Master effective time-management skills
If you’re hoping to start your pursuit of becoming a pharmacy technician while working your current job, you’re not alone. Most working adults don’t have the luxury of leaving the workforce for an extended period of time. After all, you still have bills to pay and a family to support.
You’ll be happy to hear that it is possible and reasonable to work another job while enrolled in a pharmacy technician program, according to Barthels. But it’s important to understand that there are limitations.
“There are only 24 hours in a day,” Barthels says. “For each student, the balance between school and personal life is going to be different. But no matter your situation, time management is the key to academic and personal success.”
Check out this article for some time management tips to help ease the transition.
5. Earn your Pharmacy Technician Certificate
Pharmacy technician training provides the skills you need to prepare for your career. The best training programs should cover both interpersonal skill sets and more technical skill sets to prepare you for the dynamic duties you’ll face on the job.
For example, the Pharmacy Technician Certificate Program at Rasmussen College covers the following subjects:
- Preparing and handling medications: Students learn to read medication orders, fill prescriptions, prepare labels and perform inventory functions within the pharmacy setting.
- Ensuring safety and quality: Students learn to understand infection and safety control policies and procedures to protect both patients and employees.
- Acquiring in-demand technical skills: Students gain practical experience using pharmacy software and technology to support pharmacists in a retail setting.
- Developing professional practice skills: Students will prepare to ensure patient confidentiality by providing a high level of customer service to patients at a retail counter or over the phone.
6. Take the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE)
Many states and employers require pharmacy technicians to pass an exam administered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board. The PTCB exam tests students in nine categories, which are referred to as “knowledge domains” by the board. Within each of the knowledge domains are more specific sub-domains. A large portion of the exam is made up of performing calculations.
Becoming a certified pharmacy technician (CPhT) can help improve your employment opportunities and could lead to increased earning potential, according to the PTCB. You can prepare for the exam by taking advantage of the practice exams and mobile app available through the PTCB.
Are you ready to take the first step?
Now that you have some insight on how to become a pharmacy technician, you can determine if this is the career path you want to follow. If the answer is yes, it’s time to start mapping out your next steps.
Learn more about how earning a Pharmacy Technician Certificate can help jumpstart your career in as few as nine months.2
- 10 Things You Need to Know Before Working in a Pharmacy
- What Does a Pharmacy Technician Do? A Closer Look Behind the Counter
- Pharmacy Technician Requirements: Is Certification Worth It?
1 Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 74,292 pharmacy technician job postings, March 01, 2016–February 28, 2017).
2 Time to complete is dependent on accepted transfer credits and courses completed each quarter.