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Math You Need to Know to Be a Pharmacy Technician

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Pharmacy technicians use math extensively in their jobs to interpret orders, dispense medication and perform pharmaceutical calculations. The math they use covers basic arithmetic; Roman numerals; systems of measurements; fractions and decimals; ratios, proportions and percentages; and basic algebra.

Basic Arithmetic

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When filling orders and tracking inventory, pharmacy technicians count, add, subtract, multiply and divide whole numbers. Depending on the pharmacy, technicians also ring up orders at the cash register and make change.

Arabic and Roman Numerals

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Some physicians still use Roman numerals in dosage calculations. Pharmacy technicians must interpret them correctly.

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Systems of Measurement

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Pharmacy technicians encounter several systems of measurement, including the metric system, the apothecaries' system and the American system. They must be able to identify and understand units from each system. They must be able to convert amounts in units from one system into a different type of units from the same system. They also must convert units from one system into units from another system.

Fractions and Decimals

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Many dosage calculations use amounts other than whole numbers. Pharmacy technicians work with these amounts to fill orders and complete pharmaceutical calculations, such as dosage conversions, IV admixtures and administration of drug dose over time.

Fractions include improper fractions, mixed fractions and complex fractions. Pharmacy technicians must be able to recognize all these fractions, understand what amounts they represent, and compare them. Pharmacy technicians add, subtract, multiply and divide fractions.

They must be able to understand decimals and place values. They add, subtract, multiply and divide decimals. They also convert fractions to decimals and convert decimals into fractions.

Ratios, Proportions and Percentages

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Pharmaceutical calculations and conversions require the use of ratios, proportions and percentages. Pharmacy technicians convert fractions to ratios and ratios to fractions. They also convert percentages to fractions or decimals and vice versa. They understand how ratios are used to form proportions.


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When performing a pharmaceutical calculation, pharmacy technicians often must solve for an unknown quantity. They use basic algebra to do this. Most commonly, the algebra is combined with proportions and percentages in order to calculate a new amount.

About the Author

Elizabeth Gallenberg has worked as a technical writer and editor since 2008. Her writing has appeared on Answerbag and eHow. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in technical communication from the University of Tennessee. She currently lives and writes in Minnesota.

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