Pharmacy Technicians and Aides

Over 381,000 pharmacy technicians and aides work in the United States. Job growth statistics suggest that over the next ten years the field will grow by 25%, which is above the average growth for all jobs. Did you know you can land one of these great jobs without ever setting foot in a classroom? It’s true; by taking advantage of online distance learning, you can teach yourself to pass the certification test.

Pharmacy technicians take prescription requests in person, sent via the internet or fax from the physician’s office, or over the telephone if permitted by state regulations. Technicians also label containers, count pills, measure powders and liquids, mix medications, and fill bottles. They are responsible for putting the correct price on the medication and filing it for pick up by the customer. Before it is dispensed, a licensed pharmacist must review the prescription to make sure it was correctly filled. In addition, pharmacy technicians might be given further duties such as creating and keeping customer profiles up to date and preparing insurance forms. They are not permitted to answer customer questions regarding general or specific medications or health but must refer them to the pharmacist. Some pharmacy technicians work in nursing homes, assisted-living facilities or hospitals. Here, further responsibilities can include delivering drugs to physicians or nurses and preparing sterile solutions.

Pharmacy aides assist licensed pharmacists and pharmacy technicians with administrative tasks, such as keeping records up to date, answering telephones, running cash registers and stocking shelves. Some help with preparation of insurance forms and monitoring patient profiles for accuracy. Pharmacy aides cannot fill prescriptions, count pills, measure or weigh liquids or powders, mix medications or answer drug-related questions.

Pharmacy technicians and aides work in well-lit, clean, and well organized areas. Stamina is required in this job, as pharmacy technicians and aides are on their feet for most of their shift. Lifting heavy or bulky boxes, reaching, and climbing step ladders to reach stock on top shelves constitute job risks; however, following safety procedures minimizes risk. Technicians may work evenings, nights, weekends, or holidays in set or rotating shifts.

Technicians and aides must have good communication skills, be very detail oriented and well-organized. Knowledge of basic mathematics and spelling, as well as adequate reading skills, are very important for technicians who interpret written prescriptions and confirm drug doses.

Employers prefer pharmacy technician job applicants with prior work-related experience, certification or formal training. While some states require a high school diploma or the equivalent at minimum, many states do not. For those who are solely trained on the job, supervised training typically runs between three months to a year.
Vocational schools, technology schools, community colleges, the military and hospitals offer pharmacy technician programs that run from six months to two years in length. These programs are composed of both formal classroom instruction and laboratory experience. Medical and pharmaceutical terminology, recordkeeping, pharmaceutical calculations, pharmaceutical techniques, and pharmacy ethics and law are addressed in these programs. In addition, technicians must learn the names, uses, actions, doses and contraindications of the drugs they work with. Internship programs are common and give students confidence and experience. Upon completing the program, technicians are given a certificate, diploma, or in the case of two years of study, an associate’s degree.

Pharmacy aides are not required to be high school graduates, but most employers feel that those who have completed high school or an equivalent program may be more responsible. Job applicants with cash register experience, who have managed inventory at previous jobs, enjoy speaking with customers, and are competent with computer programs will have an advantage. Aides’ on-the-job training typically takes up to three months.

Pharmacy technicians are required by most states to be registered with the state board of pharmacy. Some require technicians hold a high school diploma, and some charge an application fee. While pharmacy technician certification is voluntary in most states, national certification is offered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) and the Institute for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ICPT). Even where not required, certification makes a job applicant more appealing to an employer. Applicants with felonies or drug-related convictions cannot become certified. Certification programs require technicians be recertified in two year cycles, after completing 20 continuing education hours in the same length of time. Community colleges, pharmacy technician programs, and pharmacy associations all offer continuing education workshops and courses. In some cases, ten hours or less of continuing education can be earned while working under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist.

Opportunities for advancement are limited for pharmacy technicians and aides. Technicians with considerable experience and training or education can become supervisors in larger companies. Others advance their careers by becoming chemotherapy or nuclear pharmacy technicians. Some step into sales positions. In some cases, technicians return to college and earn an advanced degree to become a pharmacist.
The median hourly pay for pharmacy technicians is over $13. Midrange technicians earn between $11 and $16 per hour. Technicians with certification generally earn more than those without. The median hourly pay for pharmacy aides is around $10. Midrange aides earn between $9 and $12 per hour.