A pharmacy technician is an allied health professional who prepares and provides medications to patients. Requirements for becoming a pharmacy technician vary by country but usually include high school graduation or equivalent education, plus completion of a formal training program.
The pharmacy technician role is always evolving because the pharmaceutical industry changes quickly. It’s important to stay up-to-date on new medications and how they’re used. Here are some key things you need to know about the role of a pharmacy technician so you can get started.
What is a pharmacy technician?
Pharmacy technicians are primarily responsible for preparing and distributing medication to patients in a retail pharmacy setting. Pharmacists oversee the work of the technicians, but the technician’s specific tasks may include filling prescriptions, counting pills, labeling pharmaceuticals, helping customers with prescription assistance programs, and updating databases with drug information.
The exact nature of a pharmacy technician’s duties depends on where they work, and any specializations they have. For example, a retail pharmacy technician’s duties will differ from a hospital pharmacy tech, or a compounding pharmacy tech.
Retail pharmacy technicians are the ones people are most familiar with. They work in drugstores nationwide, filling prescriptions and helping customers who need to pick up medications or who need help with prescription assistance programs. If you were wondering how to become a pharmacy technician, this is the easiest position to get hired for, as drugstore chains like CVS and Walgreens aggressively hire for this position.
They perform a number of tasks, including ordering and tracking inventory, managing pharmacy supplies, and managing pharmacy cleanliness. This is often an entry-level position or part-time job, and some employees may have additional duties, like stocking shelves. While electronic systems such as automated medication dispensers are very common nowadays in most pharmacies, the future demand for pharmacy technicians isn’t expected to decline at all.
A hospital pharmacy technician performs similar duties of preparing and dispensing medications, but the job differs in that a hospital pharmacy tech will rarely, if ever, interact with patients. In many cases, they assist with clinical trial management, ensuring that clinical trial guidelines are being followed and report drug-related issues.
A compounding pharmacy tech works in a drug compounding facility, where drugs are customized to fit the specific needs of individual patients. They may also be responsible for maintaining the safety and sterility of the facility, performing research and quality assurance, and helping with medication requests from individual patients. This is a highly specialized position, as it entails a high level of technical knowledge and safety training.
Requirements to become a pharmacy technician
At the most basic level becoming a pharmacy technician requires a high school diploma or GED, and graduation from a pharmacy technician training program, which can take around a year to complete.
There are numerous other certifications or PTCB credentials that a pharmacy technician can pursue to distinguish themselves in the field. These certifications may focus on different business or specialized knowledge aspects of the field, such as health information management, medication management, or handling controlled substances. They typically involve some classroom training, but they often involve on-the-job training, as well.
To become a hospital pharmacy technician, you’ll need at least two years of experience and should possess a wider knowledge of medications than retail pharmacy technicians. Because hospital techs work much more closely with doctors and nurses, they’ll need to understand medical terminology, how to integrate patient medication information, and in some cases, how to create compound medications and nutritional mixtures.
A compounding pharmacy technician typically works for pharmaceutical companies and laboratories, as they create customized medication solutions. They may work in a microbiology laboratory, where they are responsible for producing antibiotics, immune boosters, and other substances for patients.
This is a highly specialized role, and you must possess a good knowledge of biology and chemistry. The job requires advanced knowledge and a solid technical understanding of the workings of an actual pharmaceutical manufacturing plant. While not an exact requirement, many compounding technicians possess a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as chemistry, biology, microbiology, or pharmaceutical studies.
There are many career paths available for pharmacy technicians, and the future of this role in the healthcare industry looks bright. While demand for the role is expected to only grow by 4% up to 2029, demand is already high – which means that, as a pharmacy technician, you should have plenty of opportunities to advance.