In today’s market place, pharmacy technicians can choose from a variety of work environments. Some work closely with patients, while others never see their patients. The choices available to pharmacy technicians allow them to choose their working hours. Some have set schedules, while others may be very flexible. Regardless of the type of pharmacy, all pharmacy technicians must work under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist.
About 70% of pharmacy technicians work in retail pharmacies. These can be national chain stores such as Walgreens, CVS, or Rite Aid. Retail pharmacies are also found in mass merchandisers such as Wal-Mart and Target or in grocery stores such as Publix or Kroger.
These locations usually offer the pharmacy technician flexible hours and work days. Many are open on weekends and some are open 24 hours. The day shift is often very fast paced, but the graveyard shift is usually very slow. Schedules may vary from week to week. In most cases, the technician’s weekly schedule will have a combination of day, night and weekend shifts. There is usually a rotation schedule allowing each pharmacy technician to have at least one weekend off each month.
In a retail location, pharmacy technicians spend most of their time processing prescriptions. They are also expected to do inventory, administrative, and cleaning tasks. From time to time, they may even be asked to work in other areas of the store. Most retail pharmacies offer benefits such as insurance, paid vacation, and employer sponsored investment funds.
Compounding Pharmacies are usually smaller, independently owned pharmacies that offer compound prescriptions, although some larger retail locations offer compounding services. A compounding pharmacy is one with the ability to create custom prescriptions. Pharmacy technicians working in a compounding pharmacy is usually required to be certified, and some may be expected to have specialized certification for compounding medications. They need to understand compounding techniques and have good math skills. There are only a few compounding pharmacies in any geographical region, so pharmacy technicians who have the required skills for these jobs are paid higher wages than general pharmacy technicians. Aside from the compounding aspect, these pharmacies operate as any other retail pharmacy.
Most hospitals prefer certified pharmacy technicians. Teaching hospitals may offer training programs which prepare technicians for certification. In a hospital setting pharmacy technicians spend most of their time preparing prescriptions. The difference between a hospital pharmacy tech and one in a retail pharmacy is that the hospital pharmacy technician will prepare prescribed medications in single doses. They may also fill syringes or prepare IV solutions. They prepare medications for short and long-term patients, emergency room patients, and solutions needed in testing.
A pharmacy technician can expect to earn a higher salary in a hospital. They also enjoy good medical benefits and paid vacations. Hospitals need pharmacy technicians on duty 24 hours a day. Schedules are usually routine, with part-time pharmacy technicians working weekend shifts.
Nursing Homes / Assisted Living / Mental Health
Nursing home, assisted living and mental health facility pharmacy technicians work much like hospital technicians. Prescriptions are filled in a per-dose manner. These facilities don’t have emergency departments and don’t run tests or x-rays, so filling prescriptions for clients can become very routine. They usually start the day by filling medications that need to be taken before or after breakfast. After that, they prepare medications which are taken later in the day. When the day’s regiment is filled, they are stored in areas accessible to the nurses. Depending on the size of the facility, this can be a full-time job, or in smaller nursing homes, it may be part-time. Patients must have their medications on weekends and holidays, so they need pharmacy technicians every day of the year.
Mail-order pharmacies are becoming more and more common as insurance companies encourage clients to use them. These pharmacies process a very high volume of prescriptions on any given day. The most commonly prescribed medications such as pain killers, heart and cholesterol medications, and blood thinners are dispensed by machines. Pharmacy technicians in mail-order pharmacies must know how to run dispensing machines. This means learning the computer programs used to operate the machine, filling the machine with medications, and general maintenance such as fixing jams or re-loading label paper. Mail-order pharmacies operate much like factories. Almost everything is automated and the role of the pharmacy technician is to over-see the machinery.
Some pharmacy technicians in a mail-order pharmacy spend their day working at a computer. These technicians input prescription information from faxes, mailed-in prescriptions or phone prescriptions. They also process refill requests which may come in via phone or internet. Other pharmacy technicians in a mail-order setting work as insurance specialists.
These pharmacies deal mostly with medications which are used long-term. Because the prescription has to be processed and then mailed to the patient, they cannot process prescriptions which the patient needs to take right after seeing their doctor. The number of prescriptions which are filled by hand is generally low.
Pharmacy technicians in mail-order pharmacies are paid comparable to retail pharmacies. They often enjoy weekends and holidays off. Many offer paid vacations, insurance plans and 401K plans.