What is a Certificate Program in Pharmacy Technician?
Pharmacy technicians serve as assistants to pharmacists in a variety of settings, such as local pharmacies, hospitals, or long-care health facilities, to help perform basic pharmacy-related and administrative tasks. In order to become a pharmacy technician, students need some postsecondary training, which is usually hands-on in nature. Certificate programs in pharmacy technician are the shortest training option that helps prepare students for professional certification in the field that is offered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB). Most of these programs are offered on-campus, due to the hands-on nature of the field, but some may be available in blended or online formats, such as online pharmacy technician certifications in North Carolina. These certificate programs help prepare future pharmacy technicians to prepare medications, manage inventory, and interact with customers. Students typically gain hands-on training through clinical externships and other lab experiences throughout the program. Certificate programs can also help prepare students for an advanced diploma in the field. Below, we explore details of these certificate programs.
What is the Difference Between a Certificate and a Degree in Pharmacy Technician?
In addition to certificate programs in pharmacy technician, there are also diploma and associate degree programs available in the field. Certificate programs in pharmacy technician are usually considered entry-level but still prepare students for the National Pharmacy Technician Certification Examination (CPHT) from the PTCB the same as a diploma or associate degree. An advanced diploma program in the field is usually longer, such as an additional 16 to 24 credits that builds upon the required courses in a certificate program. An associate degree in the field is even longer than a certificate or diploma and provides additional hands-on learning experiences. For instance, some programs may include as many as 240 hours of hands-on clinical externships. Associate degree programs can help prepare students for bachelor's degree programs in related areas, such as medical and health services management.
Should I Get a Certificate in Pharmacy Technician?
Students who are interested in the field of pharmacy and working with people and medications, but do not necessarily want to pursue the advanced degree that is required to become a pharmacist, may consider a career as a pharmacy technician. Earning a certificate as a pharmacy technician is the fastest way to start one's career in the field. Successful students should have strong math and communication skills, as well as the ability to listen carefully to instructions and ask important questions as needed. A certificate program in pharmacy technician also prepares students to take professional certification exams in the field. The program helps prepare students with hands-on learning, which may appeal to students who learn best through doing activities. Students who complete the certificate program and/or earn certification can start their careers as pharmacy technicians. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for pharmacy technicians is 4%, which is as fast as the national average.
What is the Difference Between a Certificate Program, a Professional Certification, and a License in Pharmacy Technician?
While a certificate program in pharmacy technician is designed to prepare students for the career, most states regulate pharmacy technicians in some way. Commonly, this is done through a combination of education and experience requirements. For instance, many states require these technicians to have at least a high school diploma, some formal training, and continuing education. Most need to be at least 18 years of age, pass a background check, and complete any necessary exams and/or pay necessary fees. Depending on the state and the employer, pharmacy technicians may also need to be certified. According to the PTCB, as of 2021, 22 states require pharmacy technicians to have professional certification. Certification is available from the PTCB or the National Healthcareer Association (NHA). The NHA requires more work experience and continuing education than the PTCB exam. Students interested in the PTCB exam must pay $129 to take the 2-hour exam that consists of 90 multiple-choice questions.
Career Options After Completing a Certificate Program in Pharmacy Technician
Most students who earn a certificate program in pharmacy technician go on to work as pharmacy technicians or assistants. They may work in a range of settings, including positions as retail pharmacy assistants, hospital pharmacy technicians, or nursing home pharmacy technicians. Students can also pursue a range of related positions that can utilize many of the same skills learned in these certificate programs, such as inventory specialists, compounding technicians, or billing and quality technicians. Pharmacy technicians can also advance their careers with more education and/or experience. For instance, students with some work experience may move into lead pharmacy technician positions or those with more education may pursue a career as a pharmacist. Other job options include:
The education requirements for a pharmacy technician varies, but typically requires at least a high school diploma or GED and some on-the-job training. Some students complete a postsecondary education program, such as a certificate or associate degree. Depending on the state and employer, these technicians may need to complete a pharmacy technician certification exam to become a certified technician. Pharmacy technicians help give patients their prescribed medications, label prescriptions, record patient information, and perform a range of administrative tasks, such as answering the phone and managing inventory.
Medical assistants usually earn a certificate in the field, but may also hold a high school diploma and complete some on-the-job training. Professional certification is available in the field and may be preferred by some employers, but is not usually required in many states. Medical assistants help schedule appointments, record medical histories, check vital signs, and get samples ready for lab tests.
Home Health and Personal Care Aide
Most home health and personal care aides hold at least a high school diploma, but it is not always required. Depending on their place of employment, these aides may need to complete formal training and pass an exam for certification or licensure. Typically, home health and personal care aides undergo some on-the-job training to learn how to complete various household tasks, assist patients in daily activities, and manage transportation and medical appointments for their patients.
