Pharmacy Technician Job & Career Guide

A pharmacy technician is a worker in the health care industry that completes pharmacy-related job duties while working directly under a licensed pharmacist.

People who are looking to become a pharmacy technician can follow a number of different paths on their way to a job as a pharmacy tech. The guide below provides extended information on pharmacy technician salary, schools, certifications, jobs, and other helpful career tips & information.

Pharmacy Tech Certification Exam Review

Check out our video tutorial on the pharmacy technician certification and exam process.


Pharmacy Technician Certification

Currently in the U.S. only 23 states incorporate a national certification process into the regulations on working as a pharmacy technician. Each state has it’s own State Board of Pharmacy that can address issues like certifications, job standards, and more.

What’s the difference between a pharmacy technician certification and a pharmacy technician license?

Sometimes the terms “license” and “certification” are used interchangeably. Other times, “license” may be used to just mean any particular set of regulations that are required to work in a particular state as a pharmacy tech.

Generally there really isn’t a difference between the two in casual conversation, but “certification” is the professional term used by the actual certifying agency.

Check with your local State Board of Pharmacy to see what, if anything, is required to work as a pharmacy technician. Don’t forget, this is of course in addition to any requirements the employer may have.

Pharmacy Technician Certification Board

The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board, or the PTCB, is a certifying body for the role of a pharmacy technician. The PTCB was created in 1995pharmacy_technician certification board in an attempt to set a national standard for what it means to be a pharmacy tech. This includes knowledge, skills, and any other attributes that a pharmacy technician on the job would be expected to have.

To obtain certification through the PTCB, you must pass their certification exam which is called the PTCE. The Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (and it’s accompanying certification if passed) is accepted in all 50 states as well as Washington D.C.

And while only 23 states incorporate any type of national certification into their state’s regulations, 5 states specifically mandate that you must pass the Board’s PTCE to get a job as a pharmacy technician. Those 5 states are Arizona, Louisiana, North Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming.

The Board is certified by the NCCA (National Commission for Certifying Agencies) and can give the credential of a Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT).

Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam

The pharmacy technician certification exam is an opportunity to test your knowledge and to make sure you are prepared to work as a pharmacy tech.

How do I qualify for the the certification examination?

To take the exam, you must pass a few requirements. First, you must have a high school diploma or a GED.

Next, during the application process you will need to disclose any and all criminal actions on your record as well as any registration or licensure actions taken against you with your State Board of Pharmacy. Based on this information, you may be disqualified from obtaining your certification.

You can view the PTCB’s full Code of Conduct by clicking here.

How much does the exam cost?

The pharmacy technician certification cost is $129 for the exam. You must also re-certify every 2 years. The cost to re-certify is $40.

Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam Books & Review

The pharmacy technician certification exam is unique in that it does not require previous work experience or formal training to pass. For this reason, many people prepare for the PTCE by reading books and using other study materials.


The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board also provides some study materials of their own.

One of the best ways to study is to review the PTCB’s official blueprint. The blueprint provides a very detailed guide on each section of the PTCE, including a breakdown of how much each section appears on the test.

The Board also provides a practice exam that mimics the real test in nearly every way. A practice test costs $29 and you can take it online, here.

If you have a smartphone, the PTCB also has mobile apps for Apple and Android that help you practice calculations that are commonly used by pharmacy technicians. Not only that, but the app has questions that have actually been asked on the official exam. You can download the apps here.

Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam Content

The pharmacy tech certification exam is 90 questions long and 110 minutes in length. Of the 90 questions, 80 are graded and your score is then calculated. The PTCB’s method creates a scaled score system, with all scores falling between 1000 and 1600. 1400 and higher is a passing score.

Here are the general topics covered in the PTCE exam:

  • Pharmacology for Technicians
  • Pharmacy Law and Regulations
  • Sterile and Non-sterile Compounding
  • Medication Safety
  • Pharmacy Quality Assurance
  • Medication Order Entry and Fill Process
  • Pharmacy Inventory Management
  • Pharmacy Billing and Reimbursement
  • Pharmacy Information System Usage and Application

Ready to apply for the PTCB Pharmacy Technician Exam? Apply Here

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Pharmacy Technician Schools & Training

Because the PTCB does not require that you take a formal training school program to qualify for their examination, you have a few different options on how to properly train yourself to become a pharmacy technician.

One way to become trained and certified is to enroll in a pharmacy technician school or training pgoram.

Pharmacy Technician School

If you decide that a pharmacy tech school is right for you then here are some questions you’ll want to ask yourself as you search program:

  • What are the licensing and exam requirements for my state’s State Board of Pharmacy?
  • Get detailed information about the school’s curriculum. How well does it match up with the PTCE exam?
  • Is the school accredited? By who? The Pharmacy Technician Accreditation Commission is one such accrediting agency.
  • What are employers looking for when it comes to education and certification?

