Pharmacy Technician Certification

If you are looking for a challenging and rewarding career opportunity, obtaining pharmacy technician certification might be the right choice for you. The role of a pharmacy technician is to assist a licensed pharmacist by performing support duties such as:

  • Screening prescription orders for completeness and accuracy
  • Preparing prescriptions and mixing medications
  • Managing medication distribution and control systems
  • Providing drug information and education to patients, especially as it relates to the potential for negative side effects
  • Monitoring the pharmacy's compliance with applicable federal, state, and local laws

In settings where there are no pharmacy aides, the pharmacy technician may also handle administrative or clerical tasks such as answering phones, stocking shelves, and running cash registers.

Approximately 75 percent of pharmacy technicians are employed in a retail setting. Pharmacy technicians can also be employed in community pharmacies, hospital pharmacies, institutional pharmacies, mail-order pharmacies, or home-care pharmacies. In all of these locations, working nights, weekends, and holidays may be required. However, part-time positions are generally available for those who need to balance work with personal responsibilities such as caring for young children at home.

Wages for pharmacy technicians are relatively high considering the level of training that is required. Many positions start at $9 to $11 per hour, with experienced technicians making $15 per hour or more. The median wage for a pharmacy technician in the United States is roughly $28,000 per year.

The demand for pharmacy technicians is expected to remain strong, as the general popular ages and continues to require prescription medication to manage health conditions. The trend of cutting costs in health care is also providing extra opportunities for people interested in obtaining pharmacy technician certification. Increasingly, duties that were once traditionally the responsibility of licensed pharmacists earning $100,000 per year or more are now being handled by pharmacy technicians.

Starting Your Career

To be successful, a pharmacy technician must have excellent communications skills, be good at solving problems, and enjoy helping others. Attention to detail and experience in mathematics is important as well. When you're working with prescription medication, careless mistakes or miscalculations can have life or death consequences.

For pharmacy technicians, an understanding of ethical behavior is essential. Pharmacy technicians have a great deal of responsibility when handling confidential patient information. They must also deal with people who are trying to obtain prescriptions improperly or may be abusing their medications.

A high school diploma is generally required in order to obtain a position as a pharmacy technician. On-the-job training lasting from three to 12 months or completion of a community college training program lasting from six months to two years may be necessary for some positions, although requirements in this area vary widely from company to company.

While there is no national standard for pharmacy technician training, most employers prefer to hire applicants who have obtained pharmacy technician certification through the Institute for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ICPT) or the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB). Certifications are valid for two years and can be renewed by completing specific continuing education requirements. If you are currently employed as a pharmacy technician, there is a good possibility your employer will cover the costs of maintaining your certification.

Pharmacy Technician Certification

Institute for Certification of Pharmacy Technicians

One of the most common questions people have about earning a certification is which test they need to take. Pharmacy technicians can be certified through the Institute for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ICPT) or the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB). People who pass either exam earn the right to use the title of Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT).

The ICPT is a private organization operated by pharmacists, while the PTCB is a nonprofit organization governed by a council of five pharmacy organizations. The Institute for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians administers the ExCPT exam, which is recognized by the National Organization for Competency Assurance, National Community Pharmacists Association, and National Association of Chain Drug Stores.

The PTCB is the most popular source of testing for people seeking to earn a pharmacy technician certification, although the ExCPT is growing in popularity. Over 310,000 technicians have been certified with this exam, while only 2,500 have been certified with the ExCPT exam. The main advantages of the ExCPT exam are that the testing fee is slightly lower than the PTCB exam and that you may register just one to two days before your testing date. However, the exam may not be approved as a valid credential in your state. Contact your State Board of Pharmacy for additional information.

Topics covered in the ExCPT exam are very similar to those covered on the PTCB exam. For example:

  • Technician duties
  • Controlled substances
  • Pharmacy laws and regulations
  • Drugs and drug therapy
  • Drug classifications
  • Most frequently prescribed medications
  • The dispensing process
  • Information on a prescription order
  • Preparing prescriptions
  • Calculations
  • Sterile products and unit doses

Exam questions for the ExCPT are multiple-choice and administered via computer. You have two hours to complete the test. Accommodations are available for people with conditions that fall under the protection of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

You will receive a notification of a passing or failing score immediately after completion of the ExCPT. If you do not pass the exam, you may apply to retest after four weeks.

Recertification

The Institute for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians, like the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board, requires that your pharmacy technician certification be renewed every two years. To renew your certification, you must complete at least 20 hours of continuing education activities. At least one hour of your continuing education must be in the area of pharmacy law. A maximum of 10 hours can be earned through in-service activities supervised at your workplace by a licensed pharmacist.

Program Length

If you're interested in obtaining pharmacy technician certification, you may be wondering how much time you will need to spend in the classroom. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to that question. Pharmacy technician training programs are offered at vocational schools and community colleges, as well as through hospitals and the military. Each type of program has its own specific course requirements, resulting in a different timetable for completion.

Certificate or Diploma

Typically, programs offering a certificate or diploma can be completed in one year. Some programs can be completed in as little as six months, but these usually have an accelerated pace that may be difficult to keep up with if you are currently working full time or have other commitments that will take time away from your studies.

Some programs offering a certificate or diploma can be completed online. These programs often allow for self-paced study, which means you may be able to finish your work ahead of schedule. However, completing an online program requires you to be a very motivated student since the lack of close supervision makes it easy to fall behind. In addition, online courses may not always be eligible for federal student financial aid due to differences in the types of accreditation they have earned.

