Pharmacy Technician: Your Guide to Becoming One

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All you need to know about pharmacy technicians and how to become one.

[Featured image] A pharmacy technician working in a hospital consults with a physician.

Pharmacy technicians assist pharmacists, fill prescription medications, and complete other tasks in a pharmaceutical environment. Pharmacy technicians can provide customer service, process insurance claims, communicate with physicians, and in some states perform simple medical procedures like administering vaccines.

Though the profession has relatively low barriers to entry compared to other jobs in health care, pharmacy technicians play an important role in ensuring customers receive their medication safely and smoothly.

Becoming a pharmacy technician can set you up for a rewarding career. Read on to find out how to become one.

What does a pharmacy technician do?

A pharmacy technician's tasks usually include helping the pharmacist fill prescriptions, maintaining the pharmacy, assisting with administrative work, and offering customer service. Pharmacy technicians can work in retail settings, pharmacies, doctor’s offices, or hospitals. Specific duties may include:  

  • Counting and packaging medications into bottles 

  • Creating and applying labels for medications 

  • Seeking health care providers' authorization for prescription refills 

  • Contacting insurance providers to correct coverage issues 

  • Taking inventory of medications in the pharmacy

  • Running a cash register and ringing up customers' purchases 

  • Handling customers' questions and concerns 

  • Keeping the pharmacy clean, organized, and well-stocked 

  • Maintaining customers' prescription records 

  • Assisting the pharmacist with other tasks as needed 

  • Assisting with basic medical procedures like administering vaccines, depending on your state

How much do pharmacy technicians make? 

The median annual salary for pharmacy technicians in the United States is $36,740, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics [1]. This can vary depending on your experience and location. You'll typically earn more money working in a hospital pharmacy. 

How to become a pharmacy technician 

If becoming a pharmacy technician sounds like the path for you, these ten tips can help prepare you for the job.

1. Research your state’s requirements. 

Many states require pharmacy technicians to be licensed before they can start work. Others might require that you register with the state Board of Pharmacy, and still others may not have any licensing requirements at all.

It's a good idea to understand what exactly you’ll need before moving forward.

2. Complete a pharmacy technician program.

Many pharmacy technician jobs don't require education or coursework beyond high school. But formal training can open doors to higher salaries and make you a more competitive applicant. Many vocational schools and community colleges offer programs for aspiring pharmacy technicians, and may even offer related associate degrees.  

3. Get a pharmacy technician certification.

To become a Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT), you'll need to pass the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE) or the Exam for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ExCPT). To be eligible to take the PTCE, you must complete one of the over 1,400 training programs recognized by the board or have already completed a minimum of 500 hours as a pharmacy technician. 

Keep in mind: Some employers may offer on-the-job training and certification courses to new hires. Check job descriptions and company websites for requirements and more information.

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4. Take courses in math, science, and health. 

Coursework in math, science, and health can help prepare you for the responsibilities you’ll have as a pharmacy technician. If you’re in school, gain a deeper understanding of human health and build basic math skills with courses such as biology, anatomy, or statistics.

If you're not currently in school, you can still take classes that will prepare you for a pharmacy tech career. Look for courses online or at your local community college in related topics, such as this course on Clinical Terminology for International and U.S. Students offered by the University of Pittsburgh.  

5. Build your workplace skills. 

Becoming a pharmacy technician isn't just about understanding math and science. You'll also need the right workplace skills.

  • Attention to detail: When you fill prescription bottles or print labels, there is no room for error. If the medication isn't accurate when a customer receives it, it could have devastating consequences. 

  • Customer service: In most pharmacy settings, you'll be interacting with customers throughout the day. The ability to listen to concerns, provide service with a smile, and communicate answers to questions is a must. 

  • Computer skills: Almost all modern pharmacy records are kept on computers. You'll need to be comfortable with technology to access and record information throughout the day. 

  • Organization: When working around so many life-saving medications, organizational skills are necessary to ensure accuracy. 

  • Collaboration: Pharmacy technicians work with pharmacists, physicians, and nurses on a daily basis.

  • Integrity: You may have access to medical information, potentially dangerous medications, and cash every day. Make sure you’re prepared to work ethically and responsibly. 

5. Gain related work experience. 

While you're working towards your career as a pharmacy technician, seek jobs that will help you gain related experience and transferable skills. Customer service and retail work can help prepare you to work with the public. Jobs in health care environments, like hospitals, doctor's offices, or labs, will expose you to medical terms and help you better understand why pharmacies are important. 

6. Volunteer or intern. 

If you can't find a job in one of those environments, volunteer. Any time spent in places like hospitals or nursing homes will look good on your resume, and help you understand the medical field and the importance of patient care. You may also consider seeking an internship or asking a local pharmacist if you can shadow them for a day or a week. 

7. Prepare your resume. 

Once you're ready to apply for jobs, prepare your resume. Relevant experience can include any related coursework, volunteer work, or customer service experience.

If you’ve completed the CPhT exam or a postsecondary pharmacy technician program, make sure to highlight this in your resume. Don't forget to add any other skills that may help you get the job, like speaking a foreign language or having computer skills. 

8. Prepare your answers to interview questions. 

When you interview to become a pharmacy technician, you’ll likely have to answer questions related to the job. Think about how you might answer questions like: 

  • Why do you want to be a pharmacy technician?

  • How would you handle a customer who is upset? 

  • What would you do to handle stress on the job? 

  • Do you see yourself as a pharmacy technician in five or ten years? 

  • What qualities should a good pharmacy technician possess? 

  • What is the difference between a generic and a brand name prescription? 

  • What would you do if you saw a coworker stealing medication? 

  • What would you do if you ran across a prescription with a mistake on the label? 

9. Keep learning. 

Once you get the job, put yourself in a position to keep learning. Taking courses, either online or in-person, can help you be a better pharmacy technician and prepare you for more advanced roles. You may also have to renew any certifications that you have. 

With some experience and extra training, pharmacy technicians can move into managerial roles, or choose to specialize in a field to become chemotherapy technicians, nuclear pharmacy technicians, or other specialized pharmacy technicians. Pharmacy technicians can also go on to work in pharmaceutical sales, while others may go back to school to become pharmacists themselves.  

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Next steps

If you want to get started on the path to becoming a pharmacy technician, online courses can help you become more knowledgeable about your job and the patients you serve. Consider taking your knowledge to the next level with courses like Understanding Patient Perspectives on Medications from the University of Copenhagen on Coursera. 

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Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Pharmacy Technicians, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacy-technicians.htm." Accessed May 10, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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