Training to be a Pharmacy Technician: Associate’s Degrees and Certificate Programs

By Elizabeth Quinn

Thinking about a career in healthcare?  You can quickly train to be a pharmacy technician in a certificate program or an associate’s degree program.  Such training will allow you to become part of the ever growing field of healthcare. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the need for pharmacy technicians will increase by 25 percent between 2008 and 2018.  This a much better than average growth rate.  Employment prospects are good.  The cost for training is much lower than that of a four-year college degree.

Pharmacy technicians assist licensed pharmacists in filling prescriptions.  This work includes taking prescription requests, counting pills, and labeling bottles.  In pharmacies which have no pharmacy aids, a pharmacy technician may also do a great deal of clerical work, such as answering the phone, stocking shelves, and operating the cash register.  Pharmacy technicians may also work in mail-order prescription pharmacies, nursing homes, and hospitals.

Training required to be a Pharmacy Technician

Nationwide there are no set standards for becoming a pharmacy technician, although some states do require a high school diploma.  Some employers hire people with no experience and train them on the job, but most employers prefer technicians to have training in either a certificate program or an associate’s degree program.

Certification as a Pharmacy Technician

Pharmacy technicians must be registered with the State board of pharmacy in most states.  Voluntary certification is given through various private institutions; a few states require certification.  The Institute for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians and the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board administer national certification exams.  Employers will often pay for these exams.  Recertification is required every two years; recertification requires include 20 hours of continuing education which can often be earned online.  Up to 10 hours of continuing education credit can be received for on the job training under a licensed pharmacist.

The National Pharmacy Technician Association based in Houston, Texas is the largest professional association for pharmacy technicians.  The NPTA offers some online continuing education courses and helpful information on a career as a pharmacy technician. 

 Earnings for Pharmacy Technicians    

In 2008, the median hourly wage for pharmacy technicians was $13.32.  The highest 10 percent received more than $18.98 per hour; the lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.27 per hour.  Salaries vary according to location and the type of facility worked at. At the highest pay scale, one could earn nearly $40,000 per year.

Some Schools with Training Programs for Pharmacy Technicians

Training programs for pharmacy technicians are usually offered by community colleges, rather than universities; a few universities do offer programs.  A list of accredited pharmacy technician programs can be found at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists website.   There are numerous training programs across the country.

In Louisville, Kentucky, Sullivan University offers a Pharmacy Technician Diploma through its College of Pharmacy.  Advantages of the program include extensive hands-on training and several licensed pharmacists on the faculty.  The diploma program requires a year to complete.

The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas offers a 6 to 8 month certificate program in pharmacy technology with extensive hands-on training at the hospital.  Applicants must have a high school diploma and pass a strict background check.

 San Jacinto College offers a certificate program for pharmacy technicians on its South and North campuses which can be completed in two semesters.  San Jacinto College Central Campus is in Pasadena, Texas and its satellite campuses are in nearby communities.

In Montgomery County and North Harris County, Texas, the Lone Star College system offers a pharmacy technician certificate and associate’s degree in pharmacy technology.  The certificate can be earned in two semesters and the course work can be applied to the associate’s degree.  The associate’s degree in pharmacy technology requires two years of coursework, including a summer semester for a total of 65 credit hours.  A 1 credit practicum or field experience is required.  These programs are offered at Lone Star’s North Harris and Tomball campuses. The curriculum for associate degree programs include liberal arts courses, as well as math and business courses focused on the pharmaceutical industry.  Technical courses include how to sterilely compound a medication, drug classification, and pharmacy law.  The Lone Star Program also includes a 1 credit course reviewing the pharmacy technician exam.

In Florida, Miami Dade College offers a certificate program in pharmacy technology.  The program requires three semesters of coursework and includes a clinical experience at a healthcare facility near the campus. 

If you are considering becoming a pharmacy technician, take time to explore all the programs available to you.  The more extensive your preparation, the more likely you will be to be hired soon after you complete your training.  Some training programs offer job placement assistance for their graduates.

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