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Pharmacy Tech Q & A

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1. What is a pharmacy technician, and where do they work?

Pharmacy technicians assist and support licensed pharmacists in providing health care and medications to patients. Although people have been assisting pharmacists for many years, they have not always been recognized as skilled workers, nor have they always been called pharmacy technicians. Pharmacy technicians have been called pharmacy helpers, pharmacy clerks, pharmacy aides, pharmacy assistants, and pharmacy support personnel. Some pharmacy technicians are still given these older titles in some areas of the country, while in other areas they may be called pharmacy technologists. Pharmacy technicians must have a broad knowledge of pharmacy practice, and be skilled in the techniques required to order, stock, package, and prepare medications, but they do not need the advanced college education required of a licensed pharmacist.

Pharmacy technicians work in hospital pharmacies, retail pharmacies, home health care pharmacies, nursing home pharmacies, clinic pharmacies, nuclear medicine pharmacies, and in mail order prescription pharmacies. In addition, some pharmacy technicians have been employed in nontraditional settings by medical insurance companies, medical computer software companies, drug manufacturing companies, drug wholesale companies, food processing companies, and even as instructors in pharmacy training programs. Currently, hospital, home health care, and retail pharmacies hire the majority of pharmacy technicians.

2. What are the duties of a pharmacy technician?

When working in a pharmacy, pharmacy technicians must work under the direction of a licensed pharmacist. In a retail pharmacy, technicians may stock and inventory prescription and over-the-counter medications, maintain written or computerized patient medication records, count or pour medications into dispensing containers, type prescription labels, prepare insurance claim forms, and manage the cash register.

In hospitals, pharmacy technicians may perform many of the same duties, but they may have additional responsibilities including assembling a 24-hour supply of medication for each patient, repackaging medications, preparing commercially unavailable medications, preparing sterile intravenous medications, maintaining nursing station medications, collecting quality improvement data, delivering medications to patient rooms, and operating computerized dispensing and/or robotic machinery.

In most practice settings, pharmacy technicians perform any duties they are assigned by the pharmacist. The one requirement all these pharmacy technician duties have in common is a need for absolute accuracy and precision in both the technical and clerical aspects of the job.

3. What personal qualities should a pharmacy technician have?

Although pharmacy technicians work under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist, and must be willing to take directions, they must also be able to work competently without constant instruction by the pharmacist. In any pharmacy setting the patient is the most important person. Pharmacy technicians must truly care about, and find satisfaction in, serving the patient. Because of the critical nature of many common pharmacy duties, the pharmacy technician must enjoy performing precise work, where details can be a matter of life or death. Even if a task is repetitive, a pharmacy technician must be able to complete the task accurately every time.

Pharmacy technicians must also be able to maintain this accuracy even in stressful or emergency situations. Many pharmacy technical duties require good manual dexterity, and pharmacy technicians should enjoy working with their hands. Good communication and interpersonal skills are also essential for a pharmacy technician who must interact with pharmacy coworkers, patients, and other health care professionals on a daily basis. Finally, all employers want dependable employees, but dependability is especially important for pharmacy technicians since a patient's welfare may depend on their work.

4. What is the employment outlook, and are there opportunities for advancement as a pharmacy technician?

The increasing clinical emphasis of pharmacists' responsibilities, the increasing pharmacy workload due to our aging population, and the increasing need to control healthcare costs make the employment outlook for well-trained pharmacy technicians very good. Currently, pharmacy technicians are assuming more responsibility for routine tasks previously performed by pharmacists, and will be responsible for mastering new pharmacy technology as it becomes available.

Opportunities for advancement vary with the pharmacy technician's employer. Uniform career ladders for pharmacy technicians are not yet well developed in all practice settings. Many large hospitals do have career ladders, with pharmacy technicians advancing to supervisory roles, or advanced, specialized, technical duties. Advancement in some practice sites is not possible, and will require the pharmacy technician to change jobs.

Studying pharmacy technology at Washtenaw Community College

Are you ready to take the next step?

Susan Travis
Health Programs Counselor
Technical & Industrial Building Room 234 (TI 234)
Washtenaw Community College
4800 East Huron River Dr,  Ann Arbor MI  48105-4800

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