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5 Steps to Pharmacy Tech

  • by Sam
  • Apr 02, 2018
  • PCAT Blog

Everything you need to know about becoming a Pharmacy Tech

by Sophia Stone

So you want to become a pharmacy tech? So do the 400,000 pharmacy technicians already practicing! Let’s face it: pharmacy is a popular career choice, and job prospects only keep improving as prescription medication use climbs.

The process for becoming a pharmacy tech can seem complicated, but it doesn’t have to be if you know the regulations in your state. Before we outline exactly where to begin, here are a few reasons to consider working as a pharmacy tech, in case you’re not already convinced:

Good For Your Pharmacy Application

First and foremost, working as a pharmacy technician is arguably the best kind of pharmacy experience you can gain before applying to pharmacy school. Not only will this wow admissions committees, but your work experience will help you get a sense of the day in the life of a pharmacist and (hopefully) affirm your passion for the career. Plus, you’ll have plenty of patient encounters to draw from as talking points during interviews!

A Little Extra Cash

You may want to sit down for this, but pharmacy technicians are paid – in fact, a median salary of $30,920 nationwide, or just under $15 per hour. The mean salary varies by state and can be as high as $20.28 per hour in the state of Washington or $19.21 per hour in California.

Open Positions

Job prospects are good. Pharmacy tech positions are projected to grow a whopping 12% between 2016 and 2026, compared to 7% growth across all occupations.

Pharmacy Experience

If your goal is to become a pharmacist, working as a pharmacy technician before going to pharmacy school is the next best thing. Under a pharmacist supervisor, pharmacy techs are responsible for measuring out medications, labeling prescriptions, organizing inventory, processing payments and insurance claims, speaking with customers, and in some states, even mixing or compounding medications. Cool, right?

Without further ado, here are the 5 steps to becoming a pharmacy tech:

1.   Determine the regulations for where you want to practice

Forty-five states require pharmacy techs to be registered or certified, and the exact regulations differ. The regulations for the state in which you plan to practice will help determine many of your next steps, which is why we put this step first.

The ultimate authority on the state regulations is the Board of Pharmacy within each state, whose contact information is listed on the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy website. The regulations for each state can be found in Tables 2a and 2b at the end of this article.

Many states require pharmacy technicians to be nationally certified, meaning that completing the national certification process makes you eligible to work as a pharmacy technician in any state. Even when not required, most pharmacies will either only hire applicants who are nationally certified, or at least give preference to those applicants, so that’s why we’re going to discuss the national certification process next.

2.   If applying for national certification, decide on the certification agency that you’ll use

There are two main certification agencies: the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) and the National Healthcareer Association (NHA) – use the acronym cheat sheet in Table 1, to the right, to help you remember all the acronyms we’ll be using – since you’ll be seeing and/or hearing them often if you continue on your path.

Both PTCB and NHA certification will allow you to practice anywhere in the US as a pharmacy technician. Since the PTCB exam has been around longer, it tends to be more broadly recognized. Some pharmacies, such as Walgreens, sponsor employees for PTCB certification.

To be eligible for PTCB certification, you will need:

  • A high school diploma or GED
  • Background check
  • Passing score on the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE)

In 2020, these requirements will change so that aspiring pharmacy techs must also complete a Pharmacy Technician Accreditation Collaboration (PTAC)-accredited training program, and a high school degree will no longer be required.

To be eligible for NHA certification, there are similar criteria:

  • A high school diploma or GED
  • Background check
  • Passing score on the Exam for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ExCPT)
  • Completion of an approved training program OR at least 1 year of pharmacy tech experience

Table 1. Acronym summary.

AcronymTermDefinition
CEContinuing EducationCredits that must be completed to maintain pharmacy technician certification
ExCPTExam for the Certification of Pharmacy TechniciansExam required for NHA certification
NHANational Healthcareer AssociationNational certification agency
PTACPharmacy Technician Accreditation CollaborationAccreditation agency
PTCBPharmacy Technician Certification BoardNational certification agency
PTCEPharmacy Technician Certification ExamExam required for PTCB certification

3.   If required, find the training program that’s right for you

Completion of an approved pharmacy tech training program is required by many State Boards of Pharmacy. In some states, national certification can replace the training program requirement, but NHA certification already requires the completion of a training program, and PTCB certification will also require this training beginning in 2020. Keep in mind that you must complete an accredited training program before sitting for the ExCPT exam required for NHA certification.

It’s important to confirm that the training program you select is accredited and approved by your State Board of Pharmacy. A list of approved programs can typically be found on each State Board of Pharmacy website.

