The aspiring pharmacy technician can expect significant job growth, with an increase of 25 percent or more through 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Pharmacy technicians assist pharmacists in providing medication to patients.
Depending upon the size of the employer and state guidelines, the pharmacy technician's duties may include everything from verifying that the doctor's prescription is valid and complete to preparing the medications for the patient. All details such as counting pills or measuring liquid medications and labeling bottles may be handled by the pharmacy tech. Medications are then verified by a licensed pharmacist before being given to the patient. The pharmacy technician may be called upon to make and update patient files, manage inventory, stock shelves, answer phones and run cash registers, since 75 percent of jobs are in a retail setting.
Starting salary range
The BLS shows starting salaries ranging from $14,810 annually or $7.12 hourly in Gadsden, Ala., to $33,160 annually or $15.94 in Santa Cruz, Calif., as of May 2009.
The median national wage for a pharmacy technician is $32,011 annually, with 50 percent earning between $28,767 and $35,450 as of September 2010 per Salary.com. The top 10 percent of earners may receive more than $38,580.
Opportunities for advancement
Experience, formal training, and certification are all keys to advancement for the pharmacy technician. Minimum education and training are a high school diploma and an on-the-job training program. Formal education at vocational or technical schools, community colleges, hospitals, and the military is highly preferred by employers. Programs leading to a diploma, certificate or associate's degrees range from six months to two years.
Although most states do not require certification, voluntary certification by the Institute for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ICPT) or the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) will open up more career opportunities. Continuing education is required for re-certification, which is done every two years. Registration with the pharmacy board is required in most states. In large organizations, experienced and well-trained technicians may assume supervisory roles or may specialize in, for example, nuclear medicine or chemotherapy. Technicians may also find opportunities in sales at pharmaceutical companies or, with significant additional education, may go on to become pharmacists.
Benefits and perks
Pharmacy technicians working in retail locations or hospitals (together the vast majority) can expect flexible hours that will include nights, weekends and/or holidays. There are a wide variety of both full-time and part-time positions. Benefits may include health care, paid time off (including sick and vacation days), disability, 401(k), pension plans and / or a bonus. Per Salary.com, benefits will generally contribute 30 percent to the total compensation package, bringing the median total to $47,711.
Salary negotiation tips
To obtain the best salary offer from an employer, the pharmacy technician should stress experience and education. Go into any negotiation prepared with research on salaries offered in the local area by different types and sizes of organizations. Check Payscale.com and other reputable online resources to compare average salaries. Interview with a wide variety of organizations as part of the research process. Look into hospitals, retail drug stores, government health agencies, universities and pharmaceutical companies. The knowledge you gather will help you evaluate salary offers. Offering to work the night shift or other hard-to-fill spots could yield a higher pay. Union representation will dictate salary ranges in some positions.