Your Guide to Becoming a Certified Pharmacy Technician

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Certified pharmacy technicians help healthcare teams get the right medication to the right people. Find out how you can get a national pharmacy technician certification and more.

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Many people come into contact with a pharmacy technician, certified or otherwise, at a retail pharmacy. Though roles may vary from state to state, the technician may help fill prescriptions, interact with customers and patients, prepare insurance claims, and fulfill other tasks in a pharmaceutical setting. 

What is a certified pharmacy technician?

A certified pharmacy technician (CPhT) is a health care professional who works with pharmacists to give patients the right medication, in the right dose, at the right time. They can work in a variety of pharmaceutical settings like retail pharmacies, hospitals, and nursing homes. Unlike other pharmacy technicians, CPhTs have gone through a certification process that requires education or experience and passing an exam.

Generally, a certified pharmacy technician has passed an examination administered by either the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) or the National Healthcareer Association (NHA).  

The job generally involves a mix of basic health care, administrative, and organizational work like keeping shelves stocked. Depending on the setting (and the laws in the state you’re in), pharmacy technicians may receive prescription requests, maintain patient profiles, manage insurance claims, or operate dispensing systems.

Licensed vs. certified pharmacy technicians: What’s the difference?‎

Many states will require pharmacy technicians to have a license before they can start work. Certifications, on the other hand, aren’t usually required to start work but can boost your income and show employers that you have met industry standards.

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Certified pharmacy technician salary

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, a pharmacy technician in the United States makes an average base pay of $35,100 as of 2020 [1]. That can vary a bit depending on where you’re located, and you can typically expect to earn more once you're certified. 

What does a certified pharmacy technician do?

Certified pharmacy technicians generally work in retail pharmacies, hospitals, or other health care facilities. A pharmacy technician’s tasks can include:

  • Counting pills or taking other measurements to complete prescriptions

  • Labeling, packaging, and preparing prescriptions

  • Interacting with customers by phone or in person

  • Accepting payments from customers

  • Organizing and maintaining a work area

  • Using a computer to confirm patient information or process insurance claims

Depending on the state, pharmacy technicians may also take care of basic medical tasks, like vaccinations. 

Certified pharmacy technicians work behind the scenes to support patients and other members of the health care team. The job can be a gateway to other medical fields as well.

How to become a certified pharmacy technician

To become a certified pharmacy technician, candidates must pass a certification exam. Common national certifications include:

  • Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE): The PTCE is administered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB). You can take the exam after completing an education program recognized by the PTCB or a minimum of 500 hours of work as a pharmacy technician. 

  • Exam for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ExCPT): The ExCPT is administered by the National Healthcareer Association (NHA). To take the exam, you’ll need to have completed an approved training program, or have completed at least 1,200 hours of supervised pharmacy-related work.

If you’re looking to start working as a pharmacy technician and work up to certification, here are some ways you can break into the field:

  • Get your license. Some retail pharmacies may provide on-the-job training that can lead up to your getting a technician license. Others will require that you have it before you can get hired. Check your state’s pharmacy technician licensing requirements to get started.

  • Gain customer service experience. Having professional experience interacting with customers can look good to hiring managers looking for pharmacy technicians. Working as a retail associate or volunteering at an organization can give you experience working with other people.

  • Complete an associate degree. Some community colleges offer pharmacy technician degree programs that are designed to train you to be job-ready. Though many pharmacy technician positions only require you to have a high school diploma, an associate degree can make you a more competitive job candidate.

  • Look for similar job titles. Titles like “pharmacy assistant” can imply job roles similar to pharmacy technicians. Though working as a pharmacy assistant or associate might mean you won’t be able to complete certain tasks reserved for technicians, you’ll be able to gain experience working in a pharmacy.

Certified pharmacy technician career path

You can take your experience as a pharmacy technician into other paths. Pharmacy technicians can go on to do office-based jobs such as insurance claims processing; they may also opt to become pharmacists, laboratory technicians, or physician assistants. Some pharmacy technicians can also choose to specialize in a field of medicine, like oncology (cancer treatment).

Next steps

Working as a pharmacy technician can expose you to an important part of the health care system and give you hands-on experience in the industry. If you’re ready to learn more about the health care industry in the United States, enroll for free in Introduction to Healthcare from Stanford, the first course in the AI in Healthcare Specialization.

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Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Pharmacy Technicians, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacy-technicians.htm." Accessed March 21, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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