While no college degree is required to become a pharmacy technician, it is often better to have completed courses in pharmacology. In rare cases, a pharmacist will allow a person with a high school diploma to apprentice under that pharmacist. An apprenticeship will start very low on the totem pole requiring a person starts out as a pharmacy aide. This means that the person begins his or her career by running the cash register, delivering filled prescriptions to patients, and answering the phones.

In May 2004, California passed a law requiring pharmacy technicians to be licensed. While you do not need a license to work in other states, it still can work to your advantage to complete a training course. Salaries are higher for those who have completed training and passed the national certification exam.

Schooling for a pharmacy technician is often a twenty-week course. Expect to pay about $1,500 to $2,000 for the full program. Often, pharmacy technician programs can be learned at home through an online or correspondence school. Classes include:

  • Anatomy – the parts of the body
  • Customer Service – learn how to relate to even the fussiest of patients
  • Medical Terminology – prefixes, suffixes, and terminology used in the medical world
  • Law and Ethics – the legalities of dispensing medications including malpractice and liability for prescription errors
  • Pharmacology – common classes of medications are taught in detail. You will learn common side effects, how the medications work, and what diseases each class of medication is used to treat
  • Pharmacy Computers – learn the more common computer programs used in pharmacies throughout the world
  • Physiology – how the parts of the body all work together and what diseases are prevalent to each organ
  • Practice – learn about the different career paths open to pharmacology students and the general background for each career sub-division

Pharmacy technicians work closely under the eye of the pharmacist. Pharmacy technicians can work in a retail pharmacy, such as a drug store or department store. They may also work in a hospital pharmacy or at a mail order or internet-order pharmacy. A pharmacy technician’s duties include:

  • Accepting and double-checking prescription forms from a patient
  • Receiving call-in prescriptions from medical personnel
  • Counting out pills to fill a prescription
  • In some cases, the pharmacy technician mixes liquid prescriptions
  • Entering prescription information into the computer system
  • Printing out prescription labels
  • Handling insurance information and processing co-pay information
  • Enter patient information into the computer system
  • Print out necessary paperwork, including warnings, to enclose with the prescription
  • Verifying all pertinent information is included on the prescription form and that the doctor has written things out legibly
  • Prepare insurance claim forms, if necessary
  • Price the prepared prescription
  • Maintain the inventories of all prescription and over the counter medications
  • In a hospital or nursing home location, pharmacy technicians read patient charts and then dispense that medication to the proper patient
  • Often, a pharmacy technician working in a hospital or nursing home setting prepares twenty-four hour’s worth of medications at one time.

When a pharmacy technician prepares a prescription, he or she cannot hand it to the pharmacy aide until the licensed pharmacist has checked the prescription over. The pharmacist makes sure that:

  • The correct paperwork, including any important warnings or contraindication information, has been include
  • The right medication was bottled
  • The label contains proper dosage information
  • The insurance paperwork is processed correctly
  • The medication was counted or mixed properly

Currently, pharmacy technicians are high in demand. As more baby boomers reach the latter part of their lives and a vast portion of the population are battling issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol, the need for prescription drugs is skyrocketing. Pharmacists are having troubles keeping up with the patient load, so they require pharmacy technicians to help them with a number of time-consuming tasks.

Because pharmacy technicians spend a large portion of their workday lifting boxes, reaching for items on high shelves, or standing at a counter, it is important to realize that you must have some physical strength and the ability to stand for long periods. Pharmacy technicians’ hours depend on the location in which they work. A retail store will carry normal store hours, usually seven days a week from at least 9:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. In a hospital or residential care facility, these locations are open twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week, so overtime and off-shift work are often required.

Entry-level pharmacy technicians can expect to earn between $19,500 and $33,000 per year. The median salary for pharmacy technicians across the nation is $28,40 (May 2010, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor).  In Los Angeles, CA, the median salary for Pharmacy Technician I is $34,998 (Salary.com).

View a list of schools in California offering pharmacy technician programs >>