Pharmacy technicians have many responsibilities. As a part of the medical profession, they work to ensure and improve health of their patients. They must be skilled in several different areas and they undergo extensive training to prepare for their duties. The type of training that a pharmacy technician receives varies depending on where they are being trained. Some pharmacy technicians choose to get formal education to prepare them for their career. Other technicians only receive on-the-job training.
All pharmacy technicians receive on-the-job training. This type of training focuses on learning to perform the job requirements of a particular employer. For many pharmacy technicians, on-the-job training is their first experience as a pharmacy technician. However, in several states, pharmacy technicians are required to be certified before employment. In these states, the pharmacy technician has training prior to on-the-job training provided by their employer.
Training in a Retail Pharmacy
For a pharmacy technician with no formal education, on-the-job training that they receive through a retail pharmacy must cover all aspect of the job. These training programs are often supported by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB). They include a combination of computerized learning, hands on experience, and classroom education.
The first things that an inexperienced pharmacy technician must learn are the legal aspects of their job and their job scope. This is usually done through computerized tutorials. These can vary slightly from state to state depending on the state’s guidelines for pharmacy technicians. The technician will read the information in the tutorials and then take a test to evaluate what they have learned. If they receive a passing score, they go on to the next tutorial. If not, they must repeat the current one until they have successfully mastered the information.
Some tutorials simply involve reading and comprehending information. This type of tutorial will include learning HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) regulations. It is very important for a pharmacy technician to understand this piece of legislation as it guides them in how to handle personal patient information. Failure to follow these policies can lead to the pharmacy technician and the pharmacy being fined heavily by the government. The pharmacy technician can also be terminated for breaching HIPAA regulations.
Other tutorials are more interactive. When learning to transcribe a prescription, the pharmacy technician will look at examples of prescriptions and input the data into a form. The computer will indicate if the information is correct or not. This gives them practice at reading prescriptions and finding the required data. This also helps them to learn the definitions of commonly used sig codes. Sig codes are a form of shorthand that doctors use to indicate prescription directions. For example, a doctor may write “q4h,” which means “every 4 hours.”
Another interactive exercise involves matching generic medication names to their corresponding brand names. This is important so that the pharmacy technician knows which generic medications to substitute when the prescription is written for a brand name. They also learn when it is appropriate to make this substitution and when it is not.
Once the pharmacy technician has mastered all of the computer tutorials, they are allowed to experience hands-on training. At first, they only “shadow” an experienced technician. The pharmacy technician trainer will explain what is being done and why certain procedures have to be followed. This training usually begins with learning to work in the prescription drop-off and pick-up windows. When they have mastered this skill, then they go on to learn about filling prescriptions. Eventually they are trained in the administrative aspects of their duties.
Training programs in a retail pharmacy can take anywhere from six weeks to six months to complete. The computerized tutorials can be completed in only a few weeks, but the other aspects can take longer, depending on how fast the training technician becomes proficient in their duties. In pharmacies that use PTCB training programs, there is also a classroom learning session. The retail chain may only offer these classes a few times per year in a given region. Therefore, the technician may be considered to be “in training” until they have the opportunity to participate in the classroom portion of their training program.
Mail-Order Pharmacy Training Programs
The popularity of mail-order pharmacies has grown steadily for years. Mail-order pharmacies provide a completely different working environment than a retail pharmacy. The training requirements are also different.
In a small mail-order pharmacy, the pharmacy technician may do nearly all of the same job tasks as in a retail pharmacy. The biggest difference is the lack of customer presence. Customers are dealt with via email or telephone. Pharmacy technicians must also learn the same legal aspects as in a retail pharmacy.
Large mail-order pharmacies are very different from retail or smaller mail-order pharmacies. Mail-order pharmacies that handle a large volume of prescriptions on a daily basis work more like factories. There are different departments to handle different job duties. They often have an area for customer service representatives. They also have computer banks where pharmacy technicians spend the entire day inputting prescription data. Another department handles insurance claims. There are also departments for processing prescriptions and shipping orders.
In a large mail-order pharmacy, the pharmacy technician may be hired to work in a specific department. In this case, the technician may only be trained to work in one area. For example, they may only be trained to work in the customer service, insurance, or order processing department. They can also be trained to operate machines that fill prescriptions. The pharmacy technician may or may not be trained in all aspects of the pharmacy technician job.
Hospital Pharmacy Training
Most hospitals only hire certified pharmacy technicians with at least 3-5 years of experience. For that reason, training programs in hospital pharmacies are focused on hospital policies and procedures. This will include learning to use the hospital’s computer systems, and any mechanical equipment used in the pharmacy. Hospitals expect their pharmacy technicians to be proficient in performing their job functions. On-the-job training in a hospital pharmacy is typically complete in 1-2 weeks.
When considering a job as a pharmacy technician, one should think about their long-term career goals. If you hope to someday work in a hospital pharmacy, then it is a good idea to begin your career in a retail pharmacy. Retail pharmacies offer in-depth training which usually leads to the opportunity to become certified. If you are more inclined to work away from the public or if you value having the weekends off, then a mail-order pharmacy might be the right choice.