Starting a Career as a Pharmacy Technician

As a child, I used to love sneaking into my grandfather’s pharmacy and play with little bottles of colorful medicines. I would listen to him make effortless conversation with the patients who walked in with this ache and that pain. He would fill their prescriptions, crack a joke or two with the familiar ones, and send them on their way happier for i.e. would go home and fill empty glass jars with M&Ms, pretend they were medicines, and distribute them to my imaginary customers. The conversations were never as sparkling, but hey, no one expects an eight-year-old to be a stellar conversationalist anyway.

That was then. Obviously, I got over my fascination of medicine bottles as I did for baking cakes and fixing bikes otherwise my career graph would have looked very different.

You may or may not have played with medicine bottles as a child, but if you want to become a part of the growing healthcare industry, consider a career as a pharmacy technician. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of pharmacy technicians is projected to increase by 32% through 2020.

Add to that, minimal educational requirements; decent wages; flexible working hours; and plenty of work settings and voila – here’s your dream career if you’re not a big fan of spending thousands of dollars on an expensive college degree! Where do I start? Now just because I said no college, don’t start burying those books just yet. Although a high school diploma or its equivalent is the stated entry-level requirement for becoming a pharmacy tech, you and I both know that road’s only going down the disappointment valley.

So, completing a formal training program from a reputed career school should be your first step to becoming a pharmacy technician. In fact, graduating from a formal pharmacy tech training program is mandatory in some states.

Schools like Kaplan, Penn-Foster and Career Step offer training programs in this field. I am sure a little research focused on schools in your area of preference will yield many more results. If you feel overwhelmed with the sheer number of choices, just take a deep breath for I have some pointers that can help you zero in on a school.

Choosing a school First, you may want to check out the reputation of the school in question and do some background research on its experience, placement record, quality of curriculum, etc. Believe me, the Internet is a minefield of useful information. If you can get hold of an alumnus of the school to talk to, nothing like it! You may also want to make sure that the program is approved by an accepted industry association and prepares you for either the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) or National Healthcare Association (NHA) certification.

Why I say this is because not only is certification required by law to practice as a pharmacy technician in some states, but it also improves your career opportunities, salary potential, and professional advancement.

Another thing to look for in a training program is whether or not it offers some practical experience in the form of externship. Hands-on training will provide you the opportunity to apply what you’ve learned in classroom to real world situations. I know Career Step offers its pharmacy tech students externship with two of the leading retail pharmacy chains in the country – Walgreens and CVS. Find out if the school of your choice offers similar externship programs.

Getting certified Once you’ve completed your externship and graduated from your training program, sign up for the NHA or PTCB pharmacy tech certification exam. They will charge you a fee, but believe me it’s worth every dollar you spend and you’ll realize this soon enough when employers start queuing up outside your door (okay I may have gone a little overboard here, but you get the idea.) Coming back to the time when I would fill little jars with M&Ms, it wasn’t the colorful medicines or the sparkling conversations I was trying to emulate.

What caught my attention was the content smile on my grandfather’s face after he had helped his customers. No matter how late it got. No matter how many customers came and went. The smile was there. Every time. All the time!

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