Getting Your Certification

Preparing to Become a Pharmacy Technician

There are many different ways to prepare to become a pharmacy technician, since the profession does not have set entry requirements. However, it is important to keep in mind that on-the-job training opportunities are becoming limited. In most cases, you will need to take the initiative to complete career training and earn your pharmacy technician certification before you can expect to be offered a position.

Generally, pharmacy technicians must have a high school diploma. It is important to take courses that show you have strong communications and mathematics skills, as these skills are very important in the work of a pharmacy technician. Science classes, especially those dealing with anatomy and the human body, are also helpful for understanding the medical terminology that a pharmacy technician must deal with when preparing medications.

After high school, you will want to attend some sort of pharmacy technician training program. You can find training opportunities in hospitals, at vocational or community colleges, and through the military. The length of the programs varies, but many are between six months and two years. Shorter programs will award a career diploma or certificate, while longer programs will award an associate's degree.

Once you've finished your pharmacy technician training program, it's time to earn your certification. In the United States, pharmacy technician certification is done by passing an exam, through either the Institute for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ICPT) or the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB). Both exams are multiple-choice tests and cover similar material, but you should contact your State Board of Pharmacy to see which certification is preferred in your area.

Preparing to Become a Pharmacy Technician

High School

High school is a great time to start thinking about your future career plans. Graduation may seem like it's a lifetime away, but the decisions you make today have the potential to impact the rest of your life.

Choosing Coursework

Choosing your classes carefully can help put you on the path to a successful post graduation experience. If you are interested in a career as a pharmacy technician, you will want to keep in mind the following points as you're planning your schedule for each semester:

  • Science: Careers in the health care industry require strong science skills. If you're interested in obtaining pharmacy technician certification, it's important to take classes in chemistry, biology, and physics. Pay close attention to medical terminology and information relating to health and wellness.
  • Mathematics: Many duties a pharmacy technician is required to perform involve mathematics, so you will want to work on developing your skills in this area. At a bare minimum, you should be able to perform basic algebra calculations. If you think you may want to use the pharmacy technician certification as a stepping stone to a career as a licensed pharmacist, classes in geometry, trigonometry, and calculus are strongly recommended.
  • Communication: Don't overlook the importance of communications skills in health care careers. A pharmacy technician must be able to communicate effectively in both written and verbal form.
  • Foreign Language: As the general population becomes more diverse, knowing how to communicate with people from different cultural backgrounds is considered an asset in many professions. While fluency in a language such as Spanish is not required to be a pharmacy technician, it's an asset that will help distinguish you from other applicants once you're ready to seek employment.

It is a good idea to make sure your grade point average (GPA) is as high as possible if you're interested in a career as a pharmacy technician. Postsecondary education programs often use your high school GPA as a factor in awarding financial aid. Obtaining scholarships and grants will reduce the amount of student loan debt you'll need to repay once you start working.

Investigating Training Options

By your junior year of high school, it's time to start investigating what pharmacy technician training programs are offered in your area. Most community colleges and vocational schools offer some sort of pharmacy technician training program ranging in length from six months to two years. If you don't feel like you'd be successful in a more traditional academic environment, training opportunities for pharmacy technicians can also be found at hospitals or through the military.

Regardless of where you obtain your training, you can expect to spend your time studying issues such as pharmacy mathematics and calculations, pharmaceutical care delivery systems, and the proper aseptic technique for preparing and packaging medications. Some programs offer a diploma or certificate, while others may award an associate's degree. However, training programs generally do not include completion of your pharmacy technician certification exam. You need to arrange to take this exam on your own after you've graduated.

Job Shadowing

To learn more about what it's like to work as a pharmacy technician, consider interviewing local pharmacy technicians or participating in a job shadowing program if one is offered at your school. You may also want to try volunteering at a health care facility to become familiar with various medications and common health conditions.

College

Example: Pharmacy Technician Program Handbook

While many pharmacy technicians once received only on-the-job training, this is becoming much less common. The majority of employers now require that pharmacy technicians complete a formal education program.

Colleges and vocational schools offer many different types of pharmacy technician training programs. Some programs award a degree or certificate and can be completed in as little as two months. Programs that award an associate's degree generally take two years to complete and have more stringent admission requirements regarding required high school coursework and test scores.

Ideally, a pharmacy technician training program should cover drug information, medication distribution, prescription preparation, and the ethical issues relating to contemporary pharmacy practice. The program should also help you prepare for the certification exam you will be required to pass after graduation.

In any field, work experience is an important part of your resume. If possible, choose a pharmacy technician training program that provides opportunities for internships or job shadowing to help you gain experience in the field.

Online Programs

Nontraditional students, such as those who have young children at home or who work full time in another field, may prefer to obtain their pharmacy technician training from an online program. Online learning is becoming popular in many fields due to the flexibility it offers. Unfortunately, this flexibility means you must be a very motivated student to be successful. Without a defined schedule for your coursework, it can be easy to fall behind.

When preparing for your pharmacy technician certification by completing an online program, set aside specific blocks of time each week for your studies. If you're not already comfortable using computers, make sure you understand how to take advantage of your program's tech support features before your classes begin.

One important issue to consider when investigating online learning programs is that not all pharmacy technician training programs offered via the Internet are eligible for federal student aid due to the type of accreditation they have earned. Hoever, if the program you want to complete isn't eligible for federal aid, there may be private financing options available from the school itself.

