Should I Consider Getting My Pharmacy Technician Certification?

January 7, 2019


So you’re fascinated by prescriptions, pills, shots, ointments, and cough syrups, and you’ve decided you want to be a pharmacy tech. What's the first step you have to take in order to dive into this career?

Do you need further training beyond high school to work as a pharmacy technician? Does it make sense to pursue pharmacy tech schooling and certification? Keep reading to find out.

Do I Need a Degree for Working in a Pharmacy?

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If you want to work in a pharmacy, a degree isn’t required, but – depending on which state you live in – a license or registration might be. Check out the requirements for your state before you begin making plans, as pharmacy tech requirements vary in each state.

Some states require certification, though some employer-based training programs might help achieve your aim. Other states require registration with a state pharmacy board, which often requires certification. There are also some states that have no requirements at all.

Unlike working as a pharmacist (which requires pursuing a graduate degree), pharmacy techs can enter the field in a much shorter period of time.

There are three possible paths towards becoming a pharmacy tech:

• Learn through on-the-job training

• Complete a certificate training program

• Complete an associate degree program

How Can I Start My Pharmacy Tech Training?

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Each of these paths will provide a different introduction to being a pharmacy tech, with timelines ranging from several months to two years to become a fully trained tech.

In most training programs, you’ll learn how to handle prescriptions, compound medications, prepare medications to be dispensed, and assist customers by explaining how to take medications properly. You will learn different topics in greater depth depending on which type of training you choose. In many certificate and degree programs, you’ll also gain hands-on experience through a clinical internship.

On-the-Job Training

Some large retail chains (like Walgreens and CVS) offer on-the-job training for new technicians. The length of training time varies by employer, but in states that require a certain number of hours of training before a tech can work independently, requirements range from 240 to 1500 hours.

Depending on your employer and how thorough their training program is, you might be prepared to take pharmacy tech certification exams when your training is complete.

• Length of time: Variable

• Cost: Paid for by employer

Pharmacy Tech Certificate Programs

Certificate programs are a popular option for many reasons. A pharmacy tech certificate program typically takes less than a year to complete, and is combined with a clinical internship. After finishing your studies, you’ll be prepared to take national certification exams.

The AIMS pharmacy technician training program in New Jersey takes seven months with day classes or nine months with evening classes. It’s a fast route that prepares you for certification and employment.

• Length of time: 4-12 months

• Cost: $800-$8,000

Pharmacy Technician Associate Degree

A pharmacy technician associate degree requires two years of study. You’ll learn the same material covered in a certificate program, but the program will also include general education courses. After finishing your program, you’ll be eligible to take certification exams.

If you already have other college credits, you may be able to apply some towards your degree. Thinking about continuing your education later in a medical field? This may be the right choice for you, since you’ll be able to apply credits from an associate degree towards a bachelor’s degree.

• Length of time: 2 years

• Cost: $5,000-$25,000

Pharmacy Tech License and Certification: What’s the Difference?

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Depending on your state, you may find that you’re required to be both licensed and certified.

A pharmacy technician certificate is the document you receive after completing your training program. While your certificate program should prepare you for certification, certification means that you have passed a separate exam by a certifying board. Certification demonstrates to employers that you possess the knowledge required to do your job.

Licensing is handled by states, but not all states require a license. Some only require registration with the state board of pharmacy. Licensing and registration requirements often include certification, work experience, or a background check.

How Do I Get My Pharmacy Technician Certification?

There are two nationally-recognized exams available. The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) exam is the most widely-recognized credential. Some states specifically require PTCB certification to become licensed. The other option is the Certified Pharmacy Technician exam offered by the National Healthcareer Association (NHA).

To become certified through PTCB, you must have a high school diploma and a passing score on the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam. NHA offers several eligibility pathways for the pharmacy tech certification exam including work experience and completing a training program.

Can I Take the Pharmacy Tech Exam Without Going to School?

The short answer is yes, but it's not recommended. Most employers, unless they offer an in-house training program, will only hire pharmacy technicians who have completed a formal training program. Self studying for the PTCB certification exam may get you certified, but it won't prepare you to work as a pharmacy technician. A formal education is one of the best ways to prepare you for certification and make you a more attractive candidate to future employers.

Certified Pharmacy Tech Salary

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It's not uncommon to start your pharmacy tech career off at a major chain drugstore, grocery store, or superstore. The average pharmacy technician hourly pay in these retail outlets is about $12 per hour.

Though these jobs are great stepping stones to other pharmacy tech positions, the average American pharmacy tech earns $15.26 per hour, or $31,750 per year. The highest wages can be found in hospitals, outpatient care centers, labs, government facilities, and universities, where average hourly wages range from $18.30 to $21 per hour.

For higher-paying job opportunities, you’ll want to show your employers proof of your education, certification, and work experience. Certification increases your hireability and opens you up to other pharmacy opportunities in many locations.

Are Pharmacy Technicians in High Demand?

Pharmacy techs don’t just work in drugstores – they can also be found in hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient clinics, labs, insurance companies, and more.

With nationwide growth currently happening in healthcare (due to an aging generation of baby boomers), the number of pharmacy technicians is expected to grow 12% between now and 2026. This is faster than average growth compared to other occupations.

Which States Have the Highest Pay for Pharmacy Technicians?

Though a $31,750 annual salary is the median salary for pharmacy assistants, salaries can vary across the country. The Bureau of Labor Statistics rates the top-paying states as Washington, California, Oregon, Alaska and North Dakota, with average yearly incomes ranging from $39,000 to $42,500.

Pharmacy Tech Jobs in New Jersey

Wages don’t tell the whole story: If you’re looking for opportunities, it makes sense to seek out a place where pharmacy tech jobs are plentiful.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area offers more pharmacy tech jobs than any other metro area. Experienced pharmacy techs in this region can earn as much as $48,720.

With easy access to the NYC area – and many hospitals around the state – New Jersey is an excellent place to launch your career.

Should I Become a Certified Pharmacy Tech?

While certification isn’t a necessity in all careers, the choice is clear: With higher wages, better job opportunities, and more flexibility in your job choice, pharmacy tech certification just makes sense – especially because most employers prefer certification. Pursuing certification after completing your training program will keep your options open and show employers that you take your career seriously.

In addition, your state may eventually require licensing or certification, if they don't already.

If you’re ready to take the next step in this exciting career, find out how to continue your education with a certificate program and become a pharmacy technician.

Pharmacy Technician Program