12 Things You Need to Know Before Working in a Pharmacy
Beginning a new career is exciting. It’s a fresh start. It’s a time of growth and learning. It’s your opportunity to make a better life for you 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 Amanda Vickery, R. Ph. and faculty at the Rasmussen College School of Health Sciences. If you are at all interested in the field of healthcare, then you should definitely take a look at the pharmacy side of things.
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 government data and professional insight to provide you with a behind-the-scenes look of working in a pharmacy. Keep reading to determine if this work environment appeals to you!
1. Pharmacy hours may be irregular
Many pharmacies are open at all hours. This can mean irregular schedules and night shifts for some pharmacy workers. Especially early on, technicians may be assigned late or even overnight shifts. However, as you increase your experience and move up the ranks, you’ll likely gain more autonomy over your schedule.
2. A pharm tech career can lead to becoming a pharmacist
A pharm tech certification can be just the beginning of your career path. Earning certification helps legitimize your knowledge of the field and prepares you for the rigorous education requirements of becoming a full-fledged pharmacist. If you are interested in pharmacy work, a pharm tech certification can be the perfect entry-level option.
Another plus is that it can keep you up to date with advancements in medical technology and terminology. Read more about why the pharmacy technician certification is worth it in our blog post.
3. 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. But the different kinds of pharmacy career options available make a great situation for a wide variety of personality types. 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.”
4. The median salary for a pharmacy technician is $31,750 per year*
The median annual salary for pharm techs is over $30,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They also report the top 10 percent of earners brought in nearly $47,000 per year. Higher pharm tech salaries are typically found in ambulatory healthcare services and hospitals.*
5. Pharm tech careers are on the rise
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 BLS predicts employment of pharmacy technicians will grow 12 percent through 2026, which is a rate higher than the average occupation.*
A large number of aging baby boomers is a huge factor, but the BLS also mentions new research and developments in medicine that result in pharmaceutical treatments for diseases that were previously untreatable. The more sickness and disease we can treat, the more pharmacies will be in demand.
6. There are requirements you’ll have to meet
Requirements for pharmacy technicians will vary depending on the state you live in, but generally they’ll include:
- Obtaining a high school diploma or GED
- Passing a criminal background check
- Completing a formal education or training progam
- Continuing education hours to maintain good standing
- Passing a certification exam
7. 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 skill. 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 nonpatient-facing pharmacy, your communication abilities and professional demeanor with physicians, insurance professionals and other pharmacy employees is vital for your success and for patient safety.
8. You must pay attention to the details
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.
9. 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 time fixing errors you may have made. Getting it right the first time is a valuable ability.
10. 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.
11. 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.”
12. You’ll spend most of the work day 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.
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 also entrusted with the critical role of providing them with 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.
*Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [information accessed July 17, 2018] 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.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in December 2015. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2018.