Types of Pharmacy Tech Schools

Technical Schools

One of the better known types of pharmacy technician schools are “technical” or for-profit schools. These types of schools offer a condensed education, teaching you how to become a pharmacy technician in as little as eight months to a year. One of the biggest advantages these schools hold over other types of education is that they will often include an externship.

An externship is an opportunity for you to learn on-the-job at a local pharmacy. It is usually included as part of your education, at the end, where a student receives a grade for their performance. These schools will often work with the pharmacy manager to either hire you once you graduate or to give you a letter of recommendation.

The drawback with most technical schools is the cost, especially in light of what a freshly graduated technician can expect to make in the job market. Some technical colleges can cost more than $15,000. And while that may seem like a bargain compared to some four year universities, more money is being spread out over a much shorter amount of time. Not to mention that your pharmacy technician degree, unlike a four-year degree, would not help you get a job outside of the industry.

Universities & Junior College

If you plan on going the traditional college route, check with the schools you’re looking at to see what types of pharmacy programs they offer. For some, a pharmacy technician job may be a stepping stone to a larger role in the pharmacy, up to and including a pharmacist. Taking care of your education early can help you tremendously down the line.

Also make sure to check with your local junior colleges, as they may offer classes online at a heavily reduced cost compared to their for-profit competition. Even if you don’t end up taking the class, check to see what books they are using to study and prepare. If you are a good learner on your own, sometimes just getting the right book can be enough to help you pass the test.

Pharmacy Technician School Accreditation

No matter what type of school you go to, you need to do your research and find out if the school is accredited and who they are accredited by. This is critical to your success in school and specifically to finding a job once you graduate.

PTAC, The Pharmacy Technician Accreditation Commission provides a comprehensive nationwide database of the pharmacy technician training programs that are accredited through their organization. Check out their list of schools here.

Internships

Pharmacy technician internships are opportunities for you to learn through on-the-job training. Some schools offer internships or externships as part of their curriculum program.

CVS is one national chain pharmacy that works with various pharmacy technician programs to offer internships.

For more information about a pharmacy tech internship at CVS, click here.

Walgreens is another pharmacy that offers internship programs across the country. Walgreens also offers a PTCB sponsorship program in which they will pay for certification, provided you meet their criteria.

For more information on the Walgreens PTCB sponsorship program, click here.

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Pharmacy Technician Salary & Job Outlook

pharmacy technician job outlookThe current outlook for the pharmacy technician job market is very steady. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of pharmacy technicians is projected to rise 9 percent between the years of 2014 to 2024.

This expected rise in employment is 2 percent above the national average of 7 percent. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics says that we should expect 34,700 new jobs in the pharmacy technician field to be added between 2014 and 2024.

Pharmacy Technician Salary (Hourly & Yearly)

In May 2015, the median annual salary for pharmacy technicians across the entire industry was $30,410 per year. That works out to a median hourly wage of $14.62.

The salary you make as a pharmacy tech will vary depending on a number of factors. Take the following into account when thinking about an offer of pay:

  • Type of pharmacy setting/store
  • Years of experience
  • Education level
  • Location

Take a look at the following table for a breakdown of annual pharmacy technician salary based on the type of pharmacy:


Type of PharmacyYearly Salary
General medical and surgical hospitals; private$37,130
Department Stores$30,790
Grocery Stores$29,710
Pharmacies & Drug Stores$30,030

These four categories are just some of the types of pharmacies where a pharmacy technician can find work.

Pharmacy Technician Sample Retail Salary Information

The following information gives a bit more detail about salaries for different popular chain stores and pharmacies:

Of the retail stores, the Safeway Pharmacy pays on the higher end with a median hourly salary of $16.49. Both of the department stores, Walmart & Target, have higher median wages for pharmacy technicians than their chain pharmacy competitors. Walmart’s median hourly rate is $13.27, while Target’s is $12.28.

The three retail chain pharmacies had the lowest median pay salary with Walgreen’s median hourly wage at $11.64, CVS Pharmacy’s at $11.17 an Rite Aid offering a median wage of $10.46.

Again, these salary numbers will fluctuate based on your personal experience and your city & state, so keep that in mind when negotiating your salary.

Pharmacy Technician Salary By State

Location of the pharmacy tech job plays a crucial role in how much you will be paid.

Washington (state) and California lead the way with average salaries of just over $40,000 per year. That’s an over $19.00 per hour wage.

West Virginia and Alabama round out the state’s with the lowest salaries. In West Virginia, the annual pharmacy technician salary is $26,840 while in Alabama it’s $27,520 per year.

When looking at the data, remember that the cost of living can play a heavy role in some states having a significantly higher annual salary.

Even with a higher cost of living state like California, there will be a broad range of what it costs to live in a city. This will of course mean that the range of what you can expect to be paid will be broad as well.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Pharmacy Technicians, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacy-technicians.htm

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