There are over 400,000 pharmacy technicians employed in the United States.
More people than ever are choosing to become a pharmacy technician. As healthcare professionals, pharmacy technicians are on the front-line as part of a team in the treatment of patients and the preparation of medicines. Working as a pharmacy technician can be exhausting, but it is also a challenging, rewarding, and fulfilling career path.
Of course, pharmacy technicians don’t just work in the retail setting. You can also find technicians in hospital pharmacy, in the pharmaceutical industry, and in prisons, primary case organizations, the military, and in veterinary pharmacy and pharmaceutical organizations.
No matter which pharmacy technician career you intend to join, the duty of care and attention-to-detail that characterizes the position remains the same.
One of the key responsibilities of pharmacy technicians is the need to accurately confirm patient data and transcribe prescription orders.
Pharmacy technicians must confirm patient information when a prescription is handed in. Given how busy modern pharmacies can become, it is a skill alone to confirm patient information without error. One of the core responsibilities of pharmacy technicians is the need to reduce medication errors. And when you consider the sheer number of prescriptions and patients that technicians encounter daily, this is an important but challenging responsibility. One small error can have catastrophic effects on patient safety.
Pharmacy technicians are also tasked with verifying insurance coverage before the patient is dispensed their medicines.
Confirming prescription orders is just the first task. Next, comes filling each prescription.
Pharmacy technicians are taught how to compound medicines. It’s not always as simple as “counting pills”, important though that is. Formulations such as creams and ointments and cough medicines are not always readily available. Instead, these medicines must be extemporaneously prepared in the pharmacy to meet the needs of the prescription. As a result, the medicine has a short shelf-life and cannot be used beyond a short-term, defined date. Technicians are at the front-line in the preparation of these medicines which, as we have emphasized before, often means working under intense pressure to prepare these medicines as accurately as needed. Precision is an important skill that weaves its way through the profession of pharmacy.
In the hospital setting, pharmacy technicians are also tasked with the preparation of intravenous preparations, including total parenteral nutrition (TPN) and many other kinds of medications which are not typically prepared in retail pharmacy.
Teamwork and interpersonal skills are an important dimension to a career in retail pharmacy.
Working with other members of the team, and working with members of the public, can be a challenging and – for some – a daunting task. The influx of customers and patients is often relentless, and many people have questions about their medicines that need to be answered. You may also be asked to recommend over-the-counter medicines that, if approved, can be dispensed to the patient. Technicians may also be asked basic medical questions about the patient’s private condition or medicines, many of which the technician is qualified and able to answer.
Pharmacy technicians must be resilient, empathetic, accurate, and efficient – a combination of skills which is often difficult to juggle but something which the most experienced technician bathes in abundance.
Pharmacy settings, whether they be hospital or retail pharmacies, are highly organized and disciplined bodies.
Pharmacy technicians must have both these two skills: organization and discipline. Technicians are often tasked with maintaining inventory – to ensure that there is enough stock of medicine available to treat patients over a defined period. Technicians may also need to dispose of expired medicines or hazardous medicines that must be safely disposed of.
Stocking inventory is extremely important.
It ensures that there is sufficient stock to treat patients when and as they need their medicines. A pharmacy that does not adequately perform stock counts means that patients may have to go without their medicines and this has the knock-on effect of damaging the patient’s treatment regimen – the very opposite of what a pharmacy is designed to address.
Given the wide range of pharmacy settings, there are also more specialist roles that the pharmacy technician can take on.
For example, you may see technicians preparing more advanced aspects of extemporaneous compounding. Many technicians also rise to the ranks to senior managerial and supervisory roles; taking on the day-to-day running of the pharmacy at an advanced level. Therefore, when one asks the question – what do pharmacy technicians do – it’s not a question with an answer in the here and now, but where the career can lead in 5, 10, or even 15-years from now.
There is enormous scope for career advancement within pharmacy – as well as moving between different settings. It’s not uncommon to see pharmacy technicians move from the retail side of things toward the hospital or industrial side of work. Many technicians try to broaden their skillset and experience before deciding which career path to take.
After hearing more about what pharmacy technicians do, does this sound like the ideal career for you?
If so, the first step toward becoming a pharmacy technician in the United States is to take either the PTCB exam or the ExCPT exam. In some states, neither of these exams must be passed. Instead, you must rely on accumulating hours and gaining experience in the pharmacy setting. We have prepared pharmacy tech state requirements for you to learn more about what’s expected of you.
Once you have gained the required qualifications and have been approved a license to practice, you are good to go! What awaits is an exciting and rewarding career as a pharmacy technician that is sure to test you but also to fulfill you in the years ahead!