A pharmacy technician is a healthcare provider who performs pharmacy-related functions and is responsible for assisting the pharmacist with dispensing prescription medication to customers. If you’ve ever needed to fill a prescription, it’s likely that you’ve interacted with a pharmacy technician at some point in the past. This career has an excellent outlook, and if you’ve been contemplating pursuing a job in the field of medicine, you may want to consider this promising career track.
As the world of technology and medicine evolves, and as the baby boomer generation continues to age, the demand for safety and quality assurance in the realm of prescription medication is only increasing. If you’re thinking about becoming a pharmacy technician in the near future, it’s helpful to understand the steps you’ll have to take in order to make your professional dreams a reality. Here are 6 steps most students have to complete in order to become a pharmacy technician:
1. Graduate high school
In order to become a pharmacy technician, most employers will expect that you’ve graduated high school and received your high school diploma or the equivalent. If you haven’t finished up those early years of education, a GED is your first step on the path toward becoming a pharmacy technician.
Keep in mind that graduating high school is simply a stepping-stone to further training. You won’t be able to become a pharmacy technician with a GED alone, so know that you’ll have to pursue another degree or certification to continue on with your career goals.
2. Enter into an advanced education program
To build a successful career as a pharmacy technician, you need to pursue advanced education and training programs. While certification may not be required to practice in the industry, certification will give you a competitive edge among other job applicants, and training will prepare you for the work you’ll be doing each day. After you graduate from high school, enter into a pharmacy technician program that can teach you the skills and offer you the training you need to excel in your future career.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics*, here are a few of the things you’ll learn in a pharmacy technician training program:
- Arithmetic used in pharmacies
- Ways of dispensing medications
- Pharmacy laws and ethics
- Clinical experience opportunities
When you finish your program, which can take as little as 8 months, your next task will be to take a certification exam.
3. Prepare for your exam
If you want to become a certified pharmacy technician, you’ll have to take either the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE), or the Exam for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ExCPT). The Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam costs $129, and the Exam for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians costs $105. It’s important to note that most schools and programs will incorporate this cost right into the tuition you pay, so if you’re already enrolled somewhere, you more than likely won’t have to worry about an additional cost.
Most states also require that you renew your certification every two years, and this generally means putting in some hours of continuing education and paying to renew your certification, which can cost around $40-$50 depending on where you live.
Another expense to plan for is your textbooks, study books, and other study materials. While some of these costs are also built into tuition fees for various programs, some schools may not include them, and additional study books can cost extra. The Certification Exam Review for the Pharmacy Technician, for instance, costs around $67.
4. Take the PTCE or ExCPT exam
There are two different exams that determine whether or not you possess the knowledge required to be a pharmacy technician, and the one you should take depends on the state you live in, and the employer you’re applying to work for.
The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) is one of the key organizations that offers certifications for pharmacy technicians. They require a high school diploma and the passing of an exam called the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE) in order to become certified. This exam is computer-based, takes 2 hours to complete, and is comprised of a series of multiple-choice questions. The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) offers a handful of different practice tools to help students prepare for the certification exam, including a practice test and a practice questions mobile app.
The Exam for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ExCPT), given by the Institute for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ICPT) and endorsed by the National Healthcare Association (NHA), is the other exam you may have to take. Built similarly to the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE), this test also consists of multiple-choice, computer-based questions, and covers topics like drugs, drug therapy, regulations and technician duties, and the dispensing process.
With the right amount of schooling and studying, you’ll be more than ready to pass either of these exams with flying colors.
5. Pass your background check
Most hiring managers require that candidates who have been extended an offer pass a background check before they can start working. This is especially important in the case of pharmacy technicians, as you’ll be handling highly regulated substances on a regular basis.
The process should be pretty simple on your end — you just need to provide the information and permission requested of you by your future employer. After that, it’s a matter of waiting to hear if you pass the background check and have the legal ability to handle controlled substances and fill prescriptions.
6. Continue your education
After you’ve launched your career as a pharmacy technician, you will need to continue investing in your education on an ongoing basis. To stay up-to-date with the latest trends and regulations related to your field, and to keep your certification valid and intact, you will need to take ongoing pharmacy technician courses every two years.
Continuing your education will only benefit you in the long run. Not only will it provide you with the opportunity to learn more about a subject you’re passionate about, but it will also help you be more effective as a pharmacy technician over time.
Start working toward your career now
The career and industry outlook for pharmacy technicians is fairly strong. The Bureau of Labor Statistics* projects that there will be 34,700 more jobs in the pharmacy technician field between 2014-2024. The skills you’ll learn in training are certainly in demand these days, so your chances of securing a job are excellent. With such an excellent outlook, don’t delay on getting started. Find out more about how you can receive the proper training and get ready to enjoy working in a field that you’re passionate about.
*Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Pharmacy Technicians, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacy-technicians.htm