Understanding the Full Job Description
People already working in the healthcare industry find themselves asking “do I have what it takes to become a good and successful pharmacy technician?” frankly because it is a career with a lot of opportunities for growth. According to the BLS or Bureau of Labor Statistics, pharmacy technicians and the demand for the profession will rise by as much as 35% by 2016, and from here on out, a growth of 16% is expected every year. Being a pharmacy technician requires you to be more technical than creative, as it’s more focused on accurate measurements of medications and recall of information with regards to various medications and treatment. Pharmacy technicians are expected to know what the ideal dosage for a patient is for their corresponding illnesses.
So do you have what it takes to become a pharmacy technician?
Like careers in the healthcare industry, pharmacy technicians work in a fast-paced environment as lives are at stake, so to speak. There will be times where certain parts of the day will be stressful and sometimes, that stress can take its toll on the pharmacy technician. Working as a pharmacy technician in a hospital can also be as stressful as a nurse assisting a doctor. We look at stress as the underlying factor that will make or break a pharmacy technician. In a hospital setting, pharmacy technicians will always be in a rush to fill in the prescriptions for medications as accurately as they can for the hundreds of patients in the hospital. Pharmacy technicians working in the retail pharmacy are forced to deal with irate customers, online refills, and the medical inventory that needs to be done on a daily basis.
What if you’re working in an institution, like an institution for elderly care or for the mentally challenged? Your job as a pharmacy technician would require you to have a level of understanding in medications that’s higher than nurses and doctors. Doctors may advise their patients to take these medications, but pharmacy technicians can recommend another brand of medication for patients who’re looking to save money, as long as it is approved by the pharmacist. Let’s also look at another example. Supposing there’s a patient that’s going in for a surgery and the surgeon realizes that the patient requires a different IV bag. As a pharmacy technician, it’s your job to prepare the IV admixture in the fastest time possible simply because it’s a matter of life and death. The pressure of preparation plus the fact that someone’s life hangs in your hands can be too much to handle, and you need to be able to think clearly as much as possible so you will be able to recall how much is too much for a specific IV admixture.
What does a pharmacy technician do on a daily basis, regardless of the institution? Well, the main job of a pharmacy technician is to assist the pharmacist, just like how nurses can assist doctors. In order for a pharmacist to carry out his or her duties, he or she needs to be assisted by a pharmacy technician. A pharmacy technician spends most of his or her time looking at prescriptions for medications and preparing the adequate amount for specific prescriptions, like how much pills needed for a 1 month cycle at 2 pills a day. It’s not rocket science, but the math involved needs to be as accurate as possible. In hospitals, pharmacy technicians spend their time filling up the carts for medications for patients that are hospitalized. The preparation varies from one day to three days’ worth of medications. The medications are delivered and then dispensed accordingly. In the retail section, a pharmacy technician will also spend his time restocking medication on the shelves and taking inventory of the medications dispersed during the day so they will know what needs to be refilled. Some tedious tasks also include counting the tablets, measuring and mixing of creams and ointments, and preparation of IV admixtures. However for the preparation of IV admixtures, pharmacy technicians will need to undergo specific training sessions that’s usually done outside a typical pharmacy technician course because this is somewhat specialized. Specialized training is done for IV admixture preparation and also for preparing the intravenous medications usually associated with cancer treatments. Due to the nature of the medications, the dosage needs to accurate to the millilitre.
The skills involved
Because of the involvement of numbers, volumes, and other mathematical principles, pharmacy technicians need to be good in math. In countries like the UK, pharmacy technician courses require students to have good grades in math as part of their requirements for registration into the course and professionally. Data entry skills are also required as the job requires pharmacy technicians to make use of computers for inventory tracking and for filing of prescriptions.
The life of a pharmacy technician can be draining, but it does have amazing benefits. First off, there’s a continuous and increasing demand for the job as hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities need more manpower to cater to the sick and dying. The shortage of pharmacists is something that can be alleviated by pharmacy technicians on the technical side of things, so if a pharmacy has one pharmacist working, the technician can carry out most of their duties. In terms of financial rewards, pharmacy technicians are paid handsomely. The more certifications a pharmacy technician has, the higher the paycheque. One thing that aspiring pharmacy technicians need to understand is that institution-baed technicians make more than retail pharmacy technicians, so if you’re going to use money as a factor for choosing where to work, the hospital pays more. Some pharmacy technicians also choose to take up another field of study that will allow them to become pharmacists, which will also mean a fatter paycheque and a bigger set of responsibilities.
