Pharmacy technicians assist and support licensed pharmacists in providing health care and medications to patients. although people have been assisting pharmacists for many years, they have not always been recognized as skilled workers, nor have they always been called pharmacy technicians. Pharmacy Technicians have been called pharmacy helpers, pharmacy clerks, pharmacy aides, pharmacy assistants, and pharmacy support personnel. Some pharmacy technicians are still given these olders titles in some areas of the United States, while in other areas of the U.S. they may be called pharmacy technologists. Other countries may, for example, use the title pharmacy assistant. Pharmacy technicians must have a broad knowledge of pharmacy practice, and be skilled in the techniques required to order, stock, package, and prepare medications, but they do not need the advanced college education required of a licensed pharmacist in the United States.
Pharmacy technicians may perform many of the same duties as pharmacists; however, all of a technician's work must be checked by a pharmacists before medication can be dispensed to a patient. Pharmacy technicians can work everywhere pharmacists work, although some state laws may limit the duties pharmacy technicians can perform. Pharmacy technicians work in hospital pharmacies, retail pharmacies, home health care pharmacies, nursing home pharmacies, clinic pharmacies, nuclear medicine pharmacies, and in mail order prescription pharmacies. In addition, some pharmacy technicians have been employed in non-traditional settings by medical insurance companies, medical computer software companies, drug manufacturing companies, drug wholesale companies, food processing companies, and even as instructors in pharmacy technician training programs. Currently, hospital, home health care, and retail pharmacies hire the majority of pharmacy technicians.
When working in a pharmacy in the United States, pharmacy technicians must work under the direction of a licensed pharmacist. In a retail pharmacy, technicians may stock and inventory prescription and over the counter medications, maintain written or computerized patient medication records, count or pour medications into dispensing containers, type prescription labels, prepare insurance claim forms, and manage the cash register.
In hospitals, pharmacy technicians may perform many of the same duties as they do in retail pharmacy, but they may have additional responsibilities including, assembling a 24 hour supply of medication for each patient, repackaging medications, preparing commercially unavailable medications, preparing sterile intravenous medications, maintaining nursing station medications,collecting quality improvement data, delivering medications to patient rooms, and operating computerized dispensing and/or robotic machinery.
In most practice settings, pharmacy technicians perform any duties they are assigned by the pharmacist. The one requirement all these pharmacy technicians have in common is a need for absolute accuracy and precision in both the technical and clerical parts of the job.
Although, in the United States, pharmacy technicians work under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist, and must be willing to take directions, they must also be able to work competently, without constant instruction by the pharmacist. In any pharmacy setting, the patient is the most important person. Pharmacy technicians must truly care about, and find satisfaction in serving the patient. Because of the critical nature of many common pharmacy duties, the pharmacy technician must enjoy perfoming precise work, where details can be a matter of life or death. Even if a task is repetitive, the pharmacy technician must be able to complete the task accurately every time. Pharmacy technicians must also be able to maintain this accuracy even in stressful or emergency situations.
Many pharmacy technical duties require good manual dexterity, and pharmacy technicians should enjoy working with their hands. Good communication and interpersonal skills are also essential for a pharmacy technician who must interact with pharmacy coworkers, patients, and other health care professionals on a daily basis. Finally, all employers want dependable employees, but dependability is especially important for pharmacy technicians since a patient's welfare may depend on their work.
What kinds of education, training, or certification are available or required for Pharmacy Technicians?
In the United States, there are no federal and few state requirements for formal education or training of pharmacy technicians. Informal, "on the job" training is still the most common training for pharmacy technicians. However, many employers can no longer afford to train technicians "on the job", and are seeking formally educated pharmacy technicians. Formalized pharmacy technician training was first offered by the armed forces, but is now also offered by some hospitals, proprietary schools, vocational/technical colleges, and community colleges. Most formal pharmacy technician education programs include classroom and laboratory work in: medical and pharmaceutical terminology, pharmaceutical calculations, pharmacy recordkeeping, pharmaceutical techniques, and pharmacy law and ethics. Pharmacy technicians must also learn medication names, actions, doses and uses. Most formal training programs include clerkships or internships where students receive hands on training in actual pharmacy sites.
Successful graduates of pharmacy technician programs may receive a certificate, a diploma, or an associate degree, depending on the individual program. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) has accredited pharmacy technician education programs since 1983. ASHP accreditation insures that the program meets certain minimum standards of pharmacy technician education. There are, however, many good pharmacy technician programs which have not yet been accredited.
The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) now offers a voluntary national certification exam. These exams are designed to certify the competency of those individuals who demonstrate the knowledge required to practice as a pharmacy technician. Currently, 46 states offer the National Pharmacy Technician Certification Examination. Many employers in these states prefer to hire formally educated and/or examination-certified pharmacy technicians.
Pharmacy technicians work the same hours and schedules as pharmacists do. In both retail and hospital pharmacies, pharmacy technicians should expect to work weekdays and some weekends. Hospital pharmacies are often open and staffed 24 hours a day. Pharmacy technicians should not expect to work the 9 - 5 weekday schedule common to some occupations. Pharmacy technicians must be able to handle non-traditional work schedules, and the demands they place on family and friends. However, evening, night and weekend schedules may be advantageous for some people, especially those interested in continuing their education.
There is a broad range of starting salaries for pharmacy technicians, depending on the type and location of pharmacy where they are employed. The starting salary in hospital pharmacy in in the range of U.S. $7.00 to $9.00 per hour (approximately $15,000-$19,000 per year), while in retail pharmacy the starting salary range is generally lower (approximately $5.00 to $8.00 per hour or $11,000 - $17,000 per year). In hospitals, there are usually shift differentials of 10 to 14% paid in addition to base pay for work on evening, night or weekend shifts. Most hospitals and many retail pharmacies also provide fringe benefits such as paid sick leave, medical and dental insurance, and retirement plans. A well-trained and experienced pharmacy technician can earn up to $10.00 to $14.50 per hour as a base rate.
How is the employment outlook, and are there opportunities for advancement as a Pharmacy Technician?
The increasing patient care emphasis of pharmacists' responsibilities, the increasing pharmacy workload due to our aging populations, and the increasing need to control healthcare costs make the employment outlook for well-trained pharmacy technicians very good. Currently, pharmacy technicians are assuming more responsibility for routine tasks, previously performed by pharmacists, and will be responsible for mastering new pharmacy technology as it becomes available.
Opportunities for advancement vary with the pharmacy technician's employer. Uniform career ladders for pharmacy technicians are not yet well developed in all practice settings. Advancement in some practice sites is not possible, and will require the pharmacy technician to change jobs. Many large hospitals do have career ladders, with pharmacy technicians advancing to supervisory roles, or advanced, specialized, technical duties.
Prepared for the Pharmacy Technician Educators Council, 1993.
Updated, 1995 by Phil Naut, R.Ph. of Emory University Hospital, Atlanta,
Georgia, U.S.A. Used with permission.