A pharmacy technician performs pharmacy related functions and has many responsibilities. Pharmacy technicians generally work in a retail, mail order, or hospital pharmacy setting, but can also work in other settings as well. The pharmacy technician role is very important in every pharmacy. They must be skilled in several different areas and undergo extensive training to prepare for their duties. Pharmacy technicians must have knowledge of pharmacy operations, including procedures, insurance billing, medications, dispensing, and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) regulations.
The type of training that a pharmacy technician receives will depend on the type of pharmacy they work at, since retail pharmacy technician training will vary from that of hospital pharmacy technician training. Hospital pharmacy tech training will have additional specialized training for preparation of compounded medications and intravenous (IV) medications, and maintaining drug dispensing machines for nurses. Some pharmacy tech’s choose to attend a formal pharmacy technician training program, while others will receive on the job training for pharmacy technicians. Depending on your state’s requirements, you may or may not need to attend pharmacy technician training classes in order to become a Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT) prior to being hired. In some states, you can begin working as a pharmacy technician without any training and the employer will provide the pharmacy tech on the job training.
Pharmacy technician training programs can be completed on a traditional college campus or online. The majority of the programs are one year or less, but a few may last two years and will provide you an associate degree. The goal of any pharmacy technician program is to ultimately prepare an individual to successfully pass the pharmacy technician certification exam and become a CPhT.
When choosing a pharmacy technician program, consider who the program is accredited by, whether an externship is offered, and the success rate of graduates passing the pharmacy technician certification exam. These pharmacy technician training programs will cover many basic pharmacy subjects, including:
- Math needed in pharmacies
- Dispensing medications
- Pharmacy law and ethics
- Names, uses and doses of drugs
- Clinical experiences often offered in pharmacies
Upon completion of your pharmacy technician training program, you will need to take a certification examination in order to become a CPhT. There are two organizations that offer the pharmacy technician certification exam in order to become a CPhT; the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) and National Healthcareer Association (NHA). The main difference between the certification from PTCB and the NHA is that PTCB certification only requires a high school diploma and a passing score on the exam. Once you are certified, your certification is valid for two years. However, both exams are very challenging and typically require on the job pharmacy training or completion of a pharmacy technician training program to assist with preparation of the exam. There are many resources available to help with preparing for the exam, such as PTCB study guides.
On The Job Training For Pharmacy Technicians
All pharmacy technicians will receive on the job training from their employer. This type of on the job training for pharmacy technicians will focus on the learning to perform the specific job requirements of the employer. For some pharmacy technicians, on the job training will be the only training they receive as a pharmacy tech. However, in several states, individuals are required to complete a pharmacy technician training program and become a CPhT before starting to work in a pharmacy. In these states, a pharmacy tech will receive training prior to their employer providing on the job training for pharmacy technicians.
Retail Pharmacy Training
Pharmacy technicians that work in a retail pharmacy will interact with customers more, handle cash register operations, assist customers with any issues/concerns, be familiar with over-the-counter (OTC) areas, and also become familiar with third party insurance billing processes.
For a pharmacy technician with no formal education, all aspects of the job will be provided through on the job training for pharmacy technicians that are newly hired. In this situation, you will be trained by a pharmacist, a lead pharmacy technician, or through an in-house pharmacy technician program to train the newly hired tech. The type of employer based training will vary from pharmacy to pharmacy, depending on whether the pharmacy is privately owned or a chain pharmacy, such as CVS Pharmacy or Walgreens.
Whether you decide to work at CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens, or another major pharmacy chain, you will do most of the same duties:
- Collect patient information that is required to fill prescriptions from customers and various health care professionals
- Measure prescription amounts for pharmacists
- Label/package prescriptions
- Do organization of inventory and tell pharmacists when there are shortages of supplies
- Enter patient information into database
- Answer telephone calls from customers and healthcare professionals
At CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens, and other major pharmacies, you can become a pharmacy technician with on the job training. But many states do regulate pharmacy technicians and expect you to become a CPhT either before or shortly after starting your career.
Walgreens pharmacy technician on the job training program, for example, has been accredited by the American Society of Health System Pharmacists or ASHP (according to their website). Their pharmacy technician training program provides all Walgreen techs with their national certification and prepares them for a career as a successful pharmacy technician.
