Pharmacy technicians are medical professionals who work with pharmacists to help patients and make sure they get the best care.
They often are the people who find, package, and label prescribed medications. Their work is then checked by pharmacists.
Pharmacy technicians can work in your neighborhood pharmacy or places like hospital pharmacies, medical offices, nursing homes, prisons, the military, and even veterinary practices. Some work in the drug industry, in sales and production.
Pharmacy technicians have different roles in each place, and each state has its own regulations on what a pharmacy technician can do.
What Does a Pharmacy Technician Do?
No matter where they work, pharmacy technicians are supervised by pharmacists. They keep the pharmacy running smoothly and safely. Their time is usually split between using their technical skills for prescriptions and serving customers or patients.
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-dispensing 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 retail pharmacy (such as at a grocery store or drugstore) spend more time talking to customers, to get prescription histories and other information needed to fill prescriptions. They find out if customers have questions for the pharmacist.
They also work with prescriptions sent electronically or phoned in from doctors' offices. They make sure the information on the prescription is complete and accurate. They may find the medicine and prepare the right amount.
Pharmacy technician duties also can include helping with customer phone calls, insurance claims, inventory, and paperwork, and supervising other staff members.
Mail-order pharmacy technicians
These technicians work in offices, fulfilling prescriptions from a workstation. They may maintain patient databases, fill medicines, and take inventory.
Nursing home and assisted living-facility pharmacy technicians
These pharmacy technicians work with the pharmacists and nurses in the facility. They might help maintain patient charts, deliver medications, and put together medication packets for nurses.
How to Become a Pharmacy Technician
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 (firsthand 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.
How Much Do Pharmacy Technicians Make?
The average pay for a pharmacy technician is about $19 an hour or $40,000 a year.
Pharmacy techs with extra training and experience can advance in their careers. Some become pharmacy managers or move into pharmaceutical sales. Some decide to become pharmacists, but that requires several years of college and pharmacy school.
Where do pharmacy technicians get paid the most?
Pharmacy technicians get paid the most in California, where the average hourly pay is $25 and the average annual salary is $52,000. Other high-paying states include Washington, Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia.
Reasons to See a Pharmacy Technician
You’re most likely to see a pharmacy technician in a store. Often, they’re the first person you meet when you go to the counter for help.
They can help you by:
- Discussing your prescription history
- Checking your file in their database
- Answering basic medication questions -- like how to read the dosing instructions on the prescription label
- Referring you to a pharmacist for more involved questions -- like what to do if you get side effects
- Making sure your prescription is getting filled