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What is a pharmacy technician?

Written by Ashworth College on Monday, 03 September 2018. Posted in Career

Pharmacy technicians performing drug inventory at a pharmacy

Every time you pick up a prescription from your local pharmacy, you probably see a number of people in white coats working behind the counter. At least one of those folks is a pharmacist, an expert in pharmaceutical drugs who holds a professional doctorate and has passed multiple licensing exams.

But most of the people you see behind the drug counter are pharmacy technicians co-workers who are trained specifically to assist pharmacists with the many ongoing tasks it takes to run the business.

What does a pharmacy technician do?

Though the tasks needed by every pharmacy are generally similar, pharm techs may perform them in varied settings from retail environments where they interact with the public constantly to closed-door environments where they have no direct interaction with customers at all. There’s a little something for everyone who aspires to build a career as a pharmacy technician.

Retail Pharm Techs

About half of all pharm techs work in retail pharmacies and drug store settings, while 10% work in general merchandise stores, and 8% work in grocery stores, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics.* In these environments, pharmacy technicians work under the direct supervision of a pharmacist to handle a number of important tasks, including:

  • Working with customers in person and on the telephone
  • Receiving prescription information from customers and physicians
  • Counting pills or measuring doses of prescribed medications
  • Packaging and labeling medications
  • Working the pharmacy cash register
  • Maintaining accurate patient records
  • Processing and troubleshooting insurance claims
  • Monitoring inventory of behind the counter and over-the-counter supplies

Retail pharmacy technicians may work full time or part time during regular daytime shifts, fill-in or temporary shifts, and even overnight shifts at 24-hour pharmacies. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for retail pharm techs in 2017 was $31,750.*

The median salary for pharmacy technicians in retail environments was $31,750 in 2017.*

If you’re interested in chemistry, medication management, and want to interact with people every day in an effort to help them live longer, healthier lives, then retail pharm tech could be a great career for you.

Closed-Door Pharm Techs

Not all pharmacies are customer-facing. Hospitals and private group care facilities need their own pharmacies to fulfill the medication needs of patients who are receiving emergency treatment, short-term rehabilitation, or ongoing residential care. Some of these environments may employ pharm techs who work completely behind-the-scenes, while others require pharm techs to make the rounds giving medications directly to their patients. But, just like their retail counterparts, closed-door pharm techs must work under the supervision of a pharmacist and they are likely to perform more complicated tasks, like:

  • Maintaining a sterile environment and dispensing sterile products
  • Compounding (customizing drugs to meet specific patient needs)
  • Preparing intravenous medications
  • Working with radio-pharmaceuticals (radioactive drugs used for diagnoses and therapies)

Because care facilities also function 24/7, there are likely to be opportunities for pharm techs to work shifts at any time of the day. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for hospital-based pharm techs in 2017 was nearly $37,000 per year.*

Other Kinds of Pharm Techs

Opportunities for pharmacy technicians certainly aren’t limited to the environments above, though they’re the most common. Skilled pharm techs have other ways to grow their careers. As business needs evolve, so do opportunities.

  1. Online and mail order pharmacies are growing in popularity as people turn to digital retailers for all of their needs, medicine included. A different kind of customer-facing business, mail order pharmacies need pharm techs, too. Digital customer service, postage management, and delivery and packaging logistics may be part of daily operations in these types of pharmacies.
  2. Domestic, farm, rescue, and zoo animals need medical treatment that includes pharmaceuticals just like humans do. Mail order, compounding, and veterinary school-based pharmacies need pharm techs who specialize in pharmaceuticals for animals.
  3. Branch pharmacies are sometimes found in underserved areas. Pharm techs may manage their daily operations under the supervision of an off-site pharmacist.
  4. Managers and supervisors with experience in pharm tech are needed to oversee operations in a variety of healthcare and allied healthcare environments. Some retail experience is usually desired for these roles where office skills, management skills and regulatory compliance knowledge are required.

Start Training Today for This Growing Field!

As the population ages and requires increasingly more medical care, there is an increasing need for pharm techs in all of the environments mentioned above. Demand for pharm techs is projected to rise about 12 percent through 2026. Learn more about the pharmacy technician job outlook and enroll today so you’ll be ready to join this rapidly growing field.

Learn more about the online pharmacy technician program at Ashworth College: Talk to an admissions advisor today!

About the Author

Ashworth College

Ashworth College

Our community is full of independent, motivated, growth-focused students. Dive into our blog to explore diverse stories from our students, friends, experts, and executives. From tips & tricks to student experiences and alumni stories, the Ashworth Blog is all about celebrating our community's accomplishments and passions.

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