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A Pharmacy Technician is a person who works under the direct supervision of a licensed state Pharmacist and performs many or most pharmacy-related functions. The job differs from state to state or country to country, but mainly technicians exist to assist the pharmacist.

It's very easy to confuse the job of Technician with Pharmacy Assistant. Generally, Pharmacy Technicians are the ones who count the medications and label them, while assistants are clerks and cashiers. The jobs frequently overlap in a hierarchical manner, but technicians are one rung above assistants, and Pharmacists are the top of the chain.

Think of it this way; a Pharmacist can take in the prescriptions, type them and bill insurance, count the medication, mix compounds if necessary, verify any allergies and side effects, and sign off on dispensing the medication, and ring it up at the cash register while answering any medical questions the patient has. The Pharmacist can do all of the above, and in small pharmacies and night shifts, often does it all alone. However, in large or busy pharmacies, Pharmacists can't do all that at once, so Technicians assist the Pharmacist. A pharmacy technician is trained in reading prescriptions, billing insurance claims, counting medications, labeling prescriptions, and stocking the pharmacy and doing basic paperwork. Pharmacies often employ more than one technician in a shift, allowing the Pharmacist to act as manager.

If you drop off or refill a prescription, chances are a Technician will take the order, bill the medication, count the medication and bottle and label it. Some states allow Pharmacy Technicians to mix the medication compounds; otherwise the Pharmacist is left to it. The Pharmacist (the one with 4 years of Pharmacy school training plus apprenticeship in America), verifies all prescriptions that the Technicians fill before they leave the Pharmacy; he or she checks to make sure the right medication is being filled and checks the patient's medical records to see if the patient has any allergies or other medications that can't go together. Most of the time, a Technician or Assistant will ring up the sale at the cash register or answer the phone, although only a Pharmacist can counsel the patient or answer any medical questions.

Pharmacy technicians and assistants held about 170,000 jobs in America in 1998. Seven out of 10 jobs were in retail pharmacies, either independently owned or part of a drug store chain, grocery store, department store, or mass merchandiser. Two out of 10 jobs were in hospitals and a small number were in mail-order pharmacies, clinics, pharmaceutical wholesalers, and the Federal Government.

Job opportunities are said to be good as Technicians, and the average pay ranges from $6.50 to $13.00 an hour usually based upon certification and length of employment. However, many Certified Pharmacy Technicians earn over $15 an hour. This depends on experience and whether nationally certified or not.

Job Description:
Specific responsibilities will depend on the pharmacy (retail, hospital, supermarket, etc) and scope of practice. Here is a list of duties that a pharmacy Technician might find in many pharmacy settings:

  • Assist Pharmacist in labeling and filling prescriptions;
  • Assist patients in dropping off and picking up prescriptions;
  • Entering prescriptions into the computer;
  • Verify that customer receives correct prescription(s);
  • Compound oral solutions, ointments, and creams;
  • Scheduling and maintaining workflow;
  • Prepackage bulk medications;
  • Screen calls for Pharmacists;
  • Medication ordering;
  • Work with insurance carriers to obtain payments and refilling authority;
  • Prepare medication inventories;
  • Prepare chemotherapeutic agents;
  • Compound total parenteral nutrition solutions;
  • Compound large-volumes of intravenous mixtures;
  • Assisting in outpatient dispensing;
  • Assisting inpatient dispensing;
  • Preparing IV mixtures;
  • Purchasing and billing;

I work in a Pharmacy, as a Certified Pharmacy Technician. You can call me "mr100percent, CPhT" (Certified Pharmacy Technician). Why do I work in a Pharmacy? It's air-conditioned, involves little physical labor, medical-related, and I get to wear a white labcoat and have people mistakenly call me doctor. :) There are some downsides; a lot of walking and little sitting, and some patients are grouchy when sick or their insurance goes up.

Pharmacy Technicians are now a recognized job title and many people who become Pharmacists spend some time as a Technician before moving up. Training is relatively simple, and can be gained from on-the-job experience. I started off as a Pharmacy Assistant at the cash register and answering phones, but moved up to Pharmacy Technician, and then became board certified around 2 years after starting (not always full time). The only thing higher than Pharmacy Technician (and below Pharmacist) is Lead Pharmacy Technician. He or she often is in charge of the other technicians, sets schedules and does the paperwork and ordering for the pharmacy, under the supervision of the Pharmacist in charge.

For more information on Pharmacy Technicians (a simple and fun job if you ask me), you can check with the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board, at http://www.ptcb.org

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