Type of Programs Available to Become a Pharmacy Technician

Besides high school diploma or GED there is no formal education or training requirement for becoming a pharmacy technician (PT). However getting certified or graduating from an accredited pharmacy technician program can considerably widen job prospects and get you higher salaries. As a PT aspirant your education options come down to either a Certificate/Diploma program or an Associate Degree. Accredited by The American Society Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), the educational path you choose to take will influence the course of your career as a PT. While a certificate/diploma gives you a hand on learning experience, an associate degree opens doors to advanced careers. Some factors to consider when deciding which program is right for you include, the duration of the program, the subjects covered, the cost of education, if it is accredited and widely recognized and whether it will enhance your chances of finding employment. The following information explores the types of educational programs available to a PT aspirant and also gives you an insight into taking national certification exam.

OPTION #1 Certificate/Diploma Program

A certificate/diploma program prepares graduates for job opportunities in various settings, such as, pharmacies, hospitals and medical settings. The hands-on learning experience this program provides gives an extra edge and prepares you for a pharmacy technician's career. The program lasts anywhere between 9 months to a year and is designed to add skill based education. Graduates are also well prepared to take the certification exams. Accreditation by the American Society of Health Systems (ASHP) and the externship partners are two factors that need to be considered before enrolling for the programs, whether it is on campus or online. The cost of certificate/diploma programs range between $3000 and $11,000. Online programs cost less compared to on the campus programs.

Admission Requirements

• High School diploma Or GED

• A pre-admission test specific to each school

• Applicants whose first language is not English must meet the English Language Proficiency scores for the Pharmacy Technician Program specific to the school they are applying.

• Complete Immunization Record

• Standard Background police check

Pros and Cons of the Certificate/Diploma Program

• Provides hands on learning experience as an externship forms part of the curriculum.
• Topics covered are almost similar as in the associate degree program, thus making the pharmacy technician equipped with all the necessary knowledge and skills required for the job.
• It prepares the candidate to take the certification exam.
•Most certificate/diploma schools have placements offered.
• It requires going to the classroom, doing coursework, spending time and resources.
• Cost is considerably higher when compared to that of certification

OPTION #2 Associate Degree

An associate degree is a 24 months comprehensive education experience which provides an all-round skill-set as compared to the board certification or diploma program. Although it is not required to start working as a PT it works well out for those looking at advancing their careers into working as pharmacy service technician, compounding lab technician, pharmacy implementation specialist or similar roles. It can also prove to be useful if you wish to go back to school at a later date, transferring your credits to an undergraduate program, already having completed two years of coursework, thus saving time and money, considering the associate program is accredited by the American Society of Health Systems (ASHP). Associate degrees could cost anywhere between $10,000 to $25,000 and are available as on campus as well as online programs.

Eligibility for Admission:

Eligibility requirements are school specific. The following is an example of requirements of an accredited school:

• High School Diploma or GED

• Completion of AH 110 with a grade of "C" or better.

• Completion of MATH 100 or MATH 102 with a grade of "C" or better.

• Completion of BIOL 100 or 102 with a grade of "C" or better.

• Completion of PHARM 300 with a grade of "C" or better.

• Completion of BUSTEC 302 or equivalent, with a grade of "C" or better

• Completion of CISC 302 or equivalent, with a grade of "C" or better

• Completion of PHARM 315 with a grade of "C" or better or concurrent enrollment with current grade of "C" or better

• Completion of PHARM 320 with a grade of "C" or better or concurrent enrollment with current grade of "C" or better

Additional requirements include a Health check-up and a background check.

Pros and Cons of an Associate Degree Program

• It is a comprehensive educational course which will cover a wide range of topics.
• Other career avenues open up, such as pharmacist, nurse and even a doctor.
• The two year course credits can be transferred to you undergrad program thus saving time and money.
• It's a long education over-haul as the duration spans over 2 years.
• It needs a lot of dedication, time and resources.
• It is expensive and the course does not guarantee a return on investment, working as a pharmacy technician.

