Pharmacy technicians help pharmacists with their responsibilities. When you’re a pharmacy tech, you’ll be expected to take on a variety of important duties. Not only are you part of the customer-facing retail team, but you are also the pharmacist’s right-hand person.

What Does a Pharmacy Technician Do?

As a pharmacy tech, you will work directly under the supervision of the pharmacist doing the day-to-day operations. Here’s some of the pharmacy tech’s common daily tasks:

  • Get the necessary information from the customer to allow the pharmacist to fill the prescription.
  • Pack and label the prescriptions.
  • Help organize the medicinal inventory, and let the pharmacist know when things are running low.
  • Run the phones, taking customer/patient calls.
  • Alert the pharmacist to when customers have questions about the medication, because you won’t be permitted to answer them.
  • Review the prescription before handing it off the customer.
  • Operate the automated dispensing machines (in certain instances).
  • Go to a patient’s bedside delivering medication if you work in a hospital pharmacy; you may prepare IV meds, as well.

Where will you work as a pharmacy technician? There are quite a few different environments you may find yourself working, from a grocery store to a hospital, and anywhere else you find a pharmacy.

How to Become a Pharmacy Technician

Pharmacy technician programs range in length, from a 6-9 month certificate program through an associate degree. Some pharmacy technicians can find on-the-job training, while many go through a technical school or community college. Common steps:

  • Get your high school diploma or GED.
  • Complete your post-secondary education or formal on-the-job training. Any program should be accredited by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP).
  • You’ll have a clinical portion, like on-the-job training, that you’ll need to complete.

Some states mandate certification for their pharmacy technicians. Check with your state and if you need to, get certified. Keep in mind that most employers prefer pharmacy technicians to have a certification, whether it’s required by the state or not.

Certifications are given through either the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) or the National Healthcare Association (NHA). Both boards require pharmacy techs to have a high school diploma. You may need to have your background checked.

To get certified through the PTCB, you’ll have to pass an exam. Certification through the NHA requires one year of work experience, or completion of a training program. You can specialize as a general pharmacy tech, community pharmacy tech, or central pharmacy operations technician. To maintain your certification, you’ll take a re-certification exam every two years after completing 20 hours of continuing education.

Soft skills that are helpful if you work as a pharmacy tech are excellent customer service, listening, and math skills. After all, you’re kind of working in the retail world, dealing with customers and money! You’ll also need to be detail-oriented: One wrong prescription could have disastrous ramifications.

Job Outlook and Salary of a Pharmacy Technician

As a pharmacy technician, you will earn a median annual salary of more than $30K. Entry level, you’ll make $21K. Once you’ve gained a few years of work experience, your salary can raise to more than $45K. These numbers are an approximation and taken from BLS data. Depending on where you live, work, and your experience level, your salary could be very different.

The job outlook for pharmacy techs is looking pretty good. It’s expected to grow at a pace above average: 12 percent. This is because more and more people are using prescription meds for many different reasons. Aging is a major factor in the increase in pharmaceutical consumption, as are chronic disease and mental illness.

As pharmacists become more patient oriented, giving immunizations such as flu shots, you’ll start picking up more responsibilities. Caution: Starting a career as a pharmacy technician can be a gateway drug to sucking it up and going back to school to become a pharmacist.