Those who wish to kick-start a career as a certified pharmacy technician would do well to invest in good quality education. There are many different kinds of courses to choose from, therefore giving any aspiring technician the chance to build their career on a strong educational foundation. Choosing the right course at the best pharmacy technician schools will depend greatly on one’s own lifestyle, one’s budgetary constraints and other factors like how accessible the relevant institutions are to prospective students in different geographical areas. Doing some research beforehand, to explore the available opportunities for study is imperative to any studying career and will set students in good stead to make the right decisions for their future in the pharmaceutical field.
Education Needs Of A Pharmacy Technician
There are of course many pharmacy technician schools of thought on which kind of education is the best and also the most sustainable in the long run. Developments in technology and computerized systems mean that where the job of the pharmacy technician once focused on aspects like counting and packaging medication, their job has taken on a more specialized nature. They now play prominent roles in industries like medicine manufacturing and medical supply procurement. Thus, according to Linwood F. Tice, D.Sc., Dean, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science (1966): “The pharmacist of tomorrow will function by reason of what he knows, increasing the efficiency and safety of drug therapy and working as a specialist in his own right. It is in this direction that pharmaceutical education must evolve without delay.” Those who are of the same opinion are therefore encouraged to look for practical components in courses and choose educational paths which allow technicians to specialize in certain aspects of the pharmaceutical field.
Choosing the right path of study will have a direct effect on one’s job opportunities in the future. It will also directly affect aspects like one’s starting salary and entry-level position. It is therefore very useful for students to differentiate between their available options. Accredited pharmacy technician schools usually come highly recommended, although it is possible to obtain a certificate from any institution providing a certificate course in this arena. Fortunately for students, there are currently (over) 125 colleges and pharmacy technician schools with accreditation status according to the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education.
Applying For A Certificate Course
“For a pharmacy technician, certification is an indication of the mastery of a specific core of knowledge.” (American Society of Health-System
Pharmacists. White paper on pharmacy technicians. Am J Health-Syst Pharm.1996; 53:1793-6.)
Below, are a few standardized facts about what certification courses entail for prospective students:
- Can usually be completed in a few months (less than a year on average)
- A high school diploma is usually the only pre-requisite for this study path.
- These courses provide only basic or fundamental education.
- Students will become familiarized with the legislation governing their jobs as future technicians and the administering of medication.
- Courses equip students with the skills to work in retail or clinical environments.
- Sitting a formal certification examination usually marks the end of this course.
- Successful students will be able to fill entry-level positions in either retail or clinical environments.
Obtaining A Diploma As A Pharmacy Technician
After obtaining their certification, many students decide to pursue a formal diploma in the field. These programs usually:
- Require at least one year of further studying.
- Require students to have completed a certificate course and passed the formal exam after completion.
- Nurture the practical component of the job and the actual skills needed to build a successful career.
- Enable students with degrees in other medical fields to specialize as pharmacy technicians and make the transition into this field.
- Diplomas equip students with the necessary skills to work in many different arenas including retail, clinical and hospital, institutions and medical facilities as well as mail order pharmaceutical service companies.
- Students will be prepared to sit the required examination process upon completion of their course.
- Successful students will be able to enter a range of different fields of work in the pharmaceutical industry.
Pursuing An Associate/Bachelor’s Degree In The Field
Students who have the capacity and resources to obtain a degree in this field are encouraged to do so. Although formal certification is not always a pre-requisite for obtaining a job after studying (depending on the state’s laws), it is certainly no secret that those who are certified, find the process of getting a job, easier. Getting a degree means that:
- Students will need to commit at least 24 months or more of their time to studying.
- Students require a high-school diploma as a prerequisite for their degree.
- The degree will provide the strongest possible function of knowledge and skills for future technicians to build their careers upon.
- The theory involved will include advanced medical and pharmaceutical terminology, chemistry, inventory management and human anatomy.
- The practical work involved will include working in a clinic or hospital dispensary in direct contacts with patients.
- Students will be able to apply for pharmacy technician jobs across a broad spectrum of fields spanning the retail field to more advanced fields like the medicine manufacturing field in plants and medical laboratories.
- “Ex-ternship”/ internship programs are usually included to provide students with practical experience.
Where the development of practical skills are concerned, It is important for students to recognize the dual importance of both the learning of theory as well as the centrality of receiving good quality practical pharmacy technician training: “While education (as described above) may involve a training component, both are vital to the learning (or preparation) of the technician.” (Barrow W, Milburn G, eds. A critical dictionary of educational concepts. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Teachers College Press; 1970.)