Becoming a Pharmacist

In some cases, students completing a pharmacy technician training program decide to continue their education and become a licensed pharmacist. A pharmacist needs to obtain a doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree from an accredited college or school of pharmacy before practicing in the United States.

If you've earned an associate's degree as part of your pharmacy technician training, some of your classes may transfer to your new degree program. If your program awarded a diploma or a certificate, however, it is unlikely that your coursework will transfer. Contact an academic advisor at the college you are thinking of attending for details.

Certificate or Degree

Certificate or Degree

With so many different pharmacy technician training programs available, it can be hard to decide whether you should earn a certificate or pursue an associate's degree. This is a debate in many professions, so it's important to be aware of both the advantages and disadvantages of each option. Making an informed decision will help put you on the path to career success.

Earning a Certificate

If you're eager to get started on your new career, a pharmacy technician certificate may be a good option. Earning a certificate allows you to spend less time in school, since many of these programs can be completed in as little as six months. Classes taken to earn a certificate can sometimes transfer to an associate's degree program if you decide to return to school at a later date.

For nontraditional students, such as parents with small children at home, certificates are appealing because they can often be completed online. This means you can take your classes at a time that's most convenient for you. You'll also be able to save on commuting costs, since you won't need to drive to campus to take classes.

Certificates are not without their drawbacks, however. Many employers prefer to hire candidates with an associate's degree, especially for positions at hospitals and larger health care organizations. In addition, if you're hired with a certificate, your salary will likely be lower than someone who has taken the time to earn an associate's degree.

Pharmacy Technician Associate's Degree Programs

Associate's degree programs require a longer commitment than earning a certificate. You can expect to be in school for about two years if you take this route toward pharmacy technician certification. This extra time in school makes an associate's degree program significantly more expensive than earning a certificate, although you're more likely to be eligible to receive federal financial aid in this type of pharmacy technician training program. Also, if you've previously attended college, some of your classes may transfer to the associate's degree program. When earning a certificate, you are generally not allowed to count classes you have previously taken as part of the required coursework.

The main advantage of an associate's degree is that you'll have more of an edge when applying for your first job as a pharmacy technician. Since an associate's degree program takes so long to complete, you're likely to have more chances to get work experience, complete internships in the field, or attend networking events that can help you make the connections you need to get your first job.

When deciding whether to earn a certificate or an associate's degree, your future earning potential should be an important consideration. Employers are increasingly placing a high value on education. A pharmacy technician with an associate's degree can often make more money than a person with a certificate, even when performing the same duties.

After earning your diploma, certificate, or associate's degree, you will need to sit for the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB or PTCE) exam. Passing this exam gives you the right to use the title Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT) in your employment documents.

Requirements

In order to obtain pharmacy technician certification, you must meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • You must have a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma (GED).
  • You must have a clean criminal record with no felony convictions.
  • You must have no history of drug- or pharmacy-related offenses, including misdemeanors.
  • You must have no previous denial, suspension, revocation, or registration imposed on you by a State Board of Pharmacy.

Background checks may be done to verify your eligibility to obtain pharmacy technician certification.

On the day you complete your exam, you will need to provide a photo ID such as a passport, driver's license, learner's permit, or military identification. The name on your photo ID must match the name on your testing application.

About the PTCB Exam

The PTCB exam contains 90 multiple-choice questions and takes two hours to complete. The questions are developed by a panel of licensed pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, and pharmacy technician educators to reflect the type of knowledge a pharmacy technician must have to be successful with daily work tasks. Content areas covered include:

  • Maintaining medication and inventory control systems
  • Assisting the pharmacist in serving patients
  • Participating in the administration and management of a pharmacy practice

You are allowed to use a calculator for questions that involve making mathematical calculations needed to determine the proper preparation of prescription medications. A dry-erase board is also provided for you to use to take notes as you work. You will not be allowed to bring any personal materials into the testing area; you'll be given a key for a storage locker when you arrive at the testing site.

The PTCB exam is different every time it is administered as a precaution against cheating. In fact, 10 of the 90 questions on the exam are used to prepare future versions of the test and are not used to calculate your score. However, the level of difficulty is consistent, regardless of which version of the test you take.

The PTCB exam is administered via computer, so you will receive notice of a passing or failing score immediately after completion. If you don't pass on the first test attempt, you must wait 90 days to test again. After your second attempt, you must wait six months to take the test a third time. After the third test attempt, you will need to submit a formal appeal to the PTCB if you wish to retake the test.

Maintaining Your Certification

The CPhT or Certified Pharmacy Technician designation is valid throughout the United States, so you don't need to worry about retesting if you seek employment elsewhere. However, your certification is valid only for two years. To renew your certification, you'll need to provide proof that you have completed at least 20 hours of continuing education activities. Examples of acceptable continuing activities include college coursework, online classes, training videos, and review of professional pharmacy journals. Half of your continuing education hours can be earned at work under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist, but at least one hour of your continuing education must be in the area of pharmacy law.

State Requirements

Although the CPhT or Certified Pharmacy Technician designation is desired by many employers, each state has its own authority to set requirements for working as a pharmacy technician. You may need to pass additional exams or complete a formal registration process before you start your position. Contact your State Board of Pharmacy for additional information.

Last Updated: 05/12/2014