Certification is the next logical step in your Pharmacy Technician career. Although experience isn’t required to sit for the exam, a few months’ work experience along with an exam preparation textbook, or graduating from a pharmacy technician program will dramatically improve your scores. Along with lifelong learning, there are tangible benefits to earning the title CPhT.
Some states regulate their pharmacy technicians through certification, registration, or licensing. As of publication, certification is required for these sixteen states:
Many employers in the states without the certification requirement prefer candidates with certification already, but they will take into consideration years of experience versus having the certification (among other things, of course).
First, to become certified, the technician must pass an exam from either of the two third-party certifying bodies: Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) or National Healthcareer Association (NHA). Four states requiring the certification only accept certification from PTCB:
To date, only one level of certification exists.
To be eligible to sit for the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE) offered through PTCB, a few requirements must be satisfied. The technician must have a high school diploma or equivalent, must comply with all the certification process policies, and give full disclosure of all criminal actions and State Board of Pharmacy registration or license actions. The requirements for NHA's Exam for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ExCPT) exam are similar. The NHA does require the completion of a pharmacy technician program or one year of experience.
The exam itself includes specific questions about all the major areas of technician life. Many free sample exams are available online. There are questions specifically for hospital-based technicians and retail technicians. Other questions are relevant to all areas of technician employment, including home health, nursing home, and mail-order. The test results do take into consideration which avenue the technician works.
The daily life of a technician is very math-based. Knowledge of percentages is required for compounding, and solving cross-multiplication proportions to find equivalent doses is a daily event. Another critical area of the exam includes reading prescription shorthand and translating the instructions for the general population’s understanding.
Being familiar with the most brand and generic drug names is very important and will save a lot of time by not searching through books. Another critical area of the exam includes pharmacy law. Following the laws is incredibly important and failure to do so will cost the technicians and pharmacists involved their licenses, and in some cases, their freedom.
After paying the nominal fee ($129 for PTCB and $105 for NHA) the exam can be taken. The exams for both the PTCB and NHA are not available to be taken online; however, there are many testing centers. A quick search on their websites will show you the nearest location.
Certification is then awarded upon successfully passing the exam. A formal card-stock certificate will arrive in the mail a few days to a few weeks later. Be sure to pick out a nice 11 x 14-inch frame.
To maintain the certification, all Certified Pharmacy Technicians must complete at least twenty hours of continuing education (CE) during the two-year certification period. One of the credits must be in the subject of pharmacy law, and the credits must be earned within the two-year time period and do not roll over. Eligible education credits have been expanded to include multiple options: fee and free online continuing education. Usually, two or three website memberships are sufficient for completing all CE requirements for free.
A list of approved websites for each company is available on their respective websites. These CE activities are usually in the format of a written essay about a pharmacy-related topic and conclude with approximately ten multiple-choice questions on the subject matter and about ten essay-related quality questions. Another option for obtaining CE is relevant college courses completed with a grade of C or better. There is a maximum of fifteen credits for classes, though. In-service work can also count with a maximum of ten credit hours for the two-year period.
All earned CE must be documented and saved for one year after the certification cycle ends. After successfully passing an online CE activity, an online certificate is available to print. It typically contains your identifying information, the name of the activity, and all the questions that were answered wrong. Documentation for a college course can be a transcript or grade report and for in-service work, the supervising pharmacist or instructor must fill out the Universal CE Form, found on PTCB's website.
To recertify, all the credit hours earned during the current two-year period must be entered into your account at PTCB online, and a fee of $40 must be paid. A paper application is available only for those with disabilities or hardships preventing the use of the online format. After each biennial recertification, a new certificate is mailed with the new expiration date.
A select number of CPhTs are randomly chosen for an audit during the recertification process. In the nine years I’ve been recertifing, along with all my co-workers, only one of us has ever been audited. So your odds are slim, but they really do the audits. Make sure to complete the CE and save the documentation.
If recertification is not complete before the expiration date, then reinstatement is required. This is also done online through the PTCB website, but now the fee is $80, and an additional hour of pharmacy law is required to be completed for a total of 21 hours this period. The time limit for reinstatement is one year. After that, then the full examination process needs to be redone.
There are a few pros and cons of attaining certification. These are mostly relevant for states that don’t require the certification. In the sixteen states that you are required to have it, there may not be any perks.
The tangible benefits to earning and maintaining certification are great. Many employers pay an extra hourly wage (up to 10% I have found) for having the certification or offer a raise for attaining it after already being employed. Be aware that not all employers offer this, and I would suspect that states requiring the certification wouldn't. The certification is considered a bonus on your education and earning it shows employers you are career motivated.
Through personal experience, I have found more prestige and respect having the certification. Employers, pharmacists, other technicians, and even the pharmacy customers show more respect toward the CPhT.
There are some companies that offer higher-level duties to certified technicians. Some of these duties include: being actively involved in the interview process of new technicians and pharmacists, being the Lead or Charge Technician (also with a higher wage), compounding complex IV infusions or multiple-ingredient creams and ointments. Taking on additional job duties requiring a high skill level is very satisfying.
The obvious cons are that you have to study for the exam, probably, and pay the fees, including the biennial renewal fee. The hours spent completing continuing education every other year can be considered a con when the subject matter seems written more for pharmacists than technicians. However, this can be considered a "pro" if you're looking for an interesting challenge. Otherwise, there aren’t any actual “cons” to getting certified.
Becoming certified takes a little of your time, costs a little of your money, but the increases in pay, prestige, and additional rewarding duties make attaining the CPhT title a worthy career goal. And let's face it: Having a title is great!