Pharmacy technician schools have grown immensely in popularity over the years due to the increasing demand of pharmacy technicians in the United States. This growth has resulted in many schools opening, but not all of them are quality choices for prospective students.
This in-depth article will give you all you need to know. You will find out about:
- What you need to enroll in a pharmacy technician school,
- How to find the right pharmacy technician school,
- What to expect in a pharmacy technician program, and,
- What to expect when looking for work as a pharmacy technician.
A Closer Look at Pharmacy Technician Schools
Why Become a Pharmacy Technician?
Before getting into details on how to become a pharmacy technician, it is important to cover why you should want to be one in the first place. After all, you may not already be dead-set on a pharmacy technician career.
In the United States, the average salary for a pharmacy technician was $29,320 in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the high end, pharmacy technicians can expect to earn a little over $40,000 a year. While these numbers are not life-changing, job security is high in this field and what you take-home will be more than enough to get by.
Many look at a bigger picture outcome for their career path. However, the more competitive educational pathways, such as med school, see high attrition rates. Just imagine spending three years in med school only to hit a road block, making those three years a complete waste of time and money.
Basically, by seeking out a career as a pharmacy technician, you don’t have to tie up nearly as much of your life in school. You can quickly get into a solid working position and look into more in-depth career paths at a later date.
What Are the Application Requirements for Pharmacy Technician School?
Pre-requisite requirements for pharmacy technician programs in Canada are extensive. However, in the United States, you usually just need to have your high school diploma or GED diploma to qualify.
It’s still a good idea to pick up some high school credits from courses that will better prepare you for your pharmacy technician program. Some potential courses to consider include biology, chemistry, and mathematics. Taking these courses to the highest level possible will definitely keep you from experiencing any huge surprises once the pharmacy technician course begins.
Choosing a Pharmacy Technician School
You should not be choosing a pharmacy technician school simply based on the cost of enrollment or the proximity to where you want to live. Instead, you must look for a pharmacy technician school based on a short set of criteria. Chances are, there will be one near your ideal location.
The most important thing to look for is accreditation of the school. If the college is not accredited by the Pharmacy Technician Accreditation Commission, your pathway to legally work as a pharmacy technician won’t be an easy one.
The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists has a program directory that displays a list of all the accredited pharmacy technician schools in the United States.
From this list, you will notice that the states with the most accredited pharmacy technician programs are California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, South Carolina, and Texas. All these states have a very high number of schools that are accredited for their pharmacy technician courses. Of these states, some have over a dozen, while others have over two dozen.
However, there are many states that have three or less accredited schools, including Arkansas, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
As you can see, your location preference will have a pretty big impact on the availability of accredited pharmacy technician programs. This list is also missing quite a few states, as they don’t have any accredited schools. So, there is a possibility you may have to relocate to go to an accredited pharmacy technician school, but hopefully not.
What to Expect in a Pharmacy Technician Program
Every pharmacy technician program will be detailed with the list of curricula that will be covered over the entire course. The program directory mentioned above also provides insight on what to expect from each of the courses (by school), including details such as the hours of course work, labs, and etc., the class size, distance between school and training sites, special program features, and much more.
Typically, a pharmacy technician program will cover the following:
- A background and overview of pharmacology professions,
- Laws and ethics of pharmacology,
- Terminology and abbreviations in pharmacology,
- Drug dosage calculations and interactions,
- Dosage forms and methods of administration,
- Pharmacy training (hospital, retail, advanced),
- Workplace safety, and,
- Pharmacy operation management.
When all is said and done, you will have spent countless hours on course work, lab work, and experiential training. The amount of hours can vary immensely – some pharmacy technician schools are more lab based, others more coursework based. The extent of your experiential training can also vary a lot depending on the course you choose.
What Do Graduates Need to Do Before Working as a Pharmacy Technician?
Once you graduate from pharmacy technician school, the hard work isn’t over. As with any medical career path, the big finale is the board exam. For pharmacy technicians, this is referred to as the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board exam. This is a national exam, which must be passed in order to practice as a certified pharmacy technician.
The board exam is made up of 90 different multiple choice questions. 10 of these questions are pre-test questions, which means they will not go towards your overall score. The questions that are counted will judge your knowledge based on one of three categories, which are:
- Pharmacy administration and management (12% of the questions)
- Inventory and medical control practices (22% of the questions)
- Assisting the pharmacist with managing patients (66% of the questions)
Upon successful completion of this exam, graduates will receive the title of Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT) and will get their card and certificate in the mail within two months. This certification will remain valid for two years, and then will need to be renewed.
If the board exam is failed, graduates can make up to three more attempts.
There is a $129 fee to write the exam.
Working Experience in a Pharmacy
Most states require you to have at least a few hundred hours of work experience in a pharmacy before you can become certified. You will have to check with your state board to find out the specifics for your area.