Associate's Degree

Earning an associate's degree typically requires two years of full-time study. An associate's degree covers many of the same topics as a certificate or diploma program, but also includes general education courses as well as opportunities for internships and work experience. Pharmacy technicians who take the time to earn an associate's degree can expect to receive higher starting salaries, as education becomes increasingly important in all health care fields.

If you are concerned about the time commitment involved in earning an associate's degree, you may want to see if your college offers the opportunity to earn credit for classes through the completion of College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests. A passing score on one of these exams will allow you to earn credit towards introductory general education courses, thus reducing the amount of time it will take you to earn your degree.

If you have previously taken classes for a pharmacy technician certification certificate or diploma, some of your coursework may be transferable towards your associate's degree. Contact an academic advisor for the program you are considering to learn more.

Becoming a Licensed Pharmacist

In some cases, pharmacy technicians decide to use their certification as a steppingstone to becoming a licensed pharmacist. In the United States, becoming a pharmacist generally requires six to eight years of full-time study. You must earn a PharmD degree from an accredited college or school of pharmacy, complete further training through a one- or two-year residency program, and pass an exam to earn your license.

Pharmacists who own their own pharmacies sometimes obtain a master of business administration (MBA) degree in addition to their PharmD. Earning supplemental degrees in public health or public administration is another option to consider, since this enhances the number of job opportunities that are available.

Renewing Certification

Earning your pharmacy technician certification is an important part of beginning your new career, but this does not mean your education is over. The pharmacy profession is constantly changing, as new drugs are being developed every day and doctors are working to learn more about how medications affect the body. In recognition of this fact, the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) requires that your pharmacy technician certification be renewed every two years. You will receive a reminder to renew your certification approximately 60 days before the expiration date, so it is important to make sure your mailing address and contact information remain current in PTCB records.

You can apply for your recertification by mail or through the PTCB website. Either way, you must complete 20 hours of continuing education activities. You do not need to send transcripts, participation certificates, or other documentation to the PTCB, but you must have this information available if it is requested.

Some of the topics covered in pharmacy technician continuing education activities include:

  • Medication distribution
  • Pharmacy law
  • Calculations
  • Drug therapy
  • Inventory control systems
  • Interpersonal skills

At least one hour of your continuing education activities must be in the area of pharmacy law. This is an important topic area for pharmacy technicians because of problems associated with the increase in prescription drug abuse among the general population. Pharmacy technicians need to be trained to make sure that laws are being followed and people are not obtaining medication improperly.

College courses are a common source of continuing education credits. You can earn up to 15 hours of credit by completing a college-level course in a math or science pharmacy subject area with a final grade of a "C" or better. This includes traditional classroom courses as well as online courses. If the course is not a standard part of the curriculum for pharmacy technicians or pharmacists, however, you will need to obtain approval from the PTCB before using it to satisfy your continuing education requirement.

You can earn up to 10 hours of credit by completing in-service projects at work under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist. These projects must not be considered part of your normal work duties and should be selected with your particular training needs in mind. Examples of acceptable training projects include inventory control, intravenous admixtures, or watching training videos.

All of your continuing education credits must be earned within the past two years; you are not allowed to carry over excess continuing education credits to the next recertification period.

After your recertification application is approved, the PTCB will send you a new wallet card and certificate. This process takes approximately 60 days.

History of Technician Programs

As a profession, the role of the pharmacy technician began to be recognized in the 1960s. Licensed pharmacists started to realize that pharmacy technicians could take over many of their administrative tasks, thus freeing them to focus on the more advanced decision making required for proper patient care.

Timeline

1975 - The American Society of Health System Pharmacists (ASHP) creates training guidelines for pharmacy support staff members.

1982 - The ASHP releases official standards for the accreditation of pharmacy technician training programs in the United States. This is often cited as the beginning of the trend toward formal education for pharmacy technicians instead of on-the-job training.

1989 - The Pharmacy Technician Educators Council (PTEC) is created to promote the development of high-quality training programs for people aspiring to become pharmacy technicians. The creation of this organization helped to promote consistency in the curriculums of various training programs.

1995 - The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) is created by the ASHP; the Michigan Pharmacists Association; the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy; the American Pharmacists Association; and the Illinois Council of Health-System Pharmacists. Obtaining certification from the PTCB quickly becomes a prerequisite for many employers.

1999 - The National Pharmacy Technician Association (NPTA), a professional group for pharmacy technicians, is founded in Houston, Texas.

2000 - The growth in the development of online pharmacies creates a new avenue of employment for pharmacy technicians, although concerns are raised regarding whether these pharmacies provide too many opportunities for people to improperly obtain prescription painkillers, sedatives, tranquilizers, and other commonly abused medications.

2009 - Ohio governor Ted Strickland signs "Emily's Law," requiring that all pharmacy technicians in the state pass a competency test and criminal background check. The bill was created after two-year-old Emily Jerry died from receiving an improperly mixed solution during her cancer treatment.

2009 - The NPTA launches an online training program for pharmacy technician students. The self-paced program takes six to 12 months to complete and includes a pharmacy externship to help students gain practical work experience. According to the NPTA, the program was created to provide an affordable and convenient option for nontraditional students who are attracted to the flexibility of online learning.

2010 - The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the demand for pharmacy technicians is expected to grow 31 percent between 2008 and 2018. This is attributed to factors such as an increase in the number of elderly people taking multiple prescription medications and the growth of prescription drug coverage for health insurance policies.

Last Updated: 05/12/2014