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Pharmacy technicians may work in retail or mail-order pharmacies, and their job is to assist pharmacists in a variety of tasks. Pharmacy technicians are involved in getting medicine to patients and perform duties such as counting medication or labeling prescription. They also help to coordinate interactions between patients and pharmacists. Their duties vary in accordance with state regulations, but they may be responsible for customer service, receiving prescriptions from customers or doctors, verifying that information on prescription bottles is correct, and preparing orders. This could involve locating, measuring, or mixing medicating before putting it in a properly labeled container. Pharmacy technicians maintain close communication with pharmacists. Additionally, their work often requires careful record-keeping of patient information, preparing insurance forms, and stocking inventory.
Those pharmacy technicians who work in healthcare facilities such as nursing homes or hospitals often have the additional responsibility of working directly with patients and playing a more active role in patient care, including reading patients' charts, preparing medicine, and administering drugs to patients. They may even put together a 24-hour supply of medicine for every patient in the facility, packaging, and labeling the doses separately and preparing them for inspection by a pharmacist.
Because pharmacy technicians usually work directly with patients or health care providers, and must communicate critical information to and from pharmacists, communications skills are of the utmost importance. Precise attention to detail, strong math and science skills, and an interest in helping others are important skills to possess. Finally, they must be good at taking directions and working independently to make sure that work is performed efficiently and on time.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, pharmacy technicians earned a median hourly wage of $13.32 in 2008, for an annual salary of $27,710. Some factors that may boost earnings include certification, shift availability, or being a member of a union. The following are the median annual salaries in the industries employing the highest numbers of pharmacy technicians:
- General medical and surgical hospitals: $32,180
- Grocery stores: $28,490
- Other general merchandise stores: $26,660
Training and Education
Although much of the training for pharmacy technicians is on the job, employers often prefer to hire candidates who have received formal training. Also beneficial is any prior work experience as a pharmacy aide or hospital volunteer.
Pharmacy technician programs offer courses and laboratory work in areas such as medical and pharmaceutical terminology, pharmaceutical calculations, pharmacy record keeping, pharmaceutical techniques, and pharmacy law and ethics. The best programs include internships that provide valuable training in pharmacy work.
In most states, pharmacy technicians have to option to become certified by either the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board or the Institute for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians. Some other employers require that pharmacy technicians earn certification within a certain period of time. Eligibility requirements include a high school diploma, a record free of felony convictions, and successfully passing an exam. Certification must be renewed every 2 years and involves successfully completing continuing education courses.
In 2008, pharmacy technicians held about 324,110 jobs. The majority of them worked in retail pharmacies, while a smaller number worked in hospitals, physicians' offices, mail-order pharmacies, the government, or other entities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Pharmacy technician jobs are projected to grow by 32 percent--much faster than average--between 2006 and 2016. This is due to a number of factors, chief of which is the aging of the baby boomer population, which is increasingly relying on medications to stay healthy and vibrant. Advances in health care have also created a greater market for prescriptions. Pharmacy technicians should play a more important role, taking on further administrative tasks, and shouldering a larger burden of pharmacists' duties.
Job opportunities should include plenty of both full- and part-time positions. Applicants with formal training and professional experience should enjoy the best opportunities for employment.About the Author
Jessica Santina is a freelance writer with a background in media and marketing. She also teaches first-year writing courses at the University of Nevada, Reno.