Pharmacy Technicians: What They Do and How to Become One

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Pharmacy technicians assist pharmacists with their day to day duties and help patients get the medication they need to stay healthy. Here's all you need to know about this impactful health care career and what you need to do 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. As health care workers, technicians provide customer service, process insurance claims, communicate with physicians, and in some states even perform simple medical procedures like administering vaccines.

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

In this article, you'll learn more about what pharmacy technicians do, how to become one and explore online educational courses to help you get started.

What does a pharmacy technician do?

A pharmacy technician performs a wide range of tasks, such as helping pharmacists fill prescriptions, maintaining pharmacies, assisting with administrative work, and offering customer service. They 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 available 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 their state

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A conversation between Professor Anna Birna Almarsdóttir and Dr. Sofie Lau about the importance of understanding a patient's perspective when prescribing medication.

How much do pharmacy technicians make? 

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for pharmacy technicians in the United States was $36,740 as of May 2021 [1]. But, the exact pay that you can expect to earn will likely vary depending on your work experience and geographic location. Typically, you can expect to earn more money working in a hospital pharmacy than in other locations, such as retail spaces. 

How to become a pharmacy technician 

Technicians assist pharmacists in their day-to-day duties and help customers receive the right medication they need to stay healthy. If joining this career sounds like the path for you, then these nine 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.

Before jumping into the career, it's a good idea to understand what exactly you’ll need to do to join the profession.

2. Complete a pharmacy technician program.

Many technician jobs within pharmacies 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 certified.

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 technician within a pharmacy. 

Read more: Your Guide to Becoming a Certified Pharmacy Technician

Pharmacy training

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 working in a pharmacy. If you’re still in school, then consider gaining a deeper understanding of human health and building basic math skills with courses such as biology, anatomy, or statistics.

If you're not currently in school, then you might can consider taking classes either online or locally that will prepare you for your next career. Look for online classes or ones offered by a local community college in related topics, such as medical terminology or biology. You might also consider taking the University of Pittsburgh's Clinical Terminology for International and U.S. Students course available through Coursera  

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Clinical Terminology for International and U.S. Students

Understanding the clinical terms and abbreviations commonly used during verbal or written communication in U.S. hospitals is challenging. This course is ...

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5. Build your workplace skills. 

In addition to understanding fundamental math and science concepts, you'll also need the right workplace skills. Here are some skills you should consider developing:

  • Attention to detail: When you fill prescription bottles or print labels, there is no room for error. A customer receiving the wrong medication could have devastating consequences. 

  • Customer service: In most pharmacy settings, you'll be interacting with customers throughout the day. As a result, you should expect to practice active listening, provide empathetic customer service, and use clear communication to answer questions. 

  • 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: Technicians work with pharmacists, physicians, and nurses on a daily basis, so collaboration is a must.

  • 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. 

6. Gain related work experience. 

While you're working towards your career, you might consider seeking 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. 

7. Volunteer or intern. 

If you can't find a job in one of those environments, then consider volunteering. 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. 

8. 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 tech 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 relevant computer skills. 

9. Prepare your answers to interview questions. 

When you interview to become a technician within a pharmacy, 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 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? 

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

Read more: What Does a Pharmacist Do? Job Duties, Salary, and More

Next steps

Consider taking your knowledge to the next level with courses like The University of Copenhagen's Understanding Patient Perspectives on Medications, which teaches the patient perspective on medicine use, and how to explore and apply it in both health care and health policy.  

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Understanding Patient Perspectives on Medications

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Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Pharmacy Technicians, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacy-technicians.htm." Accessed November 22, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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