Pharmacy tech is a great career path for anyone in need of a job that pays decently well but requires minimal formal education.
Relax – you’ll receive most of your training on the job.
You’ll also have a broad range of work environment options if you want to start a family or go back to school.
Pharmacy Technician Duties and Job Description
Your basic pharmacy technician duties involve communicating with patients and filling their prescriptions.
Does that sound simple enough? Well, there’s a lot behind those two basic jobs. How you carry out those two tasks will vary depending on whether you’re working in a hospital or retail setting.
In a retail storefront, your daily tasks might include:
- Answering the phone to take prescriptions from doctor offices
- Greeting patients as they drop off prescriptions
- Verifying and billing patients’ insurance
- Compounding and preparing ointments or liquid prescriptions
- Counting and dispensing pills and tablets
- Answering patient questions about medications
Your duties will look much different in a hospital setting where you’ll:
- Mix and administer IV fluids
- Divide bulk medications into patient doses
- Manage medications between the hospital and their satellite pharmacy
- Restock and manage automated medication dispensing systems
- Read charts and file paperwork
With an aging baby boomer generation, there’s also a possibility you might find work as a home health or assisted living pharmacy technician. Your duties at these facilities might be similar to that of a hospital: administering medications to patients and doing a lot of paperwork.
A big part of the pharmacy tech job is understanding what you can’t do just as much as what you can or should do. There are strict federal and state laws in effect that prohibit pharmacy technicians from completing specific tasks.
In general, you cannot:
- Provide patients with medical advice – including pharmaceutical advice
- Deliver medication to patients without a final check from a pharmacist
The pharmacist must always sign off on any prescription before you hand it to a patient.
Don’t worry, you’ll receive plenty of on-the-job training where your colleagues will inform you about all the dos and don’ts.
It also helps to have certification because this training will educate you about the local regulations and industry standards – plus, the medical industry involves plenty of unwritten rules.
Pharmacy Technician Salary
Pharmacy technicians bring home a decent living. The median salary for a pharmacy tech, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, was $31,750 as of 2017.
On the low end of the spectrum, you could start out making just $22,000 per year. However, with several years of experience, you might be able to bring home over $46,000 each year.
Your salary as a pharmacy tech will also largely depend on your work environment. Working in a hospital setting will earn you a considerably larger paycheck than drug stores.
Pharmacists employed at hospitals tend to earn about $36,710 per year while those working at corner drug stores or department stores each less than $30,000 each year.
Pharmacy Technician Duties and Ideal Personality Traits
The job of a pharmacy technician is pretty straightforward, and most days, you can know what to expect at work. However, it’s certainly a high-pressure and challenging profession.
The truth is, not everyone is cut out to be a pharmacy tech.
If you’re interested in pursuing a career as a pharmacy technician, the following personality characteristics will make you a perfect fit.
- Communication skills: Although you’ll complete a lot of your work behind the scenes, you’ll still need to communicate with patients and medical staff on a regular basis.
- Attentiveness: You’ll be responsible for counting pills and mixing intravenous fluids – there is absolutely no room for error here. If you beat yourself up in high school over an A-, then you’ve found your calling as a pharmacy tech.
- Punctuality: Patients need their prescriptions in a timely fashion. Don’t expect to take breaks every ten minutes – acting with some urgency is always a good thing.
- Motivation: The pharmacist will need someone who is a self-starter and gets things done with minimal direction – they’re busy and need your help.
- Cleanliness: Even retail storefront pharmacies should be fairly sterile due to the nature of medicine. Leave your Cheeto fingers at the door.
Pharmacy Technician Skills and Required Education
If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where pharmacy techs are in high-demand, you might not need more than a high school diploma to start your career.
However, many states require special certification and education for anyone who wants to pursue pharmacy technician duties as a career path.
Even if your state doesn’t require certification, it’s still worth considering because this will give you leverage over other job applicants. Plus, most pharmacy tech training programs are short so you won’t have to make a huge sacrifice time-wise.
Plenty of vocational schools offer pharmacy technician certification in a year or less. Others may offer certification as part of a two-year Associates degree.
You can obtain your official pharmacy tech certification from two different organizations in the United States: the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board and the National Healthcareer Association. Check their websites for accredited schools before entering any training program.
Expect to receive a lot of training on your job site. Each pharmacy has different types of patients, medications, procedures, and protocols.
Beyond certification and a formal education, you should have a clean criminal record. Any substance abuse or history of drug-related charges would likely disqualify you from any pharmacy job.
Pharmacy Technician Duties and Working Hours
Most pharmacy technicians work full time around 40 hours per week with high potential for overtime.
Your working hours will depend on the pharmacy’s hours. If you’re working for a hospital or 24-hour pharmacy, you could possibly end up working early mornings, midnights, weekends, or even holidays.
If you’re working at the corner pharmacy that serves patients during “regular” business hours like 9 to 6, you probably won’t face many late shifts – but weekends are fair game.
Although most pharmacy techs work full time, you can still find some part time employment if that’s more up your alley. The good news is that you can earn a decent income working as a pharmacy technician part time because the median hourly wage is just over $15.00 per hour as of 2017.
Pharmacy Technician Duties and Work Environment
As a pharmacy tech, you’ll work in either one of two settings: a hospital or retail storefront. Your work environment will vary depending on which setting you work in.
Hospital Pharmacy Technicians
In a hospital setting, you’ll deal with patients in a hands-on fashion – so interpersonal skills are a must.
A large part of your pharmacy technician duties might involve administering intravenous fluids, reading patient charts, and managing medications.
You’ll also spend a lot of time unit-dosing medications from bulk bottles and restocking the hospital pharmacy. Expect to complete a lot of paperwork in a hospital setting – when you’re not communicating with patients and other medical staff, of course.
Although your potential for income at a hospital is much higher, it’s also a much more high-pressure environment with high risk situations.
Retail Pharmacy Technicians
A retail work environment is much more robotic than that of a hospital: patients drop off prescriptions and you’ll fill them.
Since you’ll be the face of the pharmacy, it’s important to have great customer service skills.
Keep in mind that there are a lot of duties you can’t complete as a pharmacy tech – the pharmacist will have to do those himself or herself. As a result, a lot of your work might involve assisting the pharmacist by filing paperwork and filling prescriptions.
Pharmacy Technician Job Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects pharmacy technician employment to rise faster than all jobs at around 12% until at least 2026.
As the baby boomer generation ages, they’ll require more medical care – including prescriptions. In fact, all healthcare (and assisted living) jobs are expected to increase dramatically for this reason.
With a great potential for income and job security, there’s never been a better time to look for work in the medical field.
At the same time, the job of a pharmacy tech doesn’t leave much room for promotions or job growth. Your best bet in that respect is to gain experience and look for the highest paying jobs at prestigious hospitals.
If you want to become a pharmacist, however, you’ll need to go back to school and complete a Doctorate degree.
The Bottom Line
Anyone looking for a job with great pay that requires minimal formal education could benefit from looking into pharmacy technician duties.
Plus, the hours are fairly reasonable and you can’t beat the job security. Don’t forget to check the local regulations in your state about certification requirements.
And remember that a close attention to detail is absolutely mandatory – patients’ lives are in your hands.
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