If you need work experience and it’s not covered through your pharmacy technician program, a great way to do so is by picking up a pharmacy assisting job. Working as a pharmacy assistant doesn’t have nearly as strenuous requirements as working as a pharmacy technician. In fact, a pharmacy technician student, whether in the mid-completion or post-completion phase, should have no problem picking up a pharmacy assistant job. These are often available during the summer months.
Not only is a job in pharmacy assisting an easy way to pick up the hours you need for certification, but it will also give you the confidence you need to start working as a pharmacy technician. The real working experience will get you comfortable with the pharmacy workplace and it will look great on your resume once you start applying elsewhere. Plus, wherever you are working may even have a pharmacy technician opening when you are ready. If so, you have an easy in!
Are Online Pharmacy Technician Schools a Legitimate Option?
Getting a higher education online is seen as an incredibly convenient way to work towards a career. It is also the only option for some people, such as stay at home moms. However, online schools are often just diploma mills, which means they exist purely for their own profit. Many of these schools do not offer accredited pharmacy technician programs.
However, there are some legitimate online pharmacy technician schools that exist. These will allow students to complete coursework when and where they like. However, it is still necessary to complete on-site internships or externships to accumulate work experience. You will also have to be on-site for lab work.
To become nationally certified, you cannot solely rely on online learning. Also, upon completion of the course and required work hours, you will need to pass the board exam to become certified.
To put it simply, don’t rely on an online pharmacy technician course to help you out. At least, if you want it to be accredited by the American Society of Health System Pharmacists. The highest level of knowledge and experience will come from courses that are accredited by this society. Their courses require 600 contact training hours, which runs for 15 or more weeks. So, if accreditation matters, and it should, then don’t look too much into online pharmacy technician schools.
Becoming a Pharmacy Technician without Going to School
It is possible to become a pharmacy technician without graduating from a pharmacy technician school. It is usually best to stick through the two year course, as you will learn the ins and outs, and get the hands-on experience you need to be confident in a real pharmacy assisting a pharmacist.
For example, an individual could become a pharmacy technician by successfully completing the Walgreens Pharmacy Technician Training Program. In fact, this particular program has received the American Society of Health System Pharmacists accreditation. In cooperation with the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board, successful trainees will receive certification with national recognition.
Finding a Job as a Certified Pharmacy Technician
After graduating from an accredited pharmacy technician school and passing the board exam, you will be well on your way to working in a pharmacy. If you haven’t already, you will want to think about whether you want to work in a retail pharmacy, hospital, or elsewhere.
The first leads you should look into would be from your school or your course instructors. They may have working relationships with some of the pharmacies in the area, or they may know of some positions that are currently open.
Then you can hit the job board. You can start browsing listings in your city from local pharmacies, outpatient clinics, and anywhere else that may need a pharmacy technician. Apply wherever you fit the criteria to do so and hope for the best. Even if your first job isn’t incredible, and even if it’s just part-time, it will allow you to get a foot in the door. From here, landing your perfect position at a later date will be as easy as 1-2-3.
When looking for a pharmacy technician position, do not just rely on what’s on the Internet. Too many people make the mistake of only applying to positions that are listed online. Even worse, many don’t even make the effort to go in to drop off their resume. For best results, you should be as personable as possible and going from business to business to drop off your resume will work best.
Also, you can contact pharmacies that are not currently listed on job boards to see if anything is available. Sometimes there are positions that are available or that may be coming available soon, but they aren’t publicly listed yet.
Going from Pharmacy Technician to Pharmacist
Many think they are “settling” by becoming a pharmacy technician instead of putting in the hard work to become a pharmacist. However, pharmacist students have an average attrition rate of 10.7% and are those that move on to a career as a pharmacist are highly subject to career burnout.
With that said, it can be a good thing to work as a pharmacy technician first. You get to see the pharmacist in action. You get to find out about all the grunt work. You also get to find out about their biggest complaints. Given the high stress of this position, you will either be scared away or motivated to be the main player in your workplace.
Also, many pharmacy technicians that later became pharmacists were very happy that they worked as a technician first. Some were able to negotiate a higher pay and remain as a pharmacy technician while in school. Others were able to upgrade to the pharmacist position in their current workplace. Regardless, everyone that made this switch had the base knowledge and experience in pharmacology and pharmacy operations, which made pharmacist school much less stressful.
Conclusion: Is Pharmacy Technician School Right for You?
There are many benefits and downfalls to a career as a pharmacy technician. This is normal with any career, though. The pharmacy technician job outlook is strong, with estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics claiming a 20% job growth from 2012 to 2022. So, whether the pay is considered high enough or not, you can rest assured that job security is high and newly available positions aren’t going to just go away any time soon.
Further, becoming a pharmacy technician before working towards becoming a pharmacist can solve a lot of problems and make your years of studying much easier.
To conclude, enrolling in a pharmacy technician school is not a bad choice. In fact, it’s a great learning experience that translates well in the workplace. However, you will have to decide if a career as a pharmacy technician is right for you – if you’re interested in pharmacology, then you should already be decided.