Pharmacy technicians work both behind the scenes and face-to face with customers, but always under supervision by a pharmacist. In retail outlets, they count pills, label bottles and take orders, and they have additional duties in hospitals, including preparing intravenous solutions. Although some pharmacy technicians learn on the job, you can qualify through a diploma program. Diploma programs usually take one year or less, and associate degrees are also available.
Diploma Program Basics
Certificate or diploma programs are available in vocational schools, community colleges and online. They usually last one academic year, consisting of three quarters or two semesters. For example, a certificate of proficiency as pharmacy technician from Clark College requires three quarters of study after completion of prerequisites. However, some online schools prepare students in a shorter time, for example in only five or six months.
Some pharmacy tech diploma programs require prerequisite classes, effectively lengthening the time you'll need to finish. For example, at Clark College in Washington, students must meet assessment test standards or take remedial classes in math, writing and reading. In addition, all applicants must complete seven prerequisites, including medical terminology, computer applications and human biology. Other pharmacy tech programs don't require any prerequisites, but they include classes similar to the prerequisites in the diploma curriculum.
The specific classes in a pharmacy tech diploma program depend on the school or college. However, typical courses include introduction to pharmacy, pharmacy calculations, pharmacy law, pharmacy compounding and interpersonal communication. In addition to coursework, pharmacy tech requirements often include hands-on work experience. At Remington College, for example, students who have completed all other classes work under supervision in actual pharmacies. They receive credit for their final class by performing the duties of a pharmacy tech, such as compounding and dispensing medications and keeping records.
Pharmacy technician programs are also available at the associate degree level. Because these programs include both pharmacy tech classes and additional degree requirements, they usually take two academic years. For example, the associate degree program at Eagle Gate College in Utah takes 20 months for 90 quarter hours. The pharmacy technician classes include anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, pharmacology, dispensing and work experience. Eagle Gate also requires general education classes, including English and history, and college core classes, including management and business law.
State Requirements and Certification
Pharmacy tech training is geared to preparing students to meet state or national standards for the workforce. Most states have some formal requirements for pharmacy technicians, such as approved training, registration, a criminal background check or an examination. The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board and the National Healthcareer Association offer certification exams for pharmacy techs. Although certification is not always necessary, some states and some employers require it.
Employment of pharmacy techs will increase more than twice as fast as most jobs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 32 percent increase in positions between 2010 and 2020 due to advances in medicine and the aging of the U.S. population. The average wage for a pharmacy tech was $30,430 per year in 2012, according to the BLS, and the top 10 percent earned $42,400 or more.