Obtaining Formal Pharmacy Technician Education Online
Nowadays, web-based institutions provide long-distance education online, where it is accessible and widely available to the masses. These part-time programs allow students to work while they study and to complete their qualification in a longer period of time. These students however, need to bear in mind that studying online requires the following personal attributes along with the desire to learn:
- An advanced sense of personal responsibility and the ability to meet deadlines and complete assignments without relying on direct pressure or encouragement from lecturers and face-to-face tutors.
- Good time management and organisational skills.
- The ability to compromise the full-time, “student life,” and dedicate a great deal of one’s free time to studying.
- Perseverance in working to raise one’s course funds.
- Diligence in meeting deadlines.
- Ability to ask for outside help when it is needed.
Studying online has bridged the gap between those who could not formerly study due to financial constraints or demands on their time due to having children and/or supporting an existing family, and those who could. Although in the past, online instructions struggled to obtain formal accreditation and recognition, today, many enjoy accredited status and provide students with the education they need to further themselves as future technicians.
Taking The Certification Exam
The Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE) as provided by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (est. 1995), is a hallmark in the studying career of many aspiring technicians.
Indeed, statistics show that, “By the end of 2001, more than 100,000 technicians had been certified with this program.” (Ernst FR, Grizzle AJ. Drug-related morbidity and mortality: updating the cost of-illness model. J Am Pharm Assoc. 2001; 41:192-9.) To date, according to the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB), this number has reached 400 000.
To assist aspiring technicians who are preparing to take the formal examination, here are a few basic facts provided by the PTCB (www.ptcb.org):
The Exam Format
- 90 multiple-choice questions
- The result of 80 of these questions count towards the final score
- The remaining 10 questions are not considered as part of the final score but are used to assess which students qualify for future versions of the PTCE.
- The exam begins with an un-scored tutorial
- The exam ends with an en exit survey
The Exam Content
The exam is divided into three main content sections, namely:
- Assisting the Pharmacist in Serving Patients (66% of exam)
- Maintaining Medication and Inventory Control Systems (22% of exam)
- Participating in the Administration and Management of Pharmacy Practice (12% of exam)
- No penalties are imposed for guessing and no negative marking applies
- Possible sores range from 300 to 900
- The scaled score which constitutes a pass is 650
- Scaled scoring is determined by a method called statistical equating,
- Scaled scoring is used because various PTCEs used annually differ in levels of difficulty and scaled scoring allows students to have an equal chance of passing any one of the PTCEs .
- All scores are kept strictly confidential
- Candidates are given 110 minutes in which to complete the exam
- The starting tutorial takes approximately 5 minutes
- The concluding exit survey takes approximately 5 minutes
- The total examination time limit is therefore 120 minutes (2 hours)
The PTCB provides students with a number of useful resources to aid them in their preparation process. These resources include practice examinations, a formal guidebook and other documentation to assist students with understanding the scoring process.
Deciding Whether This Career Path Is For You
When embarking on this career choice, it is important to take various factors into account. Studies and statistical data provide useful insight to be taken into consideration when making this pivotal decision.
Hourly rates and salaries depend greatly on the state in which technicians work as well as the industry. The United States Department of Labor provides an overall indication of the annual salary figures as below, per industry:
|Hospitals and Clinics
|General Merchandise Stores
Table showing projected salary averages for pharmacy technicians as of May 2007 (industry specific)
Studies (as provided by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Employment & Wages database) are also indicative of the fact that the five top-paying states are as follows:
- District of Colmbia
Industry Employment Rates
Much can be said about the rate at which employment opportunities are opening up for pharmacy technicians. The main reason for the evident increase in these job opportunities is the subsequent increase in demand, caused by shortages of pharmacists in relation to the need for their expertise and technical abilities. This shortage of pharmacists automatically entails that technicians are having to play more prominent roles in the pharmacy, alongside pharmacists.
Required Personal Traits
One’s personal strengths and abilities will also contribute towards success in this career path. A day in the life of a pharmacy technician at an entry-level may require long and arduous working hours, especially in a 24 hour retail or clinical environment. Technicians should have an attitude of attitude of perseverance and determination to deal with emergency situations. They will also spend most of the day on their feet – requiring stamina and endurance. Apart from being presentable and approachable especially within a retail environment, technicians need all the above characteristics to nurture success in their careers.
Studying At A Pharmacy Technician School To Build A Prosperous Career In The Industry
For many professionals in the industry, becoming a certified pharmacy technician is the first step in a long and rewarding career in this industry. With the need for technicians to perform more primary managerial roles in their respective industries, there are many opportunities available for growth and personal advancement. As many come to understand, their roles as technicians are integral to their respective industries and companies but also to greater society as a whole. Aspiring technicians are encouraged to pursue their education with enthusiasm and use it as a stepping stone towards even greater prospects in this thriving industry.