Pharmacy Technicians – A Pharmacist’s Secret Weapon

Written by Michael Nadeau

NowRx Contributor

pharmacy technician on the phone

Pharmacy technicians play an integral part in the pharmacy. What does a pharmacy technician do and how are they different from a pharmacist?

Here, we’ll explore the important role of pharmacy technicians.

What is a pharmacy technician?

A pharmacy technician works in tandem with a pharmacist to help distribute prescriptions and ensure proper patient care. Pharmacy technicians are one of the backbone elements of the healthcare system. You’ll find them in hospitals, local pharmacies, national pharmacies (like CVS or Walgreens), and other medical institutions.

You may not interact with them on a regular basis (beyond picking up your prescription), but pharmacy technicians are still an integral part of your overall healthcare team. The best pharmacy technicians provide the vital support a pharmacist needs in order to keep their general operations running smoothly.

What does a pharmacy technician do?

The primary function of a pharmacy technician is to support the pharmacist in their daily operations. First and foremost, that means checking all of the pharmacy’s prescriptions orders to make sure they’re accurate.

Pharmacy technicians will also often be the people measuring out the different prescription doses and monitoring what medicines are in stock. Additionally, they can prepare specialized dosages or custom prescriptions for unique orders, as directed by other medical professionals.

Pharmacy technicians also need to be experts at back-end paperwork for the pharmacy. That means they need to keep accurate records and be on the lookout for any potential problems when prescribing or distributing medicines.

They’ll also be the primary point of contact between a pharmacist and a doctor for questions about a specific prescription. That also means that pharmacy technicians need to deal with inquiries from and to insurance agencies and their representatives. Pharmacy technicians can also help keep track of vital records for different medical studies.

Note that in many pharmacies (especially those in large chains), a pharmacy technician may actually be the one to ring up your purchase.

What a pharmacy technician can and cannot do

There is a fine line between what a pharmacy technician can and cannot do.

It’s important to remember that a pharmacy technician is not a pharmacist. They do not have the same training, experience, or skills. They can fill prescriptions and help keep track of records, but they cannot answer medical questions or review patient histories. This means they can and should not answer any questions a patient may have pertaining to the drugs prescribed. Those questions should be strictly reserved for pharmacists.

A pharmacy technician also cannot be the “final word” for filling prescriptions; all work needs to get authorized by a pharmacist before distribution. It’s important to note, too, that the legal abilities of a pharmacy technician may vary from state to state. Check with your state government’s website to learn more about what a pharmacy technician in your state can and cannot do.

How to become a pharmacy technician

The requirements for becoming a pharmacy technician differ depending on your location. Some states will require licensing and/or certification in order to become a pharmacy technician. Certification requires taking a test through an independent agency. Licensing, on the other hand, requires taking a test specific to the state to practice. Some states have no certification or licensing requirements at all. Others simply require registration with the state board. Check with your state’s website to see what the specific requirements are in your area.

It’s important to note that even if your state has no particular requirements, many employers will require certification. Once hired, most employers will help provide on-the-job training for a pharmacy technician. That training will go over the basics of the job along with anything unique to that pharmaceutical outlet.

In terms of education, a high school degree or equivalent is usually the minimum requirement necessary to become a pharmacy technician. However, further education can help, especially as it relates to the mathematical skills required. There are many specialized collegiate-level programs that someone can take to prepare for a pharmacy technician career. Local community colleges, for example, can be a good resource for pharmacy technician education.

How to get a pharmacy technician certification

There are a few different options to get a pharmacy technician certification. Two independent agencies, the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board and the National Healthcareer Association, offer necessary certifications. Certifications can be obtained through a test administered at a testing site and will cost the test-taker a small fee. Tests offered by both agencies consist of multiple-choice questions pertinent to a pharmacy technician’s everyday routine. There are several online resources and practice exams available to help prepare for both certification tests.

How long does it take to become a pharmacy technician?

The time it takes to become a pharmacy technician can vary. The amount of time depends on what path you take to the job. A pharmacy technician education program can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years. From there, you should factor in some additional time for the job search and on-the-job training. For those states with no licensing or certification requirements, becoming a pharmacy technician takes as long as on-the-job training lasts.

Can you work as a pharmacy technician without being certified?

You can work as a pharmacy technician without being certified in certain states. For example, there is no requirement for certification in Colorado, Delaware, Michigan, and New York. Some states require you to get a job with a pharmacy and then register without actually requiring certification. Again, check your state’s specific policy to understand the legal requirements for certification.

One important thing to remember, though: many employers may require certification, even if the state does not. Additionally, certification might be required for job advancement or new opportunities.

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