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Retail vs. Hospital Pharmacy Tech Jobs: What’s the Difference?

Interested in training for a career as a pharmacy technician? Pharmacy techs play an important role in helping pharmacists provide medication to the public. That’s ...

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How to Become a Pharmacy Technician – Frequently Asked Questions

Posted Wednesday, Apr 7, 2021 by Altierus

Interested in training to become a pharmacy technician? People who work in this occupation have the chance to make a difference in their communities by helping ensure patients have access to safe prescription medication. At Altierus Career College, you can complete our pharmacy technician diploma program in as few as eight months of study and prepare for two industry certification exams, the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board Exam (PTCE) and the Exam for Certification Pharmacy Technician (ExCPT).

On this page, we answer some of the most frequently asked questions about training to become a pharmacy technician, from what the job involves to salary information and certification.

Duties of a Pharmacy Technician

What does a pharmacy technician do?

Pharmacy technicians assist pharmacists in the preparation and distribution of prescription medications. Their duties include customer service as well as compounding medication and keeping track of pharmacy paperwork and supplies.

Specifically, pharmacy technicians may:

  • Answer telephone calls and serve walk-up customers
  • Direct customers’ questions to the pharmacist if needed
  • Call customers’ physicians or insurance providers to confirm or clarify details of a prescription
  • Sterile compound (mix up) in hospitals, managed care, and cancer specialty pharmacies and prepare pills, ointments, and liquid medications
  • Take inventory of pharmacy supplies and submit orders
  • Process payments and insurance claims

Where do pharmacy technicians work?

Most pharmacy technicians work in retail settings, such as chain drug stores, supermarkets and “big-box” retailers. Many also work in hospitals and clinics. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in 2019, pharmacy technician jobs were most common with the following employers:

  • Pharmacies and drug stores: 51%
  • Hospitals: 17%
  • Food and beverage stores: 9%[1]

While pharmacy technicians in retail and hospital settings have similar duties, there are some differences that apply. Read our article, “Retail vs. Hospital Pharmacy Tech Jobs: What’s the Difference?” to learn more.

What is the difference between a pharmacy technician and a pharmacist?

Pharmacists are healthcare professionals who hold an advanced degree from a school of pharmacy. They are ultimately responsible for the accuracy and safety of prescriptions dispensed at their pharmacy. Pharmacists can also give health advice to patients and administer vaccines.

Pharmacy technicians support the pharmacist by performing the duties described above. Most pharmacy technicians have some education after high school, such as a pharmacy technician diploma.

How to Become a Pharmacy Technician

What do you need to know before becoming a pharmacy technician?

To apply to our pharmacy technician diploma program, you need to be a high school graduate or hold a GED. We don’t require you to have taken specific classes, but an interest in math and science may provide you with an advantage in your diploma classes.

Do you need to be good at math to become a pharmacy technician?

The classes you take during your pharmacy technician diploma will help you strengthen your math skills. Find out more about what you can learn in pharmacy technician classes in our article, “What Classes Do I Need to Become a Pharmacy Technician?”

How long does it take to become a pharmacy technician?

It takes less than a year to complete training to become a pharmacy technician. Our diploma program lasts eight months, including online coursework, in-person labs, and certification exam prep. Learn more in our article “How Long Is Pharmacy Technician Training?”

Can you become a pharmacy technician without going to school?

It is possible to become a pharmacy technician through on-the-job training. However, earning a diploma has advantages. In a diploma program, you can learn skills which apply to any pharmacy setting, not just one specific drug store chain. You also have the opportunity to study with others in a more supportive learning environment. Finally, in a pharmacy technician program, you receive specific support for taking certification exams, rather than having to study on your own.

What is the pharmacy technician certification exam like? Is it hard?

There are two pharmacy technician certification exams which lead to certification, and both cover challenging material designed to determine whether you understand the pharmacy technician role.

When you pass either of these exams, you obtain the Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT) designation. Obtaining certification can help you stand out in the job market, which is why Altierus Career College provides exam prep as part of our pharmacy technician diploma program. Test fees for two attempts at the exam are also covered in tuition costs.

The Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE)® is administered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB)®. The PTCE exam consists of 90 multiple-choice questions covering medications (their names, uses, correct handling and side effects or reactions), federal pharmacy laws and regulations, safety and quality assurance, and pharmacy order processing. You can see a current outline of topics covered on the PTCE at the PTCB website.

The Exam for Certification Pharmacy Technician (ExCPT)® is administered by the National Healthcareers Association (NHA)®. It consists of 100 questions covering laws, drugs and drug therapy, dispensing procedures, and safety. Get more detail about what the ExCPT covers at the NHA website.

The curriculum at Altierus Career College covers all the topics tested by both these exams. If you apply yourself in your classes and complete test prep activities, you should be familiar with the material in your exam on test day.

Why Become a Pharmacy Technician?

How much does a pharmacy technician earn?

Nationwide, the BLS reports that the median annual salary for pharmacy technicians was $33,950 in May 2019. The bottom 10% of pharmacy techs earned less than $24,120, while the top 10% of earners made more than $49,130.[2]

Pharmacy technician pay varies by location and employer. Altierus offers its pharmacy tech diploma program in Florida, Georgia, and Texas. In 2019, salaries in those states were:

What Pharmacy Technicians Make in Florida[3]

  • Median: $32,750
  • Bottom 10%: $24,110 or less
  • Top 10%: $44,260 or more

What Pharmacy Technicians Make in Georgia[4]

  • Median: $30,120
  • Bottom 10%: $21,320 or less
  • Top 10%: $43,320 or more

What Pharmacy Technicians Make in Texas[5]

  • Median: $35,110
  • Bottom 10%: $25,480 or less
  • Top 10%: $48,090 or more

Is becoming a pharmacy technician worth it?

Yes! If you’re a people person who pays attention to detail, you have the potential to make a great pharmacy technician. You are also entering a stable career field. As demand for healthcare rises nationwide, people will need more prescriptions to go along with their care. The BLS projects that demand for pharmacy technicians should rise by 4% from 2019-2029, adding 15,200 new job openings across the country.[6]

Learn More About Becoming a Pharmacy Technician

Contact Altierus Career College today to learn more about our Pharmacy Technician Diploma!


[1] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacy-technicians.htm#tab-3

[2] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacy-technicians.htm#tab-5

[3] https://www.onetonline.org/link/localwages/29-2052.00?st=FL&g=Go

[4] https://www.onetonline.org/link/localwages/29-2052.00?st=GA&g=Go

[5] https://www.onetonline.org/link/localwages/29-2052.00?st=TX&g=Go

[6] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacy-technicians.htm#tab-6

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