The position of pharmacy technician exists to relieve pharmacists of some of the routine tasks of running a pharmacy. The responsibilities of the position vary from state to state due to differences in regulations, but technicians typically prepare prescription orders, assist customers and handle maintenance tasks such as inventory and record keeping. All prescription orders prepared by a pharmacy technician are reviewed by a licensed pharmacist.
Pharmacy technicians work at retail pharmacies, mail-order prescription companies, hospitals and nursing homes. They take orders by phone or in person, both directly from patients and from doctors' offices. Technicians verify the accuracy of the orders. They complete the orders by counting out pills, measuring liquid or powdered drugs and, sometimes, preparing medication mixtures. They fill and label packages. A pharmacist examines the order before it is given to the customer or patient.
Pharmacy technicians need strong customer service and teamwork skills. Reading, spelling and math abilities are also important. Technicians need to be observant, organized and attentive to detail.
Pharmacy Technician vs. Pharmacist
While pharmacy technicians have some degree of specialized training, pharmacists have had much more extensive education. In all states, pharmacists must have completed a college degree program and passed several examinations to earn their licenses. Pharmacy technicians do not handle questions about the drugs themselves (for example, dosage suggestions and side effects) or dispense health advice.
Pharmacy Technician Educational Requirements
To become a pharmacy technician, workers can either train on the job or take specialized education. There is no national standard for pharmacy technician training; different states have different requirements, as do different employers. The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board and the Institute for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians both administer certification programs whose credentials are accepted nationwide. Students can also attend classes at technical schools, colleges, and hospitals or receive training from the military.
No matter which path of training potential pharmacy technicians follow, there are usually uniform requirements such as having obtained a high school diploma or GED, no felony convictions within a period of time of beginning the program, and no history of drug or alcohol abuse. Pharmacy technician training covers a variety of areas including medication names and usages, medical and pharmaceutical terminology, record keeping for a pharmacy setting, and medical laws and ethics.
The field of pharmacy technicians is one of the fastest growing; the need for technicians is expected to increase by about 20 to 25 percent through 2016. Factors in this growth include increasing numbers of older people and continuing new treatments resulting from advances in medical science.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly wage for pharmacy technicians in 2008 was $13.70 per hour. Technicians who are certified may earn higher salaries, depending on the particular employer's requirements.