Pharmacy technicians are part of a popular, expanding field, one that offers prospective students opportunities to pursue a range of opportunities across different settings, from pharmacies to grocery stores, hospitals to ambulatory health care services. The projected job growth, coupled with solid upward mobility led the position to be named to US News World and Report's 2014 list of the top 100 jobs in the country.
Pharmacy technicians are responsible for assisting pharmacists, dispensing medication to patients, maintaining patient information, taking inventory and more -- all under the watch of a supervising pharmacist.
Pharmacy technician education and degrees
There are several avenues to becoming a pharmacy technician, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). These roads include a high school degree and on-the-job training, diploma programs and associate degree programs. Although associate degree programs are available, a majority of pharmacy technicians do not possess a degree. Survey data from ONET reveals that 60 percent of pharmacy technicians hold a high school degree or the equivalent, 14 percent hold a post-secondary certificate and 13 percent have completed some college.
Pharmacy technician certificate programs can be completed in as little as one year and traditionally focus on specific, role-based skills and fundamentals. For example, certificate programs may teach students how to enter prescriptions into a computer, count label bottles, stock prescription inventory, mix intravenous solutions and more.
On the other hand, associate degree programs (Applied Associate of Science) are typically more broad and liberal in scope, providing students with a more comprehensive education. For example, AAS programs may cover topics such as pharmacy calculations, ethics, pharmacology, job skills and more.
Additional core components of any pharmacy tech educational program include an externship (that provides hands-on experience) as well as classroom-based preparation for the National Pharmacy Technician Certification examination (CPhT) that is sponsored by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB).
Pharmacy technician certifications and licensing
The practice of pharmacy technicians is heavily licensed and regulated, both by national certifications and state-licensing boards. The National Pharmacy Technician Certification (CPhT) is the national standard for pharmacy technician certification and is both supported and recognized by the industry at-large. In addition, the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board also works closely with both state-level associations and state boards of pharmacy, including 70 state-level organizations across 45 states and state boards of pharmacy in all 50 states.
According to the PTCB, 43 states currently have regulations in place for pharmacy technicians, while five states require prospective pharmacy technicians to pass the PTCE examination in order to be eligible to gain employment in the state. As of late 2014, those states included Wyoming, Louisiana, North Dakota, Arizona and Texas.
Prospective students should be sure to review their state's pharmacy technician licensing and certification requirements. For more information regarding state-level registration and licensing requirements, students could turn to the following resources:
- PTCB (ptcb.org)
- National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (nabp.net)
- National Healthcareers Associations (nhanow.com)
Salaries for pharmacy technicians
Pharmacy technicians earned a national average salary of $30,840 in 2013, according to earnings data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov). However, overall salaries ranged nationally from up to approximately $20,000 to upwards of $43,000. Below is a list of national salary ranges by earning percentiles:
- 10%: $20,640
- 25%: $24,440
- Median: $29,650
- 75%: $26,270
- 90%: $42,230
In 2013, data from the BLS revealed some of the best paying industries for pharmacy technicians included the federal government ($40,890), outpatient care centers ($39,050), physician offices ($37,780), and pharmaceuticals ($37,420).
Location also impacts average wages and the top paying states in 2013 included Washington, California, Alaska and Hawaii. Below is a list of the 10 best paying states in 2013, according to the BLS:
- Washington: $39,910
- California: $39,570
- Alaska: $39,520
- Hawaii: $36,810
- Oregon: $35,340
- North Dakota: $34,600
- Wyoming: $34,180
- Nevada: $33,960
- Colorado: $32,890
- Massachusetts: $32,790
Career outlook for pharmacy technicians
Pharmacy tech is projected to be one of the fastest growing occupational fields between 2012 and 2022. Employment projections from the BLS estimate new job openings could reach 20 percent during that time, which equates to more than 70,000 positions nationally.
The states with the largest number of employed pharmacy technicians in 2013 included California (31,750), Texas (28,910), Florida (24,700) Illinois (18,510) and New York (16,770). Fifteen states are projected to experience employment gains at or above the 20 percent national rate between 2012 and 2022, according to state labor data. The five states expected to see the greatest employment gains between 2012 and 2022 for pharmacy technicians include:
- Idaho: 31.5%
- Utah: 30.2%
- Colorado: 30%
- Texas: 27.7%
- Tennessee: 26.3%
With growing employment opportunities throughout the country and multiple avenues to securing career training in the field, prospective students should find pharmacy tech to be an attractive option for a field of study.
ONET, Pharmacy Technicians, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-2052.00#Education
US News and World Report, 100 Best Jobs, http://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/pharmacy-technician
Bureau of Labor Statistics, OOH, Pharmacy Technicians, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacy-technicians.htm
Bureau of Labor Statistics, OES, Pharmacy Technicians, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292052.htm
Pharmacy Technician Certification Board, http://www.ptcb.org/who-we-serve/state-associates-and-boards/state-associates/sa-organizations#.VJFtJSuUe8x