13 Things You Need to Know Before Working in a Pharmacy
Beginning a new career is exciting. It’s a fresh start—a time of growth and learning. It’s your opportunity to make a better life for yourself and your family. And if you are considering a career in a healthcare environment, you’ll be engaging in work that helps people make better lives for themselves as well.
“Working in the pharmacy is a great way to be a part of the medical field and help others without dealing with blood and other body fluids,” says Rasmussen University adjunct instructor Amanda Vickery.
But before you start down the path toward any career, there are a few things you should know. You want to understand the education requirements required, the work setting and the expectations involved. It’s helpful to have an idea of the salary potential and career outlook as well.
To give you a sneak peek of what it’s really like working in a pharmacy, we compiled a master list of the top things you should know beforehand. This way, if you do decide to work in a pharmacy, whether as a pharmacy tech or pharmacist, you’ll know just what to expect.
What you need to know before working in a pharmacy
This list combines professional insight and government data to give you a behind-the-scenes look at working in a pharmacy. Keep reading to determine if this work environment appeals to you!
1. You can work in a wide variety of settings
Whatever your primary picture for a pharmacy is, you probably haven’t considered all the options. The different kinds of pharmacy locations available allow pharm techs lots of flexibility in their ideal work setting. If you’d prefer not to face customers all day, for example, you can find employment in a pharmacy where customer interaction is kept to a minimum.
“The variety of work environments suits people with a variety of personalities,” Vickery says. “Those who are outgoing and enjoy customer service may prefer working in a retail pharmacy. Hospital pharmacy and mail order pharmacy are great choices for pharmacy technicians who do not care as much for customer service.”
There are also long-term care facility pharmacies, home care pharmacies and more. For a closer look at what kind of pharmacies are out there, check out “Types of Pharmacies: 7 Places People Pick up Prescriptions.”
2. Pharmacy hours may be irregular
Many pharmacies are open at all hours. This can mean irregular schedules and night shifts for some pharmacy workers. Early on, technicians may be more likely to be assigned to late or even overnight shifts. However, this is an issue that’s likely to somewhat subside as you increase your experience and move up the ranks.
3. You’ll need excellent communication skills
Both technicians and pharmacists must be willing and able to interact with coworkers and customers in a professional manner. Vickery says pharm techs working in retail settings absolutely need some customer service skills. Customers may have questions about their prescription, over-the-counter drugs or supplements that will need to be referred to the pharmacist.
Even if you work in a non-patient-facing pharmacy, your communication abilities and professional demeanor with physicians, insurance professionals and other pharmacy employees are vital for your success and for patient safety.
4. Pharmacy tech duties are growing
With an aging population and a growing number of individuals needing both medical and pharmaceutical care, the pharmacy industry is certainly not slowing down anytime soon. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that pharmacists are increasingly expanding their range of duties, creating more types of tasks for pharm techs.
For example, many pharmacists now administer flu shots. Taking patient information, preparing medications and double-checking work may now be a larger part of the average pharm tech’s position.
5. Attention to detail is a must
Working in a pharmacy means you’re providing critical medications for individuals. This means your actions could literally mean life or death for patients. “Accuracy is very important,” Vickery says. “Making sure the patient receives the correct medication in the right dosage and that all calculations are performed correctly requires adequate training and great attention to detail.”
Vickery says one of the most challenging parts of the job is to stay accurate while working very quickly. It’s important to keep perspective on how crucial your work is, no matter how busy it gets.
6. The pharmacist is there to ensure accuracy
If you are working as a pharm tech, the little details matter, but you won’t be alone. Pharmacists are there to check those details and ensure that all medications are filled properly.
“Remember that the pharmacist is there to answer your questions, to catch errors and to counsel the patients regarding their medications,” Vickery says.
Obviously, that’s somewhat of a relief, but remember, pharmacists have important work to do and can’t spend all of their valuable time fixing errors you may have made. Getting it right the first time is a valuable ability.
7. Math skills come in handy
Your math teacher was right—you will use that stuff in the real world! Both pharmacists and pharm techs utilize math abilities on a daily basis to ensure they have the right dosage and measurements and chemistry knowledge to ensure that compounds are mixed correctly for your patients.
8. You’ll want to know a thing or two about insurance
There’s also an insurance and billing side to the pharm tech career. “I was surprised by how complex that insurance billing can be in a retail pharmacy,” Vickery says. “Resolving any insurance rejections is an important part of the pharmacy technician’s job.”
9. You’ll spend most of the workday on your feet
You’ll want to get comfortable shoes if you decide to work in a pharmacy because you’ll be on the move. Whether you’re checking inventory, filling prescriptions or interacting with customers, there’s not a lot of downtime. You should expect to be standing most of the day—so be prepared.
10. Pharm techs must meet certain requirements to become certified
Requirements for pharmacy technicians will vary depending on the state you live in, but generally, they’ll include:1
- Obtaining a high school diploma or GED
- Passing a criminal background check
- Completing a formal education or training program
- Continuing education hours to maintain good standing
- Passing a certification exam
11. Certification can be completed relatively quickly
Compared to other healthcare roles, pharm techs get to hit the ground running pretty quickly. At Rasmussen University, you can enroll in a Pharmacy Technician Certificate program that can be completed in as few as nine months.2
This allows you to start working in a pharmacy and earn a salary without investing years of your time. It’s an ideal entry point for people who want to work in healthcare.
12. Pharm tech experience can be a solid first step
Working as a pharmacy technician can be just the beginning of your career path. Earning certification helps legitimize your knowledge of the field and provides practical experience in a pharmacy setting. Many aspiring pharmacists choose to work as a pharmacy technician as they work their way through the rigorous education requirements of becoming a full-fledged pharmacist.
As you gain experience as a pharm tech, you have an opportunity to see how pharmacists operate, master common medical terms and build a practical foundation of mutual understanding between the roles that can serve you well as you advance in your career.
Can you picture yourself working in a pharmacy?
Working in a pharmacy is a wonderful way to contribute to the growing healthcare field and make a positive impact on your career. Not only are you helping others achieve better health and quality of life, but you are giving them the means to do so.
Now that you know you’re up for the challenge of working in a pharmacy, you’re probably wondering more about pharmacy careers and what the job duties are like. Check out our article “What Does a Pharmacy Technician Do?” to learn more.
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [information accessed July 2022], www.bls.gov/ooh/. 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.
2Completion time is dependent on the number of transfer credits accepted and the number of courses completed each term.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in December 2015. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2022.