pharmacy technician in white coat on orange background.

Your Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Pharmacy Technician

Pharmacy technicians play an important role in a pharmacy, assisting pharmacists in filling prescriptions and working with customers. Learn more about what pharmacy techs do, how to become one, and more!
Desiree Sinkevich

Des Sinkevich

Skilled pharmacy technicians are vital to a well-run pharmacy, whether in a retail or hospital setting. As pharmacists take on more tasks, from vaccinations to patient consultations, pharmacy technicians will be relied on to handle more duties. With the need for pharmacy techs and an expected 44,900 jobs in the field being added each year for the next decade, there’s no better time than now to get your foot in the door. But what’s the first step to becoming a pharmacy technician? Are there certain requirements you need to meet to work in a pharmacy? Here’s everything you need to know.

How to become a pharmacy technician

While not every state requires pharmacy technicians to be certified, many do, so it’s important to check your state’s requirements before getting started on the path toward this career. Outside of understanding what your state requires, you’ll also need to complete these steps to work toward certification and a job as a pharmacy technician.


1. Earn your high school diploma or GED

A high school diploma or equivalent is often a minimum requirement for employers looking to hire pharmacy techs. Whether or not you’re in a state that requires certification, earning this credential is important to ensure you qualify for the jobs you’re applying for. For those who need or want to become a certified pharmacy technician, you’ll also want to pursue further education at a recognized school.


Note: High school graduates earn more money on average than people who don’t have their diplomas. Learn more about earning your diploma online, at your own pace.*


2. Attend an accredited pharmacy technician school

Becoming a skilled pharmacy technician involves education and training. To qualify to sit for certification in the field, you’ll want to make sure you attend an accredited pharmacy technician school. While a regionally and nationally accredited school can work to help you prepare for this career, if you’re looking to become certified or want to stand out when applying for jobs, a program that is American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP)/Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) accredited makes a difference.


3. Sit for industry-recognized certification

The most recognized exam in the industry is the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE) offered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB). You can also sit for the Exam for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ExCPT) offered by the National Healthcareer Association (NHA). Certification allows you to not only qualify for jobs in the field but may also allow you to earn a higher starting salary.


4. Maintain active certification

Most certifications need to be renewed within a specified time period. PTCB and NHA certifications are required to be renewed every two years to maintain the credential. Renewing certification doesn’t just mean taking another exam. You’ll also be required to complete continuing education hours. These hours ensure your knowledge and skills are up to date. The PTCB requires 20 hours, while the NHA requires 10 hours.


Read more: 10 Top Healthcare Certifications That Pay Well


Finding the right pharmacy technician education program

You’re ready to pursue the next step toward becoming a pharmacy technician – attending a pharmacy tech program! But how do you decide which pharmacy technician school is right for you? Here’s what to look for in a great pharmacy technician education program.

  • Accreditation. It can’t be said enough – accreditation is vital to making sure what you learn is what you need to know, and that the education you receive meets the standards of regional and national accrediting bodies. For pharmacy technician programs, having industry accreditation from ASHP/ACPE goes a long way. This accreditation is the national standard for pharmacy technician training programs. ASHP/ACPE-accredited pharmacy technician training is now required or strongly encouraged by several state Boards of Pharmacy.
  • Instructors who’ve worked in the field. An instructor who’s worked as a pharmacist or pharmacy technician knows more than just the book knowledge required to do the job; they know the ins-and-outs of the actual work you can expect to do in a pharmacy. Besides sharing their experience in the field, they bring another layer to education and training, providing students with insights they’ve learned from experience.
  • Up-to-date curriculum. The medical field changes rapidly as new technology, data, and more come to play. That includes the pharmacy industry. With an up-to-date curriculum, you can be assured you’re learning what you need to know to be a pharmacy technician now, not five years ago.
  • Certification preparation. A program that is aligned to ASHP standards means that you’re being prepared to meet all the requirements to become a certified pharmacy technician, from the skills and knowledge to work at a pharmacy to what you need to know to pass your certification exam.
  • Externship opportunities. Applying what you learned hands-on can be the most helpful when you’re preparing to become a pharmacy tech. You’ll take what you learned through your classes and exams and use that on-the-job in a real pharmacy. This helps reinforce your knowledge, as well as helping you get a foot in the door at a local retail or hospital pharmacy.

Some schools may have all of these. Many may not. When you’re researching pharmacy technician schools and programs, be sure to check out all the information provided on the school’s website and don’t be afraid to call their admissions department with any questions. It’s important that you can attend a legitimate program that meets your needs and can help you take the next step toward reaching your goals.


What should I expect during my pharmacy technician training

You’ve found the school you’re going to attend, enrolled, and are ready to get started. What should you expect from your courses? While there may be some variety depending on the school you’re studying with, most legitimate schools have a standard curriculum in common.


Besides an orientation to your program, you should expect to take classes covering pharmacology, body systems, pharmacy law, compounding, billing, and pharmacy management software. You’ll learn about drug delivery systems, drug administration routes, drug classifications, and commonly used medications. You’ll also cover what you need to know for your certification exam, as well as how to prepare for the exam.


