Many vocational schools and community colleges offer pharmacy technician programs, some of which are accredited by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, ASHP. Associate degree programs usually take approximately two years to complete while most certificates can be obtained in as little as one year or less. Job training and certification ensures that pharmacy technicians have an understanding of pharmacy operations and protocol, the ability to work with different prescription drugs, and a commitment to abide by ethical standards. A typical pharmacy technician program will include training in multiple areas in both the technical and practical side of the occupation.
With a dramatic change in technology over the past several years and an increased scope of practice for pharmacist and other health care personnel, it is critical that pharmacists and pharmacy technicians stay abreast of changes. The world of pharmacy is a highly regulated profession, and this is why pharmacy law is included in the coursework in a pharmacy technician program. Laws regulate the recordkeeping and the labeling of all drugs handled within a pharmacy. With a significant change in practice settings, it is important to understand the laws involved in the pharmacy profession to ensure safe and legal practice.
Working as a pharmacy technician requires an understanding of what your scope of practice is. Providing advice outside of your scope could be considered breaking the law. The studies of pharmacy ethics are covered in coursework to provide you and your cohort an understanding of your moral obligations and virtues in the relationships you establish with patients and other healthcare professionals. As a pharmacy technician, you have a duty to observe the law and uphold the ethical principles of the profession.
With a higher degree of integration across a diverse range of healthcare settings and providers, both pharmacist and technicians are enhancing patient care now more than ever. Technicians need a clear understanding of healthcare systems and the role they play in helping to improve patient care. Pharmacies are no longer just order-and-product fulfillment centers; their functions have moved to a profession of leadership within drug therapy management. By elevating the role of pharmacy technicians, other professionals have more time working with patients one on one. With a model such as this, technicians become part of the care team. Coursework involving an overview of healthcare systems give pharmacy technician students an overall understanding of the multifaceted practice settings in which a technician may work as part of a team of healthcare professionals.
Healthcare professionals have a language of their own and pharmacy technician coursework provides an opportunity for future technicians to learn tips and tricks to pick up the foreign terminology. This part of the curriculum prepares students and helps give them confidence and a basic understanding of medical terminology. While much of the terminology will be related to drug names and types, there will also be more general medical terminology to learn. You will be introduced to abbreviations and terms, which you will use daily in your career with co-workers, patients, and other healthcare providers. Knowing medical terms and abbreviations will make your job much easier as you enter your new profession.
Pharmacy technicians need to be familiar with the physical and chemical properties of a drug. Coursework in pharmacology is designed to provide you with an understanding of the function of drugs and the body’s role in processing and reacting to certain medications. You will study the field of toxicology to understand the adverse effects of poisons or chemicals on human beings. In addition, an overview of the body’s immune system and how the body maintains equilibrium or homeostasis will be explained.
Working as a technician, you will have frequent opportunities to apply such knowledge and will have an understanding of why certain medications are stored in a specific way and why certain drugs are administered in particular manners. This, in turn, gives you the confidence to perform your job-related duties correctly. Your overall knowledge of pharmacology will have an effect on how you are perceived by patients and the medical community.
Anatomy and Physiology
In any healthcare setting, the ability to practice safely is of the utmost importance. To achieve this, healthcare providers must have knowledge and understanding of the human body. An introduction to anatomy and physiology in pharmacy technician coursework is geared towards providing students with a general roadmap of the human body while learning about the major organ systems. Students gain knowledge in understanding how the organs work to keep you alive and get an overview of the systems:
- Lymphatic respiratory
- Reproductive systems
Knowing how certain medications will affect how these major organ systems function is an important aspect of working in a pharmacy.
A wide range of knowledge and skills are necessary in order for pharmacy technicians to play a role in the improvement of public health while ensuring the safe and effective use of medications. As part of the healthcare system, a major role for technicians is medication order entry and fulfilling prescriptions. As part of these duties, you must have the ability to calculate individual drug doses and accurately convert between units of measurement.
Accordingly, it is essential that you have a fundamental understanding of everyday math problems that you will encounter regularly working as a pharmacy technician. In your pharmaceutical calculation coursework, you will focus on solving pharmacy-related math problems using ratio-proportion methods of calculation and dimensional analysis. In addition, you will focus on dosing, drug concentrations, and dilutions.
Considering that an error in a dosage calculation or dilution could pose a significant amount of harm to a patient, pharmacy calculations are considered the most important area of study for technicians. To effectively contribute to the daily practice of pharmacy, you must be capable of performing a variety of calculations.
During your coursework, it is likely you will have the opportunity to gain clinical experience, although state laws vary in regards to how and when pharmacy technician students gain their on-the-job training and what requirements are necessary. Schools have often partnered with retail drugstores for on the job training opportunities. Hands-on training at approved pharmacies or medical centers are another option for students.
State laws vary in certification requirements, as well, but most employers will only hire pharmacy technicians who are certified by the National Healthcare Association (NHA) or the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB). Both of these programs require applicants to have a high school diploma.
NHA requires applicants to have at least one year of experience or to have completed a training program while PTCB requires all applicants to pass an exam. Specialized training is available if you want to work exclusively for a retail drugstore chain. Becoming specialized will allow you to serve as a general pharmacy technician, central pharmacy operations technicians, or a community pharmacy technician.
Seeking certification is recommended to enhance job opportunities and your earning potential. Pharmacy technicians must complete 20 hours of continuing education in order to take the recertification exam, which is a requirement every two years.
As one can probably see, the curriculum is extensive and covers a broad range of topics. The more you can learn, the better off you will be. I wish you all the best in your journey.