Smiling pharmacy technician at work

How to Become a Pharmacy Technician

Duties, Responsibilities, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

Smiling pharmacy technician at work

Anyone who’s ever filled a prescription at a pharmacy, hospital, or grocery store has almost certainly interacted with a pharmacy technician. They’re the friendly faces who work both behind the counter and the scenes to make sure people get the correct medications, along with the proper dosages of those medications. If you’re fascinated by the science behind modern medicine, and you enjoy meeting new people, becoming a pharmacy technician could be your chance at a long and fulfilling career in the healthcare industry.

This career guide will teach you everything you need to know about becoming a pharmacy technician, including the educational requirements, certifications, day-to-day duties, and how long it generally takes to launch your new career.

Not sure if becoming a pharmacy technician is right for you? Click here to see our full list of the best entry-level medical jobs.

Pharmacy Technician Definition

What is a Pharmacy Technician?

Pharmacy technicians work at the crossroads of medicine, chemistry, and customer service. They prepare, package, and label medications and are responsible for keeping track of pharmaceutical inventory. Pharmacy techs also dispense medication to other healthcare professionals or directly to patients, depending on whether they work in a hospital or a more patient-facing pharmacy like a neighborhood drugstore or grocery store.

Pharmacy Technician: Job Description

What Does a Pharmacy Technician Do?

Under the direction of a pharmacist, pharmacy technicians perform many of the same duties, including mixing medications and measuring the appropriate amounts to match a patient’s prescription. They’re also an essential part of tracking inventory to ensure the pharmacy stays well-stocked with enough medicine for all the customers or patients they serve. While a pharmacist must review all outgoing prescriptions, pharmacy techs handle many of the interactions with patients or other healthcare professionals, from entering the necessary information to dispensing the medications themselves.

Pharmacy Technician Duties

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of pharmacy technicians include:

  • Mixing and preparing different types of medications
  • Measuring accurate dosages for each prescription
  • Packaging and labeling prescriptions appropriately
  • Organizing and tracking pharmaceutical inventory and alerting the pharmacist of any issues or shortages
  • Collecting and entering prescription and insurance information

Pharmacy Technician Skills

To become a successful pharmacy technician, you’ll need to be highly detail-oriented, as filling prescriptions accurately is essential for preventing potentially serious health complications. It also helps if you’re good with numbers, as pharmacies use certain math concepts to measure dosages and prepare more complex medications. Customer service skills are also essential, as most pharmacy techs spend a lot of time interacting directly with patients or customers. You’ll need to listen to and understand any concerns, and be able to answer questions or refer people to speak with the pharmacist when necessary.

Empty pharmacy

Where Do Pharmacy Technicians Work?

As you probably guessed, pharmacy technicians work everywhere you’ll find pharmacies! That means most pharmacy techs work in hospitals, grocery stores, and neighborhood drugstores. However, jobs are also available with online pharmacy businesses, wholesale facilities, and even with the federal government. Full-time, 40-hour workweeks are typical, and shifts may happen on nights, weekends, or holidays—after all, most pharmacies tend to be open longer hours than many other businesses, by necessity.

Pharmacy Technician Schooling & Certification

How Long Does it Take to Become a Pharmacy Technician?

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Pharmacy Technician?

As working in a pharmacy requires specialized training, the majority of employers will prefer to hire pharmacy technicians who have earned a Pharmacy Technician diploma program from an accredited college or university. Upon completing your diploma program, you’ll be well-versed in the inner workings of a pharmacy and will likely have a major leg up on other applicants who will require more extensive on-the-job training. It’s not uncommon for pharmacy technician programs to take an entire year or more to complete, but with our accelerated program, you can earn your diploma in as little as 34 weeks! It’s one of the fastest ways to get your foot in the door of the booming healthcare industry and start a rewarding new career with excellent future prospects.

Like any long-term goal, working toward a new career as a pharmacy technician seems much more attainable when you break it down into individual steps.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to the education, experience, and certifications you’ll need to become a pharmacy technician:

1. Enroll in a Pharmacy Technician Program

The first step toward your new career as a pharmacy tech is enrolling in a Pharmacy Technician program from an accredited college or university. Earning your pharmacy technician diploma will require several months of focus and hard work, but almost anyone willing to put in the effort can make it happen. For example, to enroll in the Pharmacy Technician program at Brookline College, all you’ll need is a high school diploma or GED, plus completion of a background check and a passing score on a Scholastic Level Exam.

