What Does a Pharmacy Technician Do? A Closer Look Behind the Counter
By Callie Malvik on 02/10/2020
You’ve interacted with them many times. You run in to your pharmacy of choice to pick up a prescription, smile at the friendly face behind the counter as they hand you your paper bag and you’re on your way. But have you ever stopped to wonder what else those helpful folks do during their shifts?
They’re called pharmacy technicians, and they play an important role in the healthcare system. But what does a pharmacy technician do exactly? The simple answer is they assist the pharmacist with various tasks. But let’s take a closer look at their specific responsibilities and what it takes to perform them.
What do pharmacy technicians do?
Pharmacy technicians (or pharmacy techs for short) work under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist to help dispense medications for customers or health professionals, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).1 This role also involves a fair amount of administrative work and customer service.
Here are some common duties of a pharmacy technician:1
- Measuring amounts of medication for prescriptions
- Packaging and labeling prescriptions
- Accepting payment for prescriptions and processing insurance claims
- Organizing inventory and informing pharmacists of any shortages
- Answering phone calls from customers and referring them to a pharmacist if necessary
- Collecting information needed to fill a prescription
- Entering customer information into a computer system
Where do pharmacy technicians work?
The answer to this question may seem obvious—pharmacy technicians work in pharmacies, of course! But there are different types of pharmacies that employ these healthcare professionals, some being more common than others.
More than half of all pharmacy technicians work in drug store pharmacies, according to the BLS.1 Another 17 percent are employed within state, local or private hospitals—and beyond that, a small fraction of pharmacy techs work in other types of general merchandise stores.1
Regardless of which type of pharmacy they’re employed by, pharmacy techs can expect to spend much of their time on their feet. Whether it’s standing at the checkout counter interacting with customers or organizing and taking inventory in the back room, things tend to be fast-paced and there’s not a lot of down time.
Most drug store pharmacies follow standard hours of operation, resulting in fairly routine work schedules for pharmacy technicians. Those pharmacy techs employed by hospitals, however, are more likely to be required to work less conventional hours, including overnight or holiday shifts.
What skills do pharmacy technicians need?
You’re now aware that the duties of a pharmacy technician require a blend of hard and transferable “soft” skills. Medical knowledge and technical training is critical, but must be complemented by some important transferable skills in order to excel.
We used real-time job analysis software to examine nearly 100,000 pharmacy technician job postings from the past year. This data helped us identify the skills employers are seeking from candidates when filling these positions.
Top technical skills for pharmacy technicians:2
- Customer service
- Retail industry knowledge
- Prescription filling
- Legal compliance
- Insurance knowledge
- Quality assurance and control
- Inventory management
- Customer billing
Top transferable skills for pharmacy technicians:2
- Problem solving
- Physical abilities
- Computer literacy
- Relationship building
Other important aspects of a pharmacy technician’s job
There are a few key components of a pharmacy technician’s role that are worth highlighting more in depth: customer service, tools and technology, and inventory management. These themes were all alluded to in the list of duties above, but let’s take some time to unpack them a bit more.
Working with people plays a major role in every pharmacy technician’s job. In addition to working closely with pharmacists who supervise their work, they also have plenty of interaction with the customers who need medication and the healthcare professionals who prescribe them.
Pharmacy techs are often the first point of contact for customer questions, from phone calls to prescription pick-ups. Though specific questions about medications must be referred to the pharmacist, it’s the pharmacy tech’s responsibility to field those questions and hand them off to the pharmacist when warranted. They may also deal with insurance companies to process claims, since the majority of medication is billed to insurance.
Tools and technology
Technology and other tools are another big part of a career as a pharmacy technician. It’s no secret that precision and detail are highly critical when counting, measuring and filling prescriptions. Because of this, pharmacy techs work with tools like auger filling machines, laboratory balances, blenders and emulsifiers, and laboratory mills.
Technicians also utilize certain software and technology to assist them in their job duties. This may include basic accounting software to process payments, medical software for obtaining health and prescription information, database software to manage customers’ prescriptions and label-making machines.
Pharmacy technicians are also responsible for assisting in the maintenance and upkeep of the pharmacy itself, ensuring there is an adequate amount of drugs and other necessary supplies at all times. This requires strong organizing skills and a keen eye for detail.
Pharmacy techs must find the right balance of keeping sufficient inventory to fulfill patient needs while minimizing excessive stock. This requires a strong collaboration with the pharmacist to establish and uphold effective inventory procedures.
How do you become a pharmacy technician?
If the information above has you considering the possibility of becoming a pharmacy technician, you’re probably curious about the process of pursuing this career path. The good news is that the training requirements are significantly fewer than many jobs in the healthcare field. You won’t need to spend multiple years in school to become a pharmacy technician.3
In fact, some pharmacy technician jobs can be secured with just a high school diploma and on-the-job training. However, the BLS specifies that most states regulate pharmacy technicians, which may require passing an exam or complete a formal education program.1
Some pharmacy technician certificate programs can be completed in as few as nine months.3 The curriculum this training is based on helps students acquire the fundamental skills needed to successfully manage the various facets of a pharmacy tech position.
Common Pharmacy Technician courses:
- Customer Service in Healthcare
- Medical Terminology
- Foundations of Pharmacy Practice
- Pharmacology for Technicians
- Sterile and Non-Sterile Compounding
Completing a program like the one at Rasmussen College will prepare you to take the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE). The BLS reports that some states require pharmacy techs to be certified, and that this credential can increase job prospects regardless of official requirements.1 Earning a certificate can also lead to higher earnings and more promotion opportunities, according to the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB).
Considering a career as a pharmacy technician?
Now that you know more about what pharmacy technicians do, can you envision yourself taking on this rewarding role? In less than a year, you could be helping provide patients with the life-changing medications they depend on.
Learn more about the satisfying aspects of the job in our article, “7 Benefits of Becoming a Pharmacy Technician.”
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed January 2020]. Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
2Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 98,833 pharmacy technician job postings, Jan. 01, 2019 – Dec. 31, 2019).
3Completion time is dependent on transfer credits accepted and the number of courses completed each term.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2017. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2020.
Graduates of this program meet the educational requirements needed to apply for a Pharmacy Technician license or registration from the board of pharmacy or equivalent agency in the following states: AL, AK, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, HI, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MI, MN, MS, MO, MT, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, VT, VA, WI and WY. Other eligibility requirements may apply. Please check with the board of pharmacy or equivalent agency in your state of residence. This program may not meet the educational requirements needed to apply for a Pharmacy Technician license or registration in states not listed above. Please check with the board of pharmacy or equivalent agency in your state of residence for further information.