Getting Certified

Although not an educational path, getting yourself a board certification can widen your job prospects. Moreover you are not required to go back to school to take the certification exam. The easy access to online and offline self-study material makes this option a viable one for those of you who want to increase your employability without bearing any tuition cost or going back to the classroom. Let us look into the PTCB and NHA certifications and how you can go better prepared to take the exam.

The PTCB Exam: The Pharmacy Technician Board (PTCB) develops, promotes and administers the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE), which is to determine whether students have mastered the knowledge and skills to work as PT.

Eligibility to Earn PTCB Certification

• You must have a high school diploma or GED or foreign diploma.

• Must comply with all the certification process policies, and give full disclosure of all criminal actions and State Board of Pharmacy registration or license actions.

• A Minimum score to pass which is 1400 on the Pharmacy Technician certification Exam (PTCE )

Preparation: The format and content of the two hour 90 multiple-choice questions is available online on the PTCB website. You can take the Pearson VUE tutorials which lets you experience the exam look and feel. Additionally the PTCB offers practice exams for a purchase, online, giving you an insight into the questions, format and content of the exam. Apart from this, PTCB does not provide training material, however there are many accredited pharmacy technician training providers, online as well as on campus.

The exam is offered all year-round at different testing locations across the country. The registration fee for the same is $129. If you fail to pass, you can take the exam as many times until you score the passing marks, however the registration fee will be applicable each time. On passing the exam you will earn the designation of Certified Pharmacy technician(CPhT).

The NHA Exam:

The NHA offers Exam for the Certification of Pharmacy Technician(ExCPT), a nationally accredited certification for pharmacy technicians. The purpose of the exam is to evaluate and assess candidates on the knowledge and skills associated with performance of tasks required to work as a PT.

Eligibility to Earn Certification:

• A high School diploma or GED.

• Must be 18 years of age or older.

• Not had any registration or license revoked, suspended or subject to any disciplinary action by the State Pharmacy Board.

• Passing score of 390 on the ExCPT exam

• A candidate is required to successfully complete a pharmacy tech program offered by an accredited institution OR

• A candidate must have completed at least 1 year of pharmacy related work experience under the supervision of a pharmacist.

Preparation: After registering on www.nhanow.com for the examination, you may choose to purchase preparation materials, such as Study Guide and Practice Assessment offered by ATI Health. However this purchase that can be made online does not guarantee a passing score. Practice tests of 50 questions are also available at a cost of $25 are available on the website. All exams are multiple-choice and computerized testing is available at most authorized locations. Paper /Pencil testing is available at centers that do not support computer testing. The exam duration is two hours and ten minutes and the fee for registration is $105. The exam is available all year round at different testing locations across the country.

Pros and Cons of Certification

• Widens job prospects as most states prefer certified pharmacy techs.
• Cost of getting certified is negligible.
• Gives a quicker career head start with average duration being six to nine months.
• Material for the preparation of the test is easily available online including practice tests which are put up on the PTCB and NHA websites.
•Although certified pharmacy technicians are preferred, but certification without any work experience does not guarantee employment.
• It leads to a career but learning and understanding the job does not happen as it does not provide an educational experience.
• Certification has to be renewed every two years.

Our Take:

We have learnt that each program has its own benefits with considerable variation in the costs. While the certification costs $105 for the ExCPT and $129 for the PTCE (registration fee) plus cost of preparation resources, the diploma/certificate program could cost anything from $3000 to $11,000. For an aspirant who is just out of high school without any work experience, a diploma course would be a better bet. The diploma program prepares you with hands on learning and to take the certification exam. A diploma graduate with no experience is likely to find employment more easily as compared to a high school graduate with only certification as employers prefer candidates who are ready for the job, vis-a-vis a high school fresher that will need on the job training.

If you are a candidate, who is already working as a PT and not really looking at career advancement, then you can consider PTCB or ExCPT certification. By getting certified you can better job prospects across the country without having to spend much on the cost of education.

While an associate degree can be an all-round education experience, it is expensive ($10,000-$25,000) and during our research we have found that pharmacy techs with an associate degree hardly improve their salary or job prospects compared to the ones with just a certificate or diploma. This degree is better advised for those who at some point of time in the future wish to move away from their job as a pharmacy tech and aspire to pursue a pharmacy degree or any other advanced degree.

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