Though pharmacists must hold a medical degree to dispense drugs, the same can’t be said for pharmacy assistants — more often referred to as pharmacy technicians. Regulations vary by state, but a high school diploma is usually the first requirement. From there, you may need to take part in some formal training, sit for an exam or simply pass a background check. But some areas of the country require pharmacy techs to have a certification. If not, you may still want to consider earning one. It can make it much easier to get a job.
The first of two certification options available to pharmacy technicians comes from the National Healthcareer Association. To sit for this exam, you must have one year of pharmacy experience or complete a pharmacy technician preparation program — usually a 50-hour commitment. During the course, you’ll cover topics like inventory control, dosage calculations, dose conversions and drug compounding, all to prepare you for the exam. A passing score means you’re a certified pharmacy technician, or CPhT.
Your other option is to earn your certification through the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board. Like the NHA exam, the PTCE assesses your competency to work in a pharmacy. The requirements to sit for this exam are less stringent; all you need is a high school diploma or GED. They do, however, recommend studying for the exam by reading basic pharmacy training manuals or books. The PTCB also offers test exams for a small fee.
Besides sitting for one of the two exams, you could instead choose to enroll at your local vocational school or community college and study pharmacy technology. These programs take about one year to complete, and offer more knowledge in dosage calculations, dose conversions, drug compounding, interpreting prescriptions and medical terminology specific to your intended industry. Upon completion, you’re fully prepared to sit for either exam.
Is the extra time worth the investment? Many pharmacy technicians would say yes. Not only did pharmacy technicians earn an average of $30,020 in 2011, but the job prospects are better than the national average, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Through 2020, employment of pharmacy techs is expected to increase by 32 percent. Those with formal training should enjoy even better prospects.
Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Dana Severson has been writing marketing materials for small-to-mid-sized businesses since 2005. Prior to this, Severson worked as a manager of business development for a marketing company, developing targeted marketing campaigns for Big G, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, among others.