The Role of the Technician
Technicians will have different roles depending on the setting in which they are going to be working. In a retail setting they usually perform all of the following:
- Assist pharmacists in providing pharmaceutical care
- Perform tasks such as computer/data entry,
- Medication preparation/selection
- Counting and labeling
- Refer patient questions regarding medications and drug information to the pharmacist
- Handle inventory
- Bill insurance carriers
Technicians in a health system pharmacy (such a hospital), could also be responsible for the following:
- Reviewing patient charts
- Prepare and deliver medications to nursing stations
- Perform unit dose packaging
- If certified, they can prepare sterile materials such as IV antibiotics and chemotherapy products.
In the past, the majority of pharmacy technicians were trained on the job after being hired. The problem with this is that on the job training by its very nature is very employer specific and usually limited to the tasks that employer would like you to perform. In most cases, it does not provide the necessary training or background regarding pharmacy practice. Formal education requirements, competency exams and registration with a State Board of Pharmacy is now slowly taking over on the job training. Many states in the USA already have certification requirements to even be eligible for a technician job. It’s only a matter of time until more and more states adopt legislation requiring all pharmacy technicians to receive formal training and to become certified.
The Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE) is an exam administered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board and is taken upon completion of the pharmacy technician training course. The exam is officially recognized by over 25 individual State Boards of Pharmacy. The exam consists of 100 multiple choice questions and needs to be completed in a 2 hour window. There are three areas of measured competence:
- Assisting the pharmacist in serving patients – This is the most comprehensive portion of the exam. In includes material on dispensing prescriptions, distributing medications and collecting/organizing information. You also will need to scan prescriptions for accuracy and validity, perform certain counting tasks and performing certain pharmaceutical calculations. This section of the exam consists of 66% of the total exam material.
- Maintaining medication and inventory control systems – This section will test you on knowledge of placing and receiving drug orders, storing drugs correctly and other inventory related questions. This section of the exam consists of 22% of the total exam material.
- Knowledge of pharmacy operations – This section will test your knowledge on general pharmacy operations including various workflow based questions, maintaining pharmacy establishments, various legal questions and questions on dispensing and computer management systems. This section consists of 12% of the total exam material.
In terms of jobs that don’t require a college degree, being a pharmacy technician is ranked one of the highest in multiple categories. It consistently ranks in the top 100 fastest growing jobs also in the top 100 best jobs without a college degree. The annual job growth rate for technicians is over 25%! So, where are all of these technicians going to work? Retail pharmacy is but one job area that pharmacy technicians can work in such as:
- Clinical practice
- Nuclear medication
- Training & Education
- Research & Development
The Pharmacy Technician Class
The course itself usually consists of 14-15 classes spanning 7 to 8 weeks. The course is certainly comprehensive! Here is a list of topics that you can expect to learn during the course:
- History of pharmacy
- Pharmacy law and ethics
- Health system pharmacy and technology
- Inventory management
- Health insurance billing
- Compounding and sterile products
- Math skills
- Dosage calculations, concentrations and dilutions
- Parental calculations
- Dosage formulations and administration
- Drug classifications
- The different systems of the body