Pharmacy technicians are medical professionals who work alongside pharmacists to help and support patients and make sure they get the best care.
Pharmacy technicians can work in places like community (retail) pharmacies; hospital pharmacies; pharmaceutical production or sales in the pharmaceutical industry; prisons; and primary care, education, military, or veterinary practices.
There are different roles for pharmacy technicians in each place, and each state has its own regulations on what a pharmacy technician can do.
What Does a Pharmacy Technician Do?
Pharmacy technicians are supervised by pharmacists. They’re responsible for the overall efficiency and safety of pharmacy operations. Their time is usually split between using their technical skills for prescriptions and providing customer service.
They help patients fill or order prescriptions and discuss any concerns with the pharmacist. They also make sure that everything runs smoothly in the pharmacy, including phone and technical operations, customer care, and communication between other workers.
Depending on where the pharmacy technician works, they may have different duties:
Hospital-based pharmacy technicians
Pharmacy technicians in a hospital may work with IV medications (medicine delivered through a needle and tube in a patient’s vein) and do more laboratory preparation such as sterilizing (deep cleaning).
Pharmacy technicians may also maintain drug-dispensary machines (automated vending machines that give out medicine) that nurses use for patients at a moment’s notice.
Retail pharmacy technicians
Pharmacy technicians in a traditional pharmacy (such as at a grocery store or drugstore) will mostly handle customer service and speak with patients who need medication or advice.
They will often answer questions about taking medications, like dosage and timing. A pharmacy technician might not have all the answers, but if they get stuck, they can ask the pharmacist for help.
Mail-order pharmacy technicians
These technicians work in an office-like environment, fulfilling prescriptions from a workstation. They may be responsible for maintaining patient databases, filling medicines, and taking inventory.
Education and Training
You don’t need a college degree to become a pharmacy technician, just a high school diploma and an interest in the area.
The process can take a few months to 2 years. You must:
- Get a pharmacy technician certificate or an associate’s degree
- Finish an externship (first-hand observation at a pharmacy) for real-world experience
- Apply to a pharmacy environment that suits your interests, like retail, hospital, or research
Because pharmacy technicians learn a lot of skills on the job, many recent high school grads may choose this route rather than go to a 4-year college.
Many states regulate or monitor pharmacy technicians, so it’s important to look into the local requirements. You may have to take a test or enroll in a certain type of training program at a college or other institution.
Reasons to See a Pharmacy Technician
You’re most likely to see a pharmacy technician in a retail setting. Often, they’re the first person you meet when you go to the counter for help.
They can offer assistance by:
- Discussing your medical history
- Managing your file in their database
- Answering medication questions
- Referring you to a pharmacist
- Making sure your prescription is getting filled
- Giving you detailed instructions on how to take your medication
- Answering questions about illnesses or other health conditions