The Pharmacist’s Trained Helper
Like pharmacy assistants, pharmacy technicians help with customers, process paperwork, and arrange merchandise on shelves. Unlike assistants, however, technicians primarily help pharmacists in filling prescriptions. This responsibility can literally involve life or death, so the job requires training and credentialing as specified by Washington state.
Aspiring pharmacy technicians can start with an in-state training curriculum approved by the Pharmacy Quality Assurance Commission. This education is available at technical schools, community colleges, as well as some hospitals and pharmacies. The program at North Seattle Community College (NSCC) is typical. It takes about nine months of full-time study to complete and requires several vaccinations for admission including for measles, diphtheria, and hepatitis B. Courses cover pharmacology, pharmacy law and ethics, calculations, HIV/AIDs, and records management.
Training must also contain at least 200 hours of supervised clinical practice to provide real-world experience. However, the NSCC program includes 432 hours of externships at hospitals, retailers, and long-term care facilities. Not surprisingly, many students end up with job offers at the places where they practice.
Those who were trained out-of-state, on the job, or through the military do not need to undergo training again in Washington. However, they must submit a diploma or an affidavit of on-the-job training, and evidence of eight hours of study in Washington state pharmacy law.
After completing training, applicants must pass a national standardized exam accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. The test can be taken online or in person at a testing center by appointment. However, the exam must be completed within 90 days after applying and paying the exam fee, which is currently $129.
Applicants who cannot make their original appointment date, can reschedule the appointment at no charge, or withdraw the application to receive the fee back minus administration costs. Otherwise, those who miss the test, are late for more than half an hour, or do not have valid identification, forfeit all fees and must reapply to take the test.
Passing the exam grants a Washington state credential and national pharmacy technician certification, which allows the technician to practice in the state.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), pharmacy technicians earned a mean $19.05 per hour, or $39,630 as of May 2012, the latest date for which complete information was available. The national median for the profession ranges from $9.89 hourly, or an annual $20,580, to $20.38 per hour, or $42,400 per year. Tacoma was the metropolitan area in Washington that boasted the highest mean wage of $20.19 per hour, or $41,990 per year. Wenatchee had the lowest at a mean $17.19 per hour, or $35,760 per year.
Under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist, technicians can dispense medication, which includes measuring, mixing, counting, and recording doses; storing and securing preparations; receiving and verifying prescriptions; and managing insurance billing and paperwork. They can also keep records of their activities through software and databases. Pharmacy technicians can deliver medications and other pharmaceutical supplies to customers, health-care facilities, and nursing stations. They may also perform all the duties of assistants, such as cleaning retail areas, answering phones, totaling purchases, and accepting payments.
The BLS predicts that jobs for pharmacy technicians will increase by 20 percent from 2012 to 2022 throughout the entire country. This is almost double the 11 percent growth projected for all other jobs in other industries. Much of the demand will come from an aging population. Older individuals typically require more prescription medicines than younger ones because of higher rates of chronic disease. In addition, more people will have access to insurance because of health insurance reform measures. This means more people can afford to buy prescription medications. More pharmacy technicians are needed to handle all these increases.