What is a Pharmacy Technician, Anyway? A Glimpse Behind the Counter
Whether you’ve battled a bout of pink eye or your kindergartner is a continual recipient of a strep throat diagnosis, you’ve probably made your way to the local pharmacy more than once in your life.
With your insurance card handy and your prescription at the ready, you find yourself approaching the counter to pick up your medicine from a friendly pharmacy technician. These medicinal superheroes can connect you with a pharmacist to get answers for your dosage and medication questions, and they’ll handle all the details of getting your prescription ready. Without pharmacy techs and their knowledge of all things related to medicine, your home would certainly be a less healthy place.
So what is a pharmacy technician, anyway? What do they do besides hand out prescriptions to parents with sniffling children? If you’ve ever admired the astute pharmacy techs behind the counter and wondered if it would be the right career fit for you, read ahead for a glimpse behind the counter. We’ve compiled a pharmacy tech’s common job duties, career outlook and a variety of other tidbits to give you the big picture of this healthcare profession.
What is the role of a pharmacy technician?
Pharmacy technicians assist pharmacists in measuring and managing prescription medication for customers and health professionals. They may fill prescriptions, measure quantities of medication, label and organize prescriptions, accept payment for prescribed medicine and keep track of customer and patient information.
Pharmacy technicians also have a knack for customer service since they’re generally on the front lines of the pharmacy. Pharmacy techs can often be found answering phone calls, talking with customers, dealing with insurance companies and arranging for patients to talk with a pharmacist if they have any medication questions.
Where do pharmacy technicians work?
You’ll generally find pharmacy technicians working under the supervision of a pharmacist in standalone pharmacies, drug stores, general medical and surgical hospitals, grocery stores and even department stores. Most healthcare facilities tout a pharmacist and pharmacy technicians, but if there’s not one within the building, there’s likely to be one nearby.
No matter where they work, most pharmacy technicians are on their feet for much of the workday. Their job behind the counter is more active than you might guess; they’re constantly walking to and fro as they find the right medication and deliver it to patients. Comfy shoes are a necessity for pharmacy techs!
What skills are needed to become a pharmacy technician?
Pharmacy technicians need to be detail-oriented and have strong skills in math, organization and listening. They also need to be able to go above and beyond in customer service. These healthcare professionals are a clever cocktail of skillsets, and both people skills and logical thinking are necessary for the position.
We used real-time job analysis software from Burning-Glass.com to take a closer look at more than 80,000 pharmacy technician job postings from the past year. This data assisted us in pinpointing the top skills employers are seeking in pharm tech candidates.* Here are some of the top skills employers want in pharmacy technician applicants:
- Customer service
- Familiarity with HIPAA
- Prescription processing
- Pharmacist assistance
- Prescription filling
- Data entry
- Customer billing
What education and training is needed to become a pharmacy technician?
A high school diploma is a must to become a pharmacy technician, but beyond that, there are a couple of options for training and education. Some pharmacy tech jobs simply require on-the-job training, while others require postsecondary education in pharmacy technology.
Most education programs award a pharmacy technician certificate after one year or less, but some require further training or a longer duration of schooling. In your pharmacy tech classes, you’ll learn about the names, uses and dosages of medicines, pharmacy arithmetic, recordkeeping and pharmacy law and ethics, as well as a variety of other pertinent information.
Most states regulate pharmacy technicians and require they be certified via an exam. The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board requires such a test, but the National Healthcare Association is more concerned with a student’s training program and work experience. Pharmacy technicians who are certified must re-certify every two years via continuing education courses.
What is the career outlook for pharmacy technicians?
Most careers in healthcare have a fantastic outlook thanks to the aging baby boomer population, as well as the federal mandates associated with the Affordable Care Act. Because of these factors, pharmacy technician jobs are expected to grow by 9 percent through 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Older generations tend to use more medication than younger ones, and it’s likely that more pharmacy technicians will be needed as millions of Americans age in the coming years. The pharmaceutical field is a growing industry, and becoming a pharmacy technician could be a great vocation to hitch your wagon to.
Do you want to be the one behind the counter?
If you have a love of details and the people skills to handle a steady stream of customers, a pharmacy tech job might be the career with your name on it!
Now that we’ve answered your burning question, “What is a pharmacy technician?” learn what it’s like to work behind the counter, and let the testimonies of other pharmacy technicians confirm your belief that this career might be the one for you.
*Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 81,682 pharmacy technician job postings, June 1, 2016 – May 31, 2016)
Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.