2. Earn Your Pharmacy Technician Diploma

You’ll start your pharmacy technician studies with a big-picture overview of the healthcare industry, which will establish context around the more specific skills you’ll be learning later. From there, you’ll learn about the administrative work necessary to keep a pharmacy running smoothly, gain knowledge of the specific math used in pharmaceutical settings, and develop the skills to measure, mix, and dispense various medications. Finally, you’ll also spend time learning about the human body and how it interacts with different pharmaceuticals, which will prepare you to answer patients’ questions and spot any potential concerns before they can become more serious complications.

At the end of your pharmacy technician program, you’ll complete what’s known as a practicum or externship, where you’ll get a chance to spend time working in an actual pharmacy environment. There’s no substitute for real-world experience, and your practicum will give you the confidence you need to nail your interviews and land your first job as a pharmacy tech.

As you’re weighing the pros and cons of different schools and trying to decide where to earn your pharmacy technician diploma, you may want to consider colleges or universities that offer job-placement assistance to students after finishing their diploma program. Having somebody who can help you make connections and prepare for interviews can take a lot of the stress out of a job search, especially when you’re starting a new career in a new industry.

3. Get Certified By One of the Major Professional Organizations

Upon completing your pharmacy technician diploma, you can stand out even more to potential employers by earning certification from one of two widely recognized credentialing organizations. The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board and the National Healthcareer Association both offer Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT) certificates, and you’ll be qualified to take an exam from either organization after completing your diploma program. Both exams are similar, with 90-100 questions over about 2 hours. Practice exams are available from both organizations, which can be helpful to make sure you’re well-prepared. After all, when you know what to expect, the test-day nerves aren’t quite so bad!

Close up of a man using pen and paper

How Much Does It Cost to Earn a Pharmacy Technician Diploma?

Getting a college education the traditional way has unfortunately become prohibitively expensive for many people. Many colleges and universities charge over $20,000 per semester in tuition alone, which doesn’t even include the cost of books, lab fees, or other required course materials. Fortunately, the rise of online education has made going to college a real possibility for more people than ever since online colleges don’t have the same expenses as traditional universities and can pass those savings on to students. Wherever you choose to pursue your pharmacy tech diploma, make sure you’re getting a straight answer about the final cost and what exactly is included.

Pharmacy Technician Salary

How Much Do Pharmacy Technicians Make?

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary* for pharmacy techs across the nation is right around $36,000, or over $17.00 per hour. Salaries can get much higher, however—pharmacy technicians in the top 25% of earners average over $41,000 per year, and those in the top 10% bring home $50,000 and up.

Highest Paying Industries for Pharmacy Technicians

According to the BLS, you’ll find the top-paying jobs for pharmacy technicians in these industries:

Industry Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Outpatient Care Facilities $23.89 $49,690
Federal Executive Branch $22.93 $47,690
Colleges & Universities $21.15 $43,990
Medical & Diagnostic Labs $21.14 $43,960
General Hospitals $19.80 $41,180

Highest Paying States for Pharmacy Technicians

The latest BLS data shows pharmacy technicians in these states earn the highest average wages:

State Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
California $22.89 $47,620
Alaska $22.32 $46,430
Washington $22.31 $46,400
Washington D.C. $22.23 $46,240
Oregon $20.87 $43,410

Highest Paying Cities for Pharmacy Technicians

According to the BLS, pharmacy technicians earn the highest average annual pay in these cities:

City Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
San Jose, CA $27.22 $56,620
San Francisco, CA $26.93 $56,020
Santa Rosa, CA $25.39 $52,810
Stockton, CA $24.45 $50,860
Vallejo, CA $24.32 $50,580
Santa Barbara, CA $23.83 $49,570
Sacramento, CA $23.82 $49,540
Napa, CA $23.40 $48,670
Modesto, CA $23.33 $48,520
Redding, CA $23.32 $48,510

Pharmacy Technician Job Outlook

What is the Job Outlook for Pharmacy Technicians?

As pharmacists continue to take in a broader range of healthcare responsibilities, more tasks will likely be delegated to pharmacy technicians, which is good for job security! The BLS estimates employment of pharmacy techs across the country will continue to grow right along with the rest of the healthcare industry, with a 4% job-growth rate projected over the next 10 years. That’s good news for people considering becoming a pharmacy technician—it’s a career field with excellent long-term prospects for stable employment and potentially even a promotion into management.

Pharmacy technician looking at medication

Ready to Start Your Career as a Pharmacy Technician?

Think you’d enjoy a mix of meeting new people and head-down work that lets you focus and get in the zone? Becoming a pharmacy technician could be the career change you’ve been waiting for. And with accelerated diploma programs that could have you starting your new job in less than a year, it’s one of the best entry-level jobs in the healthcare industry for people who want to earn a great living without spending years in school.