Courses for a Certificate Program in Pharmacy Technician
Course requirements for pharmacy technician certificate programs vary, but some of these programs may require around 24 credits of coursework. Many programs include laboratory courses, externships, and/or other learning experiences to give students hands-on, practical experience to prepare for a career in the field. Usually, most of the coursework for these certificate programs focus on pharmacy-related topics, such as procedures and skills, pharmacy technician lab, and pharmacy techniques and practices. Students also generally take some general courses with foundational skills that can be applied to the field, such as communication, medical terminology, or computers/keyboarding. A couple of examples of other courses students commonly take include:
Students typically take one or more courses in pharmacology that advance in topics. Some of these courses may have prerequisites, such as medical terminology. Students in these courses learn about different drugs and how they affect the body. Students also examine the side effects of these drugs and compare prescription medications to non-prescription medications.
Most certificate programs include a course in pharmacy calculations and/or pharmacy mathematics. These courses help students strengthen their math skills and better understand pharmaceutical calculations that are used to solve various problems in the industry. These different calculations are also often included on the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam. Students could be required to complete an introductory course in pharmacy technician prior to taking this course.
How Long Does a Certificate Program in Pharmacy Technician Take?
The length of a pharmacy technician certificate program varies, but several of these programs can be completed in as little as 36 weeks, which is less than a full calendar year. Others may allow students a broader range of time to complete the program, such as between 10 and 18 months. Usually, this time to certificate completion includes hands-on learning experiences, such as externships, where students gain practical experience working in a pharmacy setting. Other factors can also affect the amount of time that it takes students to earn their certificate, including course load and enrolling full-time vs. part-time in a program.
How to Choose a Certificate Program in Pharmacy Technician
Certificate programs in pharmacy technician are unique and have various features that may stand out and appeal to different students. Choosing a certificate program can be challenging, so students may need to start with some logistics. Students should first consider the format and the location of the program that best suits their needs. For instance, some students may prefer a blended format, a part-time format, or a program that is located close to their place of work. Another logistical consideration is the cost of a program. Although we discuss this in greater detail below, students need to compare the total cost of a program, as well as any financial aid options available, to find one that agrees with a student's personal budget.
After figuring out some of these main considerations, students can then begin comparing programs based on unique program features. Accredited programs should be preferred by students, as these programs are often preferred by employers. Certificate programs in pharmacy technician may have additional program-level accreditation from groups such as the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. Students who want more hands-on training may want to compare programs that include externship experiences and laboratory work. Students may also want to compare course topics and other college amenities when making a final decision.
How to Get into Pharmacy Technician Certificate Programs
The admissions process for pharmacy technician certificate programs varies by school, with some programs requiring students to apply to both the institution and the program. Usually, applicants need to be at least 18 years of age and may need to meet some general college placement requirements. For instance, some programs recommend that students have basic math, English, reading, and writing skills, while other programs may have a list of suggested prerequisites or show preference to students who have prior coursework in areas such as communication, anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, and computing. Depending on the program, students may also need to complete a first-year student experience course or an online orientation program for pharmacy technician. Some programs are more competitive than others and may only let so many students into each cohort. For example, one program only admits 20 students each fall semester. Applications can commonly be completed online and may require an admissions fee.
Cost of a Pharmacy Technician Certificate Program
The cost of a pharmacy technician certificate program depends on multiple factors and varies from school to school. For instance, there are some institutions that are able to offer tuition-free courses to community members, while most institutions have different tuition rates per credit hour. Some of these tuition rates could vary based on the student classification type. For example, many schools charge a higher tuition rate to out-of-state students than in-state students. In addition to tuition rates, most schools have some fees that are an additional cost to students. There are some mandatory fees that are required of all students, as well as fees that may be tied to specific actions, such as online course fees or late payment fees.
Students also need to consider a range of program-specific costs and other additional costs besides just tuition and fees. For instance, pharmacy technician programs commonly include lab courses, which may require the purchase of a lab coat or other supplies. The cost of books and materials for different courses needs to also be factored in. Finally, students need to factor in the cost of transportation and parking into the total cost of their program.
Financial Aid and Scholarship Resources for Pharmacy Technician Certificate Programs
Most students seek ways to help reduce the total cost of their certificate program. Students should first consider available federal and state aid and can easily check their eligibility through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). After accepting any appropriate loans or grants, students may explore other financial aid options that their school of interest or other organizations offer. For example, many schools and outside organizations, such as businesses and professional organizations, provide scholarships to students based on various factors, including merit, demographics, major, and more. There are even scholarships available for transfer students and special interest groups, such as students involved in service projects. An example of an outside scholarship that is available specifically to aspiring pharmacy technicians is the GoodRx Pharmacy Innovation Scholarship Program. This program is open to those enrolled in a pharmacy technician program or those who received certification in the field within the last 6 months. Students can win awards between $1,000 and $10,000 and must submit their transcripts with their application.
Some schools may also provide additional forms of aid to help students lower the total out-of-pocket costs of earning their certificate. For example, some schools offer laptop loan programs or emergency aid programs. However, this kind of additional aid varies greatly from institution to institution.