How to Become a Pharmacy Technician (3 options) & How Long Will Each Option Take

A career in the healthcare industry is well paying as well as fulfilling and a pharmacy technician’s career is no different. Becoming a pharmacy technician is a rather simple process when you know how to sail through it. On this page we take you through the entire process, from the options to how long will it take to become a pharmacy technician, to the state requirements to the job application and the interview preparation, you will learn all the steps towards becoming a pharmacy technician.

Why Become a Pharmacy Technician?

• Career as a pharmacy technician offers tremendous employment potential, attractive salary packages and benefits such as paid vacations and health insurance. The average annual salary according to BLS is $33,060 (as in May 2017).

• Pharmacy technicians can kick-start their career right after high school or just by taking up a short pharmacy technician training program.

• You can complete your pharmacy technician education without spending too much on your cost of education, as pharmacy technician programs are usually offered at a reasonable cost.

• There is rapid growth in this career. You can go on to take advanced pharmacy technician positions or a career in pharmacy.

• If you are someone who is service oriented, can maintain utmost levels of accuracy along with efficient multi-tasking skills, then this career can be right for you.


What Options Are Available To Become a Pharmacy Technician?

Well, if you are contemplating a career as a pharmacy technician, you should know that there are three options to become one, you can either decide to learn on the job, or opt to take the certification exam and get certified or complete a diploma/certificate program or an associate degree to get a comprehensive educational experience. While it is possible to become a pharmacy technician without going to a pharmacy technician school or certification, most employers prefer candidates who have taken formal training through an ASHP (American Society of Health-System Pharmacists) accredited pharmacy technician program or at the least have the PTCB or NHA certification. The following are the three options to become a pharmacy technician:

OPTION 1: Without Going To School

If you decide to become a pharmacy technician without going to a pharmacy technician school, you need to know that in some states licensure is not a requirement, while in some you must apply to your state board for a licensure. Colorado, Hawaii, Wisconsin, New York, and Pennsylvania Missouri, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, Vermont and Delaware are the states where you can become a pharmacy technician without going to school.

Eligibility: High school graduation or GED.
How Long Does it Take: 6 months on- the- job training
Starting Salary: $22,000 to $25,900 per annum

i) In States with No Licensure Requirement

In the following states, Colorado, Hawaii, Wisconsin, New York, and Pennsylvania no registration/licensure is required. All a person who aspires to be a pharmacy technician needs to do is apply to the job and get hired. Once hired, on the job training is provided in the pharmacy, either by the pharmacist or by an experienced pharmacy tech working there. A period of about six months can be expected as on the job training.

ii) In States with Licensure Requirement

In states, including Missouri, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, Vermont, Delaware you can begin working without going to a pharmacy technician school after you register and obtain a license from the state board of pharmacy of the state you plan to work in. This process requires paying an application fee of $25 -$150 depending on the state, a background and identity check and proof of graduating from high school. You can start working after submitting the registration documentation. On-the job training is provided after you are hired by the pharmacy either under a pharmacist or an experienced pharmacy technician working over there.

Our Advice: Applying for your first job without any education can be challenging. You need to try as much harder to prove you have all that it takes to work as a pharmacy technician. When an employer is looking at a candidate, he expects, will be a quick learner, can keep up with high levels of accuracy, is a good communicator and at the same time will not mind a low starting wage. To increase your chances of getting hired ensure you highlight your relevant skills for this job in your resume and do some online research and self-learning to better prepare yourself for the interview. On the job training can be an expensive deal for the employer. Ensure you let the employer know that you are looking at working long-term and that training will eventually be a fruitful investment he is making.

OPTION 2: By Getting Certified

Eligibility: High school graduation or GED.
How Long Does it Take: Well, this entirely depends on how long you take to prepare for the certification exam.
Starting Salary: $22,000 to $27,000 per annum

States, including Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, West Virginia, District of Columbia and Maryland require pharmacy techs to be certified to obtain a license. Even in states where certification is not mandatory, a certified technician has better job prospects and earns higher a salary as compared to an uncertified pharmacy technician.

To get yourself certified you must apply for certification to either the PTCB board which administers the PTCE or the NHA board which administers the ExCPT exam. The application process is done online on websites of both the respective boards. To prepare for the exam you can refer to resource material available online. On scoring the passing marks you will earn the designation of a certified pharmacy technician (CPhT). In some states where licensure is mandatory, you are required to register to obtain a license with the pharmacy board of the state where you plan to work. To maintain the certification you must apply for recertification every 2 years. In order to qualify for recertification you need to complete at least 20 hours of continuing education.