Training programs usually take a year or less to complete and can cost $500–$11,000. (Yes, it’s definitely an investment, but these costs are significantly lower than the cost of obtaining an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree!) These programs, some of which are online, often have both a class and a lab component, covering pharmacy law, pharmacology, pharmacy ethics, anatomy, healthcare systems, physiology, medical terminology, and pharmaceutical calculations. Try to find programs that offer hands-on training in the form of externships or partnerships with pharmacies, especially when a certain number of on-the-job hours are required by your state.

4.   Schedule, study for, and ace your exam!

Your next order of business is to demonstrate your know-how when it comes to all things pharmacy. To qualify for PTCB certification, you must take the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE), while to qualify for NHA certification, you must take the Exam for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ExCPT).

First, you’ll need to register online either with the PTCB or NHA and pay a testing fee ($129 for PTCE and $115 for ExCPT), unless these fees were already bundled into your training program, as is often the case. In some cases, a pharmacy may sponsor your certification and cover your exam fee.

Once you have registered and scheduled your exam, make sure to study the PTCE content areas and take advantage of the practice test and mobile app tools available to help with your PTCE prep, or study the ExCPT content areas and prepare with online learning tools for the ExCPT. Take your studying seriously because the pass rate for the PTCE is just around 58%!

The exams themselves each take about 2 hours to complete (90 questions on the PTCE and 110 questions on the ExCPT). You can expect to receive your results online within 2–3 weeks and receive your certificate in the mail in 4–6 weeks.

In some states, such as Kansas, you may be required to pass a certification exam approved by the State Board of Pharmacy, or a particular exam at the culmination of your training program. Remember to check out Tables 2a and 2b at the end of the article to know the regulations in your state!

5.   Stay a pharmacy tech (and a good one at that)!

In order to maintain certification, you’ll need to keep apace with all the exciting new developments in the pharmacy world that will affect your patients – and how you practice. PTCB certificate holders must complete 20 hours of continuing education (CE) credits every two years to renew their certification while NHA certificate holders are expected to complete 10 hours of CE every two years.

There are also opportunities to gain additional certification in some really interesting areas, including sterile products (IV), chemotherapy, compounding medications, and nuclear pharmacy. This is a great way to challenge yourself as a pharmacy tech, helping you specialize further and expand your technician skill set.

So do you still want to become a pharmacy tech?

This article may be somewhat overwhelming to digest if you’re first considering a pharmacy career. But if you’re excited about the opportunities ahead of you as an aspiring pharmacy tech, then start by studying Tables 2a and 2b below to determine exactly what you need to do to become a pharmacy tech in your state.

After that, visit your State Board of Pharmacy website to confirm your next steps. There you should be able to find instructions on how to register, as well as a list of approved training programs (if required). If instead you decide to become nationally certified, by following the above steps you will become eligible to work as a pharmacy technician in any state – and you’ll be that much closer to a fulfilling career in pharmacy!



Table 2a. Summary of pharmacy technician regulations by state.*

StateRegistrationTraining ProgramNational CertificationExam/Other
AlabamaYes
AlaskaYesYes
(once hired)
ArizonaYesPTCE
ArkansasYesOptionalstate-designed test
CaliforniaYesYes
(or nat’l cert.)
Optional
ColoradoNo
ConnecticutYesYes
(or nat’l cert.)
Optional
DelawareNo
District of ColumbiaYesYes
(or nat’l cert.)
Optional
FloridaYesYes
GeorgiaYessupplemental application
HawaiiNo
IdahoYesOptionalPTCE
IllinoisYesYesMandatory
IndianaYesYes
(or nat’l cert.)
Optional
IowaYesOptionalPTCE
KansasYesstate-designed test
KentuckyYes
LouisianaYesYesMandatory
MaineYesYesOptional
MarylandYesYes
(or nat’l cert.)
Optional
MassachusettsYesYesMandatory
MichiganYesYes
(or nat’l cert.)
Optional
MinnesotaYesYes
MississippiYesMandatory
MissouriYes
MontanaYesMandatory
NebraskaYes
NevadaYesYesOptional
New HampshireYes
New JerseyYes
New MexicoYesYesYes
New YorkNo
North CarolinaYesYes
(or nat’l cert.)
Optional
North DakotaYesYesMandatory
OhioNoYes
(or nat’l cert.)
Optional
OklahomaYesYes
OregonYesYes (or PTCB)OptionalPTCE
PennsylvaniaNo
Rhode IslandYesYes (or PTCB)Optional
South CarolinaYes
South DakotaYesYes (or PTCB)OptionalPTCE
TennesseeYes
TexasYesYesMandatory
UtahYesYes
VermontYes
VirginiaYesYes (or PTCB)Optional
WashingtonYesYesMandatory
West VirginiaYesYesOptionalstate-designed test
WisconsinNo
WyomingYesMandatory
*As of March 2018. Contact your State Board of Pharmacy for current regulations as these may change.