Retail pharmacy technician training programs, such as CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens, begins with an informational orientation, which provides students with the program’s policies and benefits, as well as the history, mission, and future of there pharmacy retail chain.
The pharmacy’s training provides instruction as well as on the job training for pharmacy technicians in a functioning pharmacy, so that students have a better understanding of the procedures and environment in which they will someday work.
Training programs conducted at CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens, or other major retail chains will usually be done through computerized tutorials. These can vary slightly from state to state depending on the state’s guidelines for pharmacy technicians. The technician will read the information in the tutorials and then take a test to evaluate what they have learned. Once a passing score is obtained, you then go on to the next tutorial. If a passing score is not obtained, you must repeat the current tutorial until you have successfully mastered the information.
Some tutorials simply involve reading and comprehending information. This type of tutorial will include learning Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) regulations. It is very important for a pharmacy technician to understand this piece of legislation, as it guides them in how to handle patients personal information. Failure to follow these policies can lead to the pharmacy technician and the pharmacy being fined.
Other tutorials will be more interactive. When learning to read a prescription and various sig codes, the pharmacy technician will look at examples of prescriptions and input the data into a form. The computer will indicate if the information has been correctly entered or not. This gives the pharmacy tech practice at reading prescriptions and finding the required information. This also helps them to learn the definitions of commonly used sig codes. Sig codes are a form of shorthand that doctors use to indicate prescription directions on how the medication is to be administered to the patient.
Another tutorial will involve the matching of generic medication names to their corresponding brand names. This exercise is important so that the pharmacy technician knows which generic medications to substitute when the prescription is written for a brand name. They also learn when it is appropriate to make this substitution and when it is not. Some doctors will advise the pharmacy to ‘dispense as written’ which means a generic substitute may not be provided to the patient and only the brand name may be dispensed.
After the pharmacy tech has completed the computer based learning of the program, they will begin on the job training for pharmacy technicians, at an actual pharmacy. Initially, the pharmacy tech will shadow another technician, typically the lead pharmacy tech, to gain hands-on training in the pharmacy. The experienced pharmacy tech will explain every aspect of the pharmacy’s operations and the reasoning behind the various procedures and duties. The pharmacy tech on the job training will usually start with instruction on retrieving the patient’s prepared medication and ringing up the patient on the cash register at the pickup window(s). The pharmacy tech will also learn how to operate the prescription drop-off window(s) to receive a new prescription from patients. When they have mastered this skill, then they go on to learn about filling prescriptions. Eventually they are trained in the administrative aspects of their duties, as well.
After the pharmacy technician on the job training and observation period is done, the new pharmacy technician will start to perform duties under the close supervision of the trainer. After the pharmacy technician becomes more proficient at performing the various pharmacy duties, they will be allowed to work with less supervision. Depending on the employer based training program, this process could last six months. The computerized tutorials can be completed in only a few weeks, but the other aspects can take longer, depending on how fast the training technician becomes proficient in their duties.
Mail-Order Pharmacy Training
Mail order pharmacies present an opportunity to service a wider range of customers than local community retail pharmacies. For the pharmacy technician, this translates into good pay, benefits and the possibility of a flexible work schedule.
A mail order pharmacy technician works in a growing area of the pharmacy job market at a centralized mail order pharmacy. Mail order pharmacies are growing rapidly, due to lower overhead and operating costs and a larger customer base than a typical local retail pharmacy. Mail order pharmacies provide a completely different working environment than a retail pharmacy. The training requirements are also different.
The first big difference of course is that your communication with customers is all done through mail orders or online orders. Therefore, a mail order pharmacy technician job is much more solitary than when you’re working behind a counter at a retail pharmacy.
Depending on the size of the mail order pharmacy, you may have a wide range of coworkers to interact with, or be left relatively on your own. If you work well on your own with little supervision and enjoy operating behind the scenes instead of out and in front of the customers, a mail order pharmacy will be a good fit for you.
No matter the size of the mail order pharmacy, big or small, the employer will provide the pharmacy tech on the job training, in order to equip the newly hired tech with the necessary skills and knowledge to complete their work. However, most mail order pharmacies will require prior experience as a pharmacy technician, and depending on the state additional licensure may be required, prior to being hired. Any additional training provided will be specific to the mail order pharmacy policies and procedures.
