Many people interested in employment within the medical field often turn to pharmacy work. While many become pharmacists, it can take years of education and lots of money for tuition to accomplish this goal. For those wanting a quicker way to begin their careers, a great alternative is to become a pharmacy technician. For far less money and time, people wanting a career in this field can find great pay, benefits and a wealth of opportunities available in a variety of settings.
1. What is a Pharmacy Technician?
Pharmacy technicians are to pharmacists what legal assistants are to lawyers. While technicians are not authorized to dispense medications, they can do virtually everything else just as pharmacists would.
Technicians usually work the front counter at a pharmacy, answering customer’s questions and fielding phone calls. They speak with doctor’s offices and other health-care facilities regarding information needed to fill prescriptions, and sometimes even make deliveries of medicine to medical offices and facilities.
When not working with customers, they can be found counting tablets and measuring medications for prescriptions, compounding and mixing medications such as ointments for patients and packaging and labeling prescriptions.
They also spend much of their time on the phone with insurance companies, ensuring that patients’ prescriptions are properly filed and accepted. Everything a technician does is supervised by the pharmacist, who must approve all prescriptions before they are given to patients.
2. What qualifications are needed?
Many times, a high school diploma will gain someone an entry-level job in a pharmacy as a clerk. Once employed, they can begin work on becoming a certified pharmacy technician, which is quickly becoming the industry standard for this profession. Most employers will offer on-the-job training to technicians, and many will help pay for additional training.
As the demand for technicians has grown, many community colleges and technical schools have started pharmacy technician programs to assist in filling the available openings. These training programs usually last for no more than one year, with many only lasting six months or less.
Students study a variety of subjects including pharmacy law, mathematics, dispensing medications, record-keeping and more. Many schools offer internships to students, helping them gain practical experience and network with potential employers.
All states have Boards of Pharmacy that regulate technicians when it comes to licensing and certifications. To become a certified technician, one must usually pass an exam or series of exams and pass a criminal background check.
Employers will often pay for the cost of the exam, and technicians are required to attend continuing education classes and seminars regularly to stay up-to-date on the latest pharmaceutical happenings.
3. What are the future job prospects for pharmacy technicians?
Job prospects for pharmacy technicians are excellent, and will continue to be for the next several years. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for pharmacy technicians will grow at a rate of 32% per year through 2020, making it one of the most in-demand jobs of the decade. Over 108,000 new pharmacy technicians will be needed through 2020, and with average annual salaries of over $28,000 there will be much competition for the positions.
While most technicians work in pharmacies found in grocery and retail stores, others work in independent pharmacies, mail-order pharmacies and for insurance companies answering phone calls from customers regarding prescriptions. Many technicians also work in hospitals, retirement homes, and other health-care facilities, helping to fill prescriptions for patients and residents.
To succeed as a pharmacy technician, a person needs to be detail-oriented and possess excellent customer service skills. Because technicians spend much of their time speaking with patients, medical personnel and insurance companies it’s vital they are able to project a professional image for themselves and their employer.
A strong work ethic, combined with a desire to help others and an understanding of medical law and ethics can go far in helping a technician succeed. Much of the job involves standing and walking for several hours at a time, so having the proper physical capabilities is also necessary.
As the population continues to age, the demand for medications will only increase. For those people seeking great pay and benefits, excellent job prospects and training requiring less than one year a career as a pharmacy technician may be the perfect job to use their skills in helping others.