According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the minimum educational requirement for pharmacy techs is a high school diploma, but a postsecondary training program is required by some states and employers, and completing a program can also improve job prospects. Before choosing an online program, it is important to make sure that it is consistent with your educational needs and career aspirations.
How to Select an Online Pharmacy Tech School
Students considering online pharmacy tech schools must make their decision based on several key factors. They must make sure that the curriculum of the program meets their educational needs, and that the online format is suited to their schedule and learning style.
Online pharmacy technician programs are offered at the certificate, diploma and associate degree levels, with certificates being the most common. For accreditation by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), a program must last at least 15 weeks and include at least 600 hours of instruction. As of 2015, there were 286 accredited programs in the United States, some of which are offered online. Certificate programs typically include a short series of career-focused courses. Associate's degree programs contain much of the same coursework, along with a broader range of science courses and general education requirements. Both associate's degree and certificate programs typically include a hands-on internship or externship.
Some schools offer coursework entirely online, while others are offered in a hybrid format that combines online classes and on-campus training. In addition, internships and externships must be completed at a local pharmacy, even if all the other requirements can be completed online. In some programs, students need to follow a traditional term schedule, attending scheduled exams and online class sessions. Other programs are self-paced, meaning students can complete their program on their own time, at their own pace.
There are two industry organizations that confer certification for pharmacy technicians, and different programs may provide training specifically for one or the other. The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) requires applicants to hold a high school diploma and pass an exam; many certificate programs provide specific training for this exam. The National Healthcareer Association (NHA) requires applicants to have completed a postsecondary training program or have one year of work experience. Certification requirements vary by state and employer, so students must make sure that the program they choose provides adequate preparation for whichever certification they need.
List of Online Pharmacy Technician Programs
Pharmacy Technician Certificate or Diploma
Pharmacy Technician certificate programs include courses that directly prepare students for a job in the field. For instance, they may take courses in pharmacy calculations, pharmacy operations, communication and professionalism. In addition, some are designed specifically to prepare graduates for one of the certification exams. To get hands-on experience, students must arrange internships or externships through local retail or hospital pharmacies. Through the combination of classroom and hands-on training, students gain competence in the following areas:
- Taking pharmacy inventory
- Receiving prescriptions
- Filling prescriptions
- Processing payments
Pharmacy Technician Associate's Degree
Unlike certificate and diploma programs, which usually last for one year or less, associate's degree programs last for two years. As a result, students have a chance to take a wider range of courses, in addition to the basic career preparation included in certificate programs. In particular, they may have a chance to more fully explore scientific subjects that are only introduced in certificate programs, such as anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, epidemiology and informatics. In addition, to earn an associate's degree, students must fulfill their schools' general education requirements. Internships and externships are also included in the program. Other possible course topics include:
- Pharmacy law
- Therapeutic communications
- Health science business procedures
Schools With Online Training Programs for Pharmacy Technicians
There are a variety of colleges, technical schools and universities that offer online training programs for aspiring pharmacy technicians. Through some institutions, courses may be completed entirely online. At other schools, students must attend some training sessions on campus. Costs vary widely, ranging from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.
California State University, East Bay partners with Ed2Go to host a self-paced certificate program that trains students for entry-level pharmacy technician jobs. Program courses can be completed entirely online, but an externship at a retail pharmacy is also included in the curriculum. The online certificate program at Midlands Technical College prepares students specifically for pharmacy technician licensure in South Carolina. Some of the curriculum must be completed in person. Similarly, Florida Gulf Coast University offers a certificate programs that gets students ready for the PTCB exam and requires a few on-campus appearances. Over the course of 21 weeks, students view lectures online, complete a 4-hour lab session at an approved pharmacy workshop each week, fulfill a 120-hour externship requirement and must appear at the school's Fort Myers campus for orientation, the midterm exam and the final exam.
To get relevant training for a job as a pharmacy technician and prepare for industry certification exams, it is possible to complete an online certificate or associate's degree program. However, these programs do have in-person requirements for practical experience and sometimes lab work and testing.