For programs that have an externship component, you’ll work with the school to set up and complete your hours, usually at a local retail pharmacy.


Do you need a license to be a pharmacy technician?

It depends on the state you live and work in. Some states may require licensing to work. Some states require working pharmacy technicians to be certified and others don’t. If your state does require certification, you’ll need to take and pass an exam like the PTCE or the ExCPT to be considered certified before applying for jobs. If your state also requires licensing, you’ll need to follow additional steps, such as apply to your State Board of Pharmacy.


What you need to know about taking and passing the PTCE

The Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam, or PTCE, is one of the most recognized exams for pharmacy technicians. Offered through the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board, the exam is taken at a testing center, in person, and covers a broad range of topics you’ll be expected to know as a pharmacy tech.
In order to take the exam, you’ll need to meet certain eligibility requirements. To be eligible, you

  • Must live in the United States or its territories
  • Must have completed a PTCB-recognized education or training program OR have completed 500 hours of documented work experience as a pharmacy technician
  • Must fully disclose any criminal background
  • Must apply for and register to take the exam


After you pass the exam, you’ll be considered a certified pharmacy technician or CPhT!


What you need to know about taking and passing the ExCPT

Another way to become a CPhT is to sit for and pass the Exam for Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ExCPT) offered through NHA. This exam, like the PTCE, will test your knowledge of common pharmacy tech skills. There are two ways to meet the eligibility requirements to take the exam.

  1. Have your high school diploma or GED and have completed a pharmacy technician training program within the last five years OR
  2. Have your high school diploma or GED and have at least 1,200 hours of documented work experience under the supervision of a pharmacist in the last three years

Requirements to become a pharmacy technician

Successful pharmacy technicians have strong customer service skills, interpersonal communication skills, and are detail-oriented. They work well with others, follow directions and supervision given by the pharmacist, and are capable of applying what they learned in school on the job.


Further, pharmacy technicians should be adaptable and able to work flexible schedules – especially when they’re new to the job.


Other requirements for becoming a pharmacy technician include

  • A high school diploma
  • Passing a background check
  • Potentially taking a drug test
  • Having certification in states that require it
  • Learning on the job
  • Being at least 18 years old


Pharmacy technician salary

The average salary for new pharmacy technicians can vary based on where you live, who you work for, and even your education and credentials. The average entry-level pay was $37,790 in 2022, with those in the highest paying roles - usually in hospital pharmacies - earning $45,300 per year.


How to get a job as a pharmacy technician

To get a job as a pharmacy technician, you’ll want to

  • Understand what skills employers are looking for
  • Update your resume
  • Search for open jobs on sites like Indeed
  • Prepare for interviews by researching the employer
  • Be prepared to do a background check or drug test


If you completed an externship at a local pharmacy, the best bet is to ask whether they have any current open positions you can apply for if they don’t just ask you to stay on themselves. The pharmacists and other techs you’ve worked with know you, your skills, and your passion for the job.


If you haven’t completed an externship or are just hoping to get a job in the field before you graduate from your program, the best place to start when looking for a pharmacy technician job is making sure your resume is up to date. Often, students don’t think education they haven’t yet completed is relevant to potential employers, but it can actually help a lot when you’re applying to jobs. It shows that you’re currently working to earn the credentials and build the skills required to be an effective, successful employee.


After updating your resume, you’ll want to dedicate time to your job search. Look for jobs and set alerts on sites like LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Indeed. Besides seeing job posts in your area, you’ll also get an idea of how that business is to work for, the average pay, and more.


When you’re called for an interview, make sure to put your best foot forward and demonstrate what you’ve learned in school to show that you have the skills the employer is looking for.


Is being a pharmacy tech hard?

Like any job, there are some parts that are harder than others. Being a pharmacy technician can require working nights, weekends, and holidays. It can also often require standing for at least 8 hours a day if you work in a retail pharmacy. You also have to know and follow a lot of legal requirements and regulations when you work in a pharmacy.


Besides remembering all the rules, you also have to enjoy working with people. In retail pharmacies, besides assisting with filling prescriptions and other tasks, a lot of your work will be customer service related. That means checking out customer purchases, answering calls and questions, handling a cash register and taking payments, and restocking supplies.


This job is a good fit for people who like working in customer-facing roles, don’t mind flexible schedules, and are willing to take on a variety of tasks during shifts.


Build a career as a pharm tech with Penn Foster

If you’re ready to take the next step toward becoming a pharmacy technician, Penn Foster’s online, ASHP accredited Pharmacy Technician Professional Program can help you prepare. Through our self-paced courses, you’ll learn the essentials and required skills needed to work as a pharmacy technician. With the help of dedicated instructors with real-world experience, you’ll work toward preparing for an externship with a local pharmacy while also getting ready to sit for your PTCE certification, the cost of which is covered by your tuition! Or, if you’re looking to skip the externship and just earn your diploma while preparing for certification, our Pharmacy Technician Career Diploma could be right for you. For more information about becoming a pharmacy technician online, which program best fits your needs, or to enroll today, reach out to our dedicated Admissions Specialists at 1-888-427-6500!


*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


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