Table 2b. Detailed pharmacy technician regulations by state.*

StateContactRegulations
AlabamacontactMust register with the Alabama Board of Pharmacy
AlaskacontactMust train on-site once hired, and then register with the Alaska Board of Pharmacy
ArizonacontactMust register with Arizona Board of Pharmacy and either pass the PTCE or complete PTCB certification
ArkansascontactMust register with the Arkansas Board of Pharmacy and either pass a state-designed test or complete PTCB certification
CaliforniacontactMust register with the California Board of Pharmacy and complete either an approved training program or PTCB certification
ColoradocontactNo requirements
ConnecticutcontactMust register with the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection and complete either on-the-job training or PTCB certification
DelawarecontactNo requirements
District of ColumbiacontactMust register with the DC Board of Pharmacy and complete either national certification or an approved training program with an exam
FloridacontactMust register with the Florida Board of Pharmacy and complete an approved training program
GeorgiacontactMust register with the Georgia Board of Pharmacy and submit a supplemental application
HawaiicontactNo requirements
IdahocontactMust register with the Idaho Board of Pharmacy and either pass an approved certification exam or complete national certification
IllinoiscontactMust register with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation and complete an approved training program and PTCB certification
IndianacontactMust register with the Indiana Board of Pharmacy and either complete an approved training program or national certification
IowacontactMust register with the Iowa Board of Pharmacy and either pass an approved certification exam or complete national certification
KansascontactMust register with the Kansas Board of Pharmacy and pass a state-designed test
KentuckycontactMust register with the Kentucky Board of Pharmacy
LouisianacontactMust register with the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy and complete either an approved training program or national certification
MainecontactMust register with the Maine Board of Pharmacy and complete an approved training program; may complete PTCB certification for “advanced” designation
MarylandcontactMust register with the Maryland Board of Pharmacy and complete either an approved training program or national certification
MassachusettscontactMust register with the Massachusetts Board of Pharmacy, complete national certification, and complete an approved training program
MichigancontactMust register with the Michigan Board of Pharmacy
MinnesotacontactMust register with the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy and complete an approved training program
MississippicontactMust register with the Mississippi Board of Pharmacy and complete national certification
MissouricontactMust register with the Missouri Board of Pharmacy
MontanacontactMust register with the Montana Board of Pharmacy and complete national certification
NebraskacontactMust register with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services
NevadacontactMust register with the Nevada Board of Pharmacy and complete an approved training program with or without national certification
New HampshirecontactMust register with the New Hampshire Board of Pharmacy
New JerseycontactMust register with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs
New MexicocontactMust register with the New Mexico Board of Pharmacy, complete an approved training program, and complete national certification
New YorkcontactNo requirements
North CarolinacontactMust register with the North Carolina Board of Pharmacy and complete either an approved training program or national certification
North DakotacontactMust register with the North Dakota Board of Pharmacy, complete an approved training program, and complete PTCB certification
OhiocontactMust complete either an approved training program or national certification
OklahomacontactMust register with the Oklahoma and complete an approved training program
OregoncontactMust register with the Oregon Board of Pharmacy and complete either an approved training program with the PTCE or national certification
PennsylvaniacontactNo requirements
Rhode IslandcontactMust register with the Rhode Island Board of Pharmacy and complete either an approved training program or national certification
South CarolinacontactMust register with the South Carolina Board of Pharmacy
South DakotacontactMust register with the South Dakota Board of Pharmacy and complete either an approved training program with the PTCE or national certification
TennesseecontactMust register with the Tennessee Board of Pharmacy
TexascontactMust register with the Texas Board of Pharmacy, complete an approved training program, and complete PTCB certification
UtahcontactMust register with the Utah Department of Commerce and complete an approved training program
VermontcontactMust register with the Vermont Board of Pharmacy
VirginiacontactMust register with the Virginia Board of Pharmacy and complete either an approved training program or PTCB certification
WashingtoncontactMust register with the Washington State Department of Health, complete an approved training program, and complete national certification
West VirginiacontactMust register with the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy, complete an approved training program, and either take a state-designed test or complete PTCB certification
WisconsincontactNo requirements
WyomingcontactMust register with the Wyoming Board of Pharmacy and complete PTCB certification
*As of March 2018. Contact your State Board of Pharmacy for current regulations as these may change.

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