Hospital pharmacy technicians
Pharmacy technicians in hospitals are known to be paid more and the demand for these technicians can double or triple within the next few years. One of the few industries where pharmacy technicians can work on is the hospital industry. This includes, but not limited to, specialized clinics and public hospitals, and even laboratories. A hospital pharmacy technician’s job revolves around providing medications for patients in the hospital. They are in charge of preparing a day’s worth of medications and then dispersing them throughout. They are also responsible for giving nurses and doctors the medicines that they requested. By default, nurses and doctors won’t have to check what they’re going to give because it’s already the job of the pharmacy technician to make sure that the right medicine has been given. In the event of a death or serious complication due to wrong medications, the pharmacy technician will take full responsibility because the nurse or doctor relies on them to give them the right medicine.
Apart from medication dispersal, the hospital pharmacy technician also needs to do some inventory work by keeping track of what medicines were dispersed within the day and what needs to be refilled. Unfortunately, this also involves the counting of tablets manually so that the refills from the manufacturers will be accurate to the letter. The job of a pharmacy technician, be it in a hospital or retail setting, needs to be done as accurately as possible. Attention to detail is a requirement and the need to be mentally prepared at all times is a requirement. As mentioned in the previous lines, a pharmacy technician may also be asked to prepare IV admixtures if they have the specialized training. Because these medications travel through the bloodstream, the dosage needs to be very accurate and the mixture needs to be perfect.
Retail pharmacy technicians
Pharmacy technicians working outside the hospital are referred to as community/retail pharmacy technicians. A college professor in the USA who teaches pharmacology states that he has done his time working as a pharmacist in his earlier days and a pharmacy technician working in this area are controlled by state laws and rules. By law, technicians are not allowed to provide clinical information to patients and in some states, technicians are only allowed to dispense over-the-counter medications or medications that don’t require prescriptions. These specific restrictions will force pharmacy technicians to concentrate on other aspects like billing, customer service, negotiations with insurance companies, and so on. The larger the pharmacy, the more responsibilities are given to the pharmacy technician.
2 factors for success as pharmacy technicians
So how do you succeed as a pharmacy technician in the hospital or retail area?
Pharmacy technician is a career that requires an individual to have a strong background in medicine, biology, chemistry, and even math. A great number of skillsets include attention to detail, strong communication skills, and ability to cope under stressful work conditions are just some of the things that can turn you into a pharmacy technician student to a successful one.
One of the biggest factors that can make or break your career as a pharmacy technician is your formal training. In countries like the US and the UK, there are courses designed to provide students with a strong background in pharmacy technician and also to help them pass their PTCB exams. The PTCB or Pharmacy Technician Certification Board is responsible for doling out the certifications and licensures necessary for technicians to work in this area. Depending on the demand for the job and your current knowledge of medicine, you will be asked to take up a degree that will last for 2 to 4 years or a short vocational program that will last for 6 months. Doctors and nurses looking to enhance their resume can take up these short vocational courses as they are designed towards a more straightforward approach. This basically means that the professors in the vocational programs will assume that the students know already some of what’s being taught. Think of it as a military serviceman learning about the basic drills even though he has been in the army for 10 years. In your formal training, you will learn about the different kinds of medications, its generic and branded counterparts, its side effects, its ideal dosage, and other important things. Minor subjects like English and mathematics are also included in the degrees for pharmacy technicians. Part of the formal training will also cover practice pharmacy certification exams so the students are oriented on what will come out of the exam. The contents of the practice pharmacy technician certification tests are reconstructed or rephrased similarly to the actual test, so there’s no actual danger of leakage as the possibilities of rephrasing a single test item is a lot.
The second biggest factor that can help you succeed as a pharmacy technician is your certifications. Prior to you being able to work as a pharmacy technician, you need to be certified. Certifications are a way for the PTCB or any governing authority to professionally gauge your skills and knowledge in pharmacy technology. Because of the nature of the job, a pharmacy technician needs to be responsible for a lot of things and being certified is a way for them to carry out their tasks properly. The certifications also act as a filter so the unskilled technicians are not employed by the hospitals in place of the good ones. Apart from the PTCB, the NHA also gives out certifications for pharmacy technicians. Where and how you get your certification will not matter because both PTCB and NHA have the same standards. After 2 years, you will be asked to renew your certification but before that you will be required to undergo a 20-hour continuing education program. These continuing education programs can be availed of in the school where you got your degree or from other institutions.
Those who fail the certification exams are given three chances to retake the entire thing. If you fail the exam, your next retake will be 60 days after the first try and so on. This is what the world of pharmacy technician is all about. If you think you can handle everything, then go on and become the best technician that you can be.