An Expert’s Guide for students considering pursuing a degree in pharmacy tech, by Andrea Bremer

What is a Pharmacy Technician?

A pharmacy technician assists licensed pharmacists in the dispensing and preparation of prescription medication. While you may enter the profession without any formal training, students who have earned a certificate, diploma or an associates degree in pharmacy technology will be more likely to find a full-time entry-level position. In addition, earning a certification, though not required in every state, will help you find jobs and increase your salary. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the field of pharmacy technology will grow by more than 30% over the next 10 years, making job prospects excellent.

What to Look for in Pharmacy Technician Programs

It may seem tempting to skip a formal program and to immediately begin your job search, since many states do not require that pharmacy techs have formal schooling, and you can learn on the job. However, you should explore the advantages of accredited programs that are designed to prepare you to pass the CPhT certification exam. The best programs will provide a core curriculum that stresses a working knowledge of medical terminology, medical ethics and mathematics, helping you understand the intricacies of the field and making you a better technician.

What to Expect in a Pharmacy Technician Training Program

Accredited classes are designed to prepare you for national exams that will allow you to be recognized as a Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT). The core courses all offer instruction in basic skills, including how to dispense or compound medications, verify and process medical claims and prepare intravenous (IV) medications. Pharmacy tech courses also prepare you for a career by teaching subjects including anatomy and physiology, intro to pharmacy, medical ethics, medical terminology and communications theory. The best pharmacy tech programs also offer internships that give you a chance to develop hands-on proficiency.

Pharmacy Technician Certificate Programs

While an accredited certificate is not essential to enter the profession, the degree is a benchmark that employers prefer candidates have if they are to be considered for entry-level positions. Increasingly, employers prefer candidates to have an associates degree and certification, especially if they are hiring for a hospital. Colleges must be accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). Upon completion, the 1-year certificate program will prepare you to take the Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT) exam.

Pharmacy Technician Associates Degree

If you are interested in becoming a pharmacy technician, the associates degree will give you the most rigorous coursework and hands-on training for entering the profession. The AA/AS is the most desirable degree for employers considering candidates for top jobs, and if you also earn 1 or more professional certifications, you will be in an even better position to command a strong starting salary. Be sure you choose from accredited colleges and that your program includes at least 1, but preferably 2, work experience opportunities.

The Pros and Cons of Attending Pharmacy Technician Schools Online

Online courses will provide you with flexibility to attend classes on your own time and without the trouble of commuting to a campus. An online certificate or associates degree will provide you with the training and experience to be competitive for an entry-level position in the field, provided that you have work experience. Students who are pursuing a certificate, diploma or an associates degree through online schools should take care to complete an externship to receive hands-on training.

How Employers View an Online Pharmacy Technician Degree

Students who complete an online certificate or associates degree have all the training they need for an entry-level position, although it will help if they also earn a certification. While hiring managers have often been skeptical of online training and online pharmacy tech schools, they are becoming more accepting, provided you can prove you have proper work experience. As an online pharmacy technician major, you may need to arrange your own internship or externship, but this is an investment that will pay off as much as the degree itself when you hit the job market.

Advice for Students Studying in Online Pharmacy Technician Programs

Online universities offer students the rigor and flexibility needed to earn a certificate, diploma or an associates degree, although you may need to organize your own work experience. Students who will need online financial aid should confirm that their program is accredited if they want to be eligible for grants and low-interest government loans. While the scheduling of your online courses may be tailored around your family life and job, be sure to take these classes seriously so that you get a solid education in pharmacy technology.

The Paths for Becoming a Pharmacy Technician

If you are looking for challenging work in the allied healthcare industry, a pharmacy technician career may be a great option for you. The market for jobs is expected to grow by more than 30% over the next 10 years, and you are able to enter the field without earning formal training. However, it is highly recommended that you earn an associates degree, which will set you up for the best career advancement opportunities. Other good educational options include a diploma or certificate program in pharmacy tech training.

Pharmacy Technician Certification

If you are a recent graduate you will probably take the certification exam offered by either the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) or the Institute for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ICPT). Once you are recognized as a Certified Pharmacy Technician (CphT), you will be eligible to find pharmacy tech work in the states that already require certification, or you will make yourself a more competitive job candidates in the states that do not yet require pharmacy techs to become certified. Earning a pharmacy tech degree is the best way to prepare for your certification exam.

Pharmacy Technician Job Options

Pharmacy techs distribute medication, interact with customers, organize patients files and communicate with insurance billers about medical claims. While most entry-level jobs will hire you with little or no direct experience, a course of study such as a diploma, certificate, or a 2-year associates degree will make you competitive on the job market. Education programs will also help you build skills and even a professional network to help you in your pharmacy tech career. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary was $28,400 as of 2010.

Pharmacy Technician Salaries

A pharmacy technician career offers stable employment with few educational or work experience prerequisites. New pharmacy techs should not be overly concerned with the amount of their salary, since they will be receiving training in their first positions. The median salary is $28,400 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Jobs will offer higher salaries to job candidates who have gained a few years of experience in the field, earned a certificate, diploma or associates degree and also hold pharmacy tech certification.

Advice for Pharmacy Technician Professionals

Since the entire healthcare industry is growing, students who wish to pursue a career will find many opportunities in the next decade. But if you wish to be a highly competitive candidate for pharmacy technician jobs, you should consider studying for a certificate, diploma or an associates degree. It is also a good idea to earn a pharmacy tech certification, which is required in some states. Even if certification is not required in your state, you will be more likely to find a great job and earn a competitive salary once you are certified.