A pharmacy technician works under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist, preparing and dispensing medicines. Basic math skills are required for the job.
A pharmacy technician supplies medicines to patients, whether filling prescriptions or dispensing over-the-counter drugs. Pharmacy techs provide information to patients. They answer phones, perform inventory, and, in a retail environment, they operate a cash register. They enter patient data into a computer and provide relevant information to patients about insurance, deductibles and co-pays. The may sometimes contact a physician or insurance company on the behalf of a patient to clarify information on a prescription or refills.
To become a pharmacy technician, you need a minimum of a high school diploma or General Education Diploma (GED). On-the-job training is sometimes provided, depending on the position. Otherwise, enroll in a one-year pharmacy technician program at a community college or vocational-technical school.
The course of study for a pharmacy technician typically includes medical terminology, laws of pharmacy practice, general biology, psychology, English, introduction to computers and mathematics. You'll have to pass a basic algebra class, which may require you to take a lower-level math class to prepare you if your math background or skills are weak. Most schools offer placement tests to determine where you'll fit in.
Certification for pharmacy techs is available by examination through the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board. Certification is required in some states. Most employers prefer certification, even if not required by law, because it attests to a pharmacy tech's level of knowledge and skills.
A basic algebra class covers basic operations of numbers (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division), solving equations, graphing lines, scientific notation and metric conversions. If you're wondering whether you'll use all this math in your job as a pharmacy tech, the answer is no. However, studying mathematics develops your analytical and problem-solving skills, an asset in any career field.
The application of mathematics in pharmacy is considerably different for pharmacists and pharmacy techs. Pharmacy tech math is generally basic math as related to business and accounting operations. Study guides and practice tests for the pharmacy tech certification exam are available in print and online. There is no separate pharmacy technician math study guide; mathematics is incorporated in the study guide as a whole.
Cost of Pharmacy Tech Education
The cost of your education, as with any vocational training program, depends on where you go to school. Financial aid is available for accredited programs. Community college programs are typically the most affordable. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, the average yearly cost of tuition and fees in 2018 was $3,347.
Online options may be even more affordable, and they offer the flexibility to complete classwork on your own schedule. As with any training program, be sure you understand the amount that your total financial obligation will be before enrolling. Be wary of any program that makes promises about passing the certification exam or employment without providing data to back up their claims.
Most pharmacy techs work in community pharmacies, including both hospitals and retail establishments. Some work in the production or sales divisions of a pharmaceutical company. Pharmacy techs may also find work in primary care organizations, veterinary practices, prisons or in the military.
Salary and Job Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tracks figures for all civilian occupations. The BLS reported 2018 median pay for pharmacy technicians as $32,700 per year, or $15.72 per hour. Median pay means that half the pharmacy techs employed made more, while half earned less. Salary and benefits depend largely on a variety of factors, including employer and geographic location. Longevity in the field also counts. Experienced pharmacy techs with 20 or more years in the field earned as much as 50 percent more than those in entry-level positions.