Our Advice: While deciding between the PTCB or NHA exam, you need to know that the PTCB has been around for a long time and therefore widely recognized across the country. While the NHA requires 1 year of on the job training, it will be more viable for those of you are already working as a pharmacy technician. After earning a certification you can apply anywhere across the country and therefore widen your job prospects.

OPTION 3: By Going To An ASHP Accredited Pharmacy Technician School

Eligibility: High school graduate or GED
How Long Does it Take: 9 months to 2 years.
Starting Salary: $25,000 to $30,000 per annum

To become a pharmacy technician by going to school you can either complete a diploma, certificate or associate degree program.

i) Certificate/Diploma:

A pharmacy technician certificate/diploma program takes anywhere from 9 to 12 months to complete. It can be done at an on-campus or online school. It introduces students to basic concepts of pharmaceutical technology, pharmacy laws and regulations, inventory management and pharmacology. It also includes lab training where students learn how to process prescriptions, dispense medications and prepare sterile products. The certificate/diploma program also prepares students to take the certification exam.

ii) Associate Degree

While, a pharmacy technician associate degree is not essential for employment, the 2 year extensive training will be an added advantage when seeking jobs and also allows individuals to continue their education to the bachelor’s level. The associate degree is a new voluntary addition to the pharmacy technician’s career as many pharmacy technicians are pursuing it to gain expertise in the field. The program covers topics in pharmacy operations, pharmacology and advanced administration, and may include an externship component. Many good schools, conventional as well as online offer this degree program which is accredited by the American Society of Health System Pharmacists (ASHSP). An associate degree with the curriculum it offers, well equips its students to take the certification exam.

Our Advice: While choosing a school you must research all options available. Factors to take into consideration include accreditation of the school or online program, cost of the program, financial aid and scholarships. Online schools are convenient and turn out to be cost effective. A pharmacy tech certificate/diploma program, with the comprehensive educational experience it offers can give you an edge over others in today’s competitive job market. An associate degree on the other hand will better your job prospects, however looking into the return on investment as it is expensive, will be prudent. This degree is advisable if you are planning to pursue a career as a pharmacist or plan to prepare for a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Whatever program you choose, on graduation you must take the certification exam and apply to your state board for a licensure.


Finally: Preparing for Job application and Interview

Now that you know all the options, it is about getting to the job application and interview preparation, which is the final step towards becoming a pharmacy technician. Job applications usually require to be filled online. To apply, essentially, the resume and cover letter need to be well written. The resume format must be clear, simple and concise. A resume must contain all the relevant task related and technical skills, such as, efficient inventory management and OP Robot and Bar-code software proficient. The certification board exam or any other program completed must be mentioned when writing about education. Prior work experience, even if it is not as a pharmacy tech should be mentioned. Resume samples and templates are available online which can be easily customized for a pharmacy technician’s job application.

Next will be getting prepared for the interview. The interview usually comprises of questions such as:

What inspired you to become a pharmacy technician?

How did you complete your training?

What do you know about the certification process?

What is the most challenging part of being a pharmacy technician?

What are planning to do in the near future?

Our Advice: Your resume must preferably be customized to better suit the sector you are applying for to increase your chances of landing that coveted job. Additionally while appearing for interview let the employer know that you plan to work long term and how you can be a welcome addition to the team.

You have landed the job you once aspired, but now what next? Once you have gained some work experience it is beneficial to earn certifications in specialized areas such as compounding, chemotherapy and sterile products. The added knowledge and credentials will open doors to better job opportunities and promotions. The National Pharmacy Technician Association (NPTA) offers specialized certification programs in compounding sterile and chemotherapy.


The Bottom-line

We have clearly gone through all options to become a pharmacy technician. So which option is the right one for me? Well, if you are someone, who aspires to be a pharmacy technician and is just out of high school, then the certificate/diploma program will be right for you. It will not only give you hands on learning to develop necessary skills and a well-rounded educational experience but will also prepare you to take the certification exam, all this in a duration of just 9 to 12 months. An associate degree will not do much to your career as a pharmacy tech in terms of a salary raise. However, it is recommended if you are considering career advancement. Apart from the program you opt to graduate from, depending on the requirement of the state you are working in, a license may be required. Finally, to be successful as a pharmacy technician you need to have the necessary skills, some inherent such as a great communicator, an eye for detail, being organized and some developed through training such as processing prescriptions, sterile preparations, being computer proficient, to name a few.


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