In the wild world of pharmaceuticals, a pharmacy technician plays a vital role in any setting. The two most common environments are inpatient and outpatient, more commonly known as hospital and retail respectively.
Hospital Pharmacy Technician
As a hospital technician, duties include but are not limited to:
- Compounding intravenous (IV) solutions
- Delivering medications to and from satellite pharmacies
- Restocking automated medication dispensing systems
- Mixing and dispensing orally-administered medications
- Unit-dosing tablets from a bulk bottle
Working in a hospital is radically different than working in a retail pharmacy setting. In most cases, a large portion of the medications provided are solutions to be administered intravenously. In order to prepare these solutions, the technician must have a firm grasp on aseptic technique. IV medications are always compounded in a laminar flow hood, in which air is passed through a HEPA filter to create a sterile environment to significantly lessen the chance of contamination.
Many larger hospitals have what are called, “satellite pharmacies.” In most cases, they are a smaller version of the central pharmacy and produce medications for specific indications. For example, oncology satellites are responsible for supplying chemotherapy medications to cancer treatment centers within the facility.
In order to save money, many hospitals will order tablets or capsules in bulk bottles. When a patient is admitted, the nurses will be given access to a 24-hour supply of medication. Since this is the case, tablets need to be individually packaged. A technician is usually responsible for unit-dosing and labeling these medications. Once they are checked by a pharmacist, they will be delivered either to a patient-specific bin or to an automated dispensing system that the nurses may access at the time of administration.
Job duties will vary depending on the size and type of hospital.
Retail Pharmacy Technician
As a retail technician, duties include but are not limited to:
- Intake of written and electronic prescriptions
- Billing insurance
- Compounding various topical creams/ointments, as well as oral liquids
- Accurately counting and dispensing medications
- Assisting customers with the purchase of their medications
In a retail pharmacy setting, customer service is paramount. The technician is the first person a patient will speak with as they drop off their prescription. The billing information is also taken at this point in the process. Once the information written on the prescription is entered into the computer, the technician will pull the medication from the shelf and dispense it. In most cases they will pull tablets or capsules, but sometimes the patient will need injectable medications, topical creams or oral liquids.
After the medication is properly dispensed and labeled, it will need to be verified by a pharmacist to ensure the patient is getting the correct item. Once that has happened, the technician will assist the customer with their purchase.
Occasionally in a retail setting, a pharmacy assistant will be utilized. Since there is no schooling required to become an assistant, their scope of practice is much narrower than that of a technician. Most of the time they will be responsible for tasks involving paperwork, as well as helping with purchases and putting away the orders of additional medication and supplies.
In the grand scheme of things, there are many different pharmacy settings available to a technician. The individual’s skill set will determine which environment will be the best fit. If someone’s strong suit is IV admixture, then a hospital or home infusion pharmacy might be best. If a person has experience with customer service, then a retail or clinic pharmacy might be an excellent option. Build your skills and market them to pharmacies that can utilize you to your full potential!