Pharmacy technicians advise customers, maintain inventory, assist pharmacists in the process of preparing and dispensing medications, and sometimes prepare complex pharmaceutical compounds and evaluate medical charts to ensure dosage compliance and safeguard against adverse reactions.
As the field of pharmacology advances, so does the scope of opportunities available to the pharmacy technician. Formal education and pharmacy-provided training programs are two ways an aspiring pharmacy technician can prepare to become a valuable asset in the delivery of needed medications. And those are also the key avenues through which existing professional pharmacy technicians can advance their careers.
The changing employment environment for pharmacy technicians
Most pharmacy technicians work at commercial pharmacies and about one sixth of the nearly half-million pharmacy technicians in the U.S. work at hospitals. The credentials required to work as a pharmacy technician vary from state to state. Some states set no formal qualification standards, and some require formal education or passing a certification program.
Certification prep courses may only take 6 months to complete. Once you’ve learned the basics, getting certified often only involves taking a two-hour exam, however, and it is usually well worth doing.
The employment market for pharmacy technicians is indeed changing in more ways than one, and most of those ways are excellent news for pharmacy technicians. As we explore in another blog post, demographics, advances in credentialing, and industry evolution have all led to an increasing awareness of the valuable roles pharmacy technicians can play, and numerous sociological, political and industry R&D trends that increase demand and pay scale in this profession every day.
The pharmacy technician at a commercial retail pharmacy
In our daily lives, our most common interactions with pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are usually in the context of a retail pharmacy, whether it be a Walgreens or Wal-Mart or an independent pharmacy or any other. It’s likely that many of us have assumed we were being helped by a pharmacist, when in fact it was a pharmacy technician assisting us – this is common, because pharmacy technicians are trained to advise patients and customers on correct medication usage, and to discuss dosages, adverse reactions and other issues.
Many pharmacy technicians first work at a pharmacy as a clerk and advance to pharmacy technician once they have completed an online or classroom training course (that usually takes at least 6 months) and passed the 2-hour certification exam given by the PTCM and IPCT.
A pharmacy at a hospital or nursing home may require a different skill set from its pharmacy technicians, including sterile practices needed for direct patient service such as preparing IVs.
A hospital or nursing home pharmacy technician may also be responsible for compounding advanced pharmaceutical “cocktails” for certain patients, or compounding chemotherapy combinations. These skills require specialized training. Administrative roles such as managing inventory and work-schedules may also be part of the pharmacy technician’s job.
The career advantages of getting certification
Acquiring certification can increase the options of an aspiring pharmacy technician. This expanded panorama includes: more choices of location; qualification for more advanced responsibilities; more choices of companies one can work for; enhanced opportunities for higher pay.
Certification can also help prepare one for specialization in medical equipment and technology, inventory management, nuclear medicine and more. Leadership or management roles, including employee scheduling and new-hire mentoring, are additional career opportunities that can be opened up by acquiring certification.
Opportunities vary with each retail outlet, depending on the range of goods and services offered – for example, some pharmacies provide medical equipment, oxygen and IVs, home-care equipment, and/or prostheses. Some pharmacies do their own compounding of special multi-ingredient medical formulas.
Some pharmaceutical formulations are radioactive, and as such need special expertise in preparing and handling. A nuclear pharmacy technician is specialized and can safely and effectively handle nuclear pharmaceuticals. This is just one example of a potential area of specialization – there are many more to discover and on which you can base your career advancement.
Mail order and online pharmacies are among today’s growing pharmaceutical markets, and pharmacy technicians will be needed in these areas of industrial expansion.
The role of advanced degrees in pharmacy technician careers
Most pharmacy technicians don’t have advanced educational degrees, but for many being a pharmacy technician is a step towards more advanced careers as pharmacist, nurse or doctor, or in the pharmaceutical industry. To become a pharmacist, for example, requires up to 6 years of formal education beyond high-school. An MBA, or even a 2-year associates degree focused on business or marketing, or advanced science training, can all be paths towards a job in the pharmaceutical industry.
Pharmaceutical representatives need knowledgeable expertise about their company’s products, and their communication skills are important because they convey their knowledge to health-care professionals, including physicians, pharmacy employees and others.
The equipment used in pharmacies can also be a focus of advanced pharmacy technicians who supervise, install, maintain and repair the equipment for pharmacies nationwide.
Motivated pharmacy technicians can advance their careers in many ways. Further education is one way. Pharmacy technicians, especially those working for larger retail companies, healthcare providers or pharmaceutical companies, have opportunities to advance into supervisory positions. It may take several years to be promoted into higher level management positions, but they do exist.
A larger hospital or long-term care facility usually has more career and salary enhancement possibilities, especially for pharmacy technicians who are trained to meet the needs of a diverse range of patients.
Advanced training and specialization
Getting certified to do pharmaceutical compounding is one way to advance one’s career. Compounding involves mixing pharmaceuticals to order, according to the specifics of each patient and condition. Sometimes the form of a medication is changed as well, for example converting a solid tablet to liquid medicine. Occasionally, non-pharmaceuticals are also part of a compound formula.
Other technical specializations include those prepared for by taking training in how to handle and administer the beneficial but potentially hazardous substances involved in chemotherapy and, as mentioned earlier, nuclear medicine.
To become a pharmacy technician – or to advance one’s training – a pharmacy technician can investigate various college and university courses, and training or certification provided by private proprietary programs. The National Pharmacy Technician Association is a resource one can consult to find various educational, training and credentialing options.