In a small mail order pharmacy, the pharmacy technician may do nearly all of the same job tasks as in a retail pharmacy. But the biggest difference is the lack of customer presence. The pharmacy tech duties are carried out behind the scenes. Customers are dealt with via email or telephone, as opposed to in person. Pharmacy technicians must also learn the same legal aspects as in a retail pharmacy.
Large mail order pharmacies are very different from smaller mail order pharmacies or retail pharmacies. Mail order pharmacies that handle filling large volumes of prescriptions on a daily basis consist of various departments that carry out specific tasks, throughout the process of filling of a prescription order. They often have different areas for inputting prescription order information, billing insurance companies, filling prescriptions, customer service representatives, and shipping orders. The different aspects of pharmacy operations that can be found in a retail pharmacy where a few pharmacy tech’s can operate are separated into large departments, to handle the large volume of prescription orders received.
In large mail order pharmacies, the pharmacy technician may be hired to work in a specific department. Depending on the department, the technician may only be trained to work in one area. For example, they may only be trained to work in the prescription filling, customer service, or insurance billing department. They can also be trained to operate machines that fill prescriptions. The pharmacy technician may or may not be trained in all aspects of the pharmacy technician job and it will depend on the employers needs.
A newly hired pharmacy tech with prior retail experience can transfer into a large mail order pharmacy and may only conduct one duty out of their previous duties, due to the sheer volume of prescriptions being handled at the large mail order pharmacy. For some individuals, carrying out only one role of the prescription order process is enjoyable and they will not mind working in a large mail order pharmacy. While others would rather carry out numerous duties and do not like the repetition of only one duty all day long and may enjoy working in a smaller mail order pharmacy or retail pharmacy, where they can carry out various duties throughout the day.
Hospital Pharmacy Training
Similar to mail order pharmacies, a pharmacy technician that works in a hospital pharmacy, inpatient setting, will typically not interact with customers or patients as much and rather focus on dispensing medications. In hospitals, technicians have added responsibilities, including preparing sterile solutions and delivering medications to nursing units or physicians. Technicians may also record the information about the prescribed medication into the patient’s profile. Generally, hospital pharmacy technicians conduct duties behind the scenes.
Hospital based pharmacy technicians, for instance, work with IV medications, compounded medications, and do a lot of laboratory preparation to ensure that patients receive exactly what they need. The lab work might also include extensive cleaning to ensure areas are sterile and safe for medication preparation. Others in the hospital might be in charge of maintaining drug dispensing machines, sometimes referred to as Omnicells, that nurses rely on to retrieve medications from throughout their day at a moment’s notice.
Hospital pharmacies, regardless of the state in which the hospital is located, typically hire CPhT. Therefore, being a CPhT gives you an edge on the job market. If your ultimate goal is to work in a hospital pharmacy, you will want to ensure you become a CPhT. Pharmacy technicians with at least a couple years of retail pharmacy experience is preferred by employers. For that reason, hospital pharmacy technician training programs are more focused on hospital policies and procedures. This will include learning to use the hospital’s computer systems, and any mechanical equipment used in the pharmacy. Hospitals expect their pharmacy technicians to be proficient in performing their job functions. Hospital pharmacy technician on the job training is typically complete in a couple weeks.
When considering a job as a pharmacy technician, you should consider your long term career goals. If your goal is to someday work in a hospital pharmacy, then it is a good idea to begin your career in a retail pharmacy. Retail pharmacies offer in-depth on the job training for pharmacy technicians which usually leads to the opportunity to become a CPhT. If you enjoy working behind the scenes, as opposed to with customers every day, then a hospital pharmacy or mail order pharmacy might be a great choice. Hospital pharmacies will require greater in-depth knowledge of medication preparation, including compounding and IV preparations but offer better pay. Mail order pharmacies will allow you to work behind the scenes filling routine prescription orders and offer a more set schedule, as opposed to retail pharmacies. Retail pharmacies are always looking for new pharmacy technicians and are a great way to obtain pharmacy technician on the job training and to become a CPhT – prior to moving into a mail order pharmacy or hospital pharmacy after you obtain a few years of experience.