Pharmacy Technicians and Aides
Pharmacy technicians and aides work under the direction and supervision of licensed pharmacists. A pharmacy technician will assist a licensed pharmacist by taking, filling, and filing prescriptions, and counting, sorting, and labeling medications and prescriptions, all of which must be verified by the pharmacist. "Safe medication use systems require the support of well-qualified and skilled pharmacy technicians to keep pharmacy operations running smoothly and offer pharmacists more time to participate in direct patient care activities," said Megan Sheahan, the director of professional affairs for the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB). A pharmacy aide's duties are primarily administrative and clerical, such as answering the phones, helping customers check out, and maintaining stock. Some states require technicians and aides to have a high school diploma. Technicians and aides gain experience through on-the-job training under the supervision of licensed pharmacists. However, some states and most employers prefer technicians who have completed pharmacy technician education programs, and are certified.
Certification through PTCB demonstrates a pharmacy technician’s mastery of knowledge across practice settings, enabling them to enhance patient safety, maintain pharmacy work-flow, and support pharmacists in drug preparation and distribution.
Megan SheahanDirector of Professional Affairs for the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board
Getting Pharmacy Technician Certification
Although the actions of a pharmacy technician are supervised by a licensed pharmacist, it's important for the technician to have a thorough understanding of medications, prescription calculations, and pharmacy law, as well as how to properly assist patients and customers with their prescription needs, insurance information, and completing patient profiles. Most states require pharmacy technicians to register with the state board of pharmacy, which generally requires filling out an application and going through a background check. We recommend contacting your state board to learn what the registration requirements are. Some states require technicians to complete formal training, through pharmacy technician education programs, and become certified to ensure they are capable of performing their duties. Even in states where certification is not required, most employers prefer it. "Certification through PTCB demonstrates a pharmacy technician's mastery of knowledge across practice settings, enabling them to enhance patient safety, maintain pharmacy work-flow, and support pharmacists in drug preparation and distribution," said Sheahan.
The PTCB offers the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE), which is composed of 90 multiple-choice questions and lasts just shy of two hours. The PTCB advocates for a "single national standard for pharmacy technician certification that is recognized and supported by the profession," according to their website.
"Our state requires that a pharmacy technician applicant submit, among other things, proof of having passed either the PTCE or the [Exam for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians]," said Cathy Williams, the pharmacist consultant for the Washington State Board of Pharmacy. In addition to earning your certification, passing this exam shows that you have extensive knowledge and comprehension of maintaining medications, serving patients, and pharmaceutical practice. "Certification by passing the national examination of the PTCB ensures the technician has the basic knowledge to perform pharmacy technician duties," said Mary Walker, RPh, the executive director of the Wyoming State Board of Pharmacy. "Certification is required in Wyoming."
The National Pharmacy Technician Association (NPTA) offers specialty certifications, such as sterile products certification, chemotherapy certification, and compounding certification. Each of these requires you to successfully complete the associated course, which involves a combination of home-study modules and hands-on training. Some states and many employers require certain specialty certifications, depending on the environment you are working in and what types of medications and chemicals you are handling. These certifications, according to the NPTA, do not expire, so they never need to be renewed.
Maintaining Pharmacy Technician Certification
Advancements in the field of medicine and pharmaceuticals, such as new medications, methods for treatments, and laws and regulations, are being made constantly. Therefore, it's important for pharmacy technicians to stay current in their field. For this reason, your certification comes with an expiration date, and to renew it, you must demonstrate your competence in current laws and practices.
The profession of pharmacy is changing all the time with new treatments, new chemicals, and new regulations. Continuing education is one step in verification of competency.
Mary WalkerExecutive Director of the Wyoming State Board of Pharmacy
To maintain your certification with PTCB, you must recertify every two years, which involves completing 20 hours of continuing education. One of these hours must be focused on pharmacy law. Ten of these hours may be spent completing in-service projects, which are duties outside of your day-to-day tasks. The rest can be earned by successfully completing pharmacy-related college courses. "Both the PTCB and the Wyoming Pharmacy Act Rules require continuing education," said Walker. "The profession of pharmacy is changing all the time with new treatments, new chemicals, and new regulations. Continuing education is one step in verification of competency."
Many colleges and pharmacy associations, including NPTA, offer online courses that qualify for recertification criteria. Taking these classes online will allow you to complete the required hours around your schedule without having to worry about attending a classroom at set times. "Wyoming is a rural state, and the access to online continuing education is important for keeping skills current," said Walker. Continuing education will allow you to enhance what you have already learned, sharpen your skills, and get you up-to-date on new developments and discoveries, and completing your hours online will make it more convenient for you.