Pharmacy technicians are vital professionals who assist pharmacists in delivering prescription medications to patients. Pharmacy techs dispense and package medications, along with other daily pharmacy tasks. Technicians also field basic medical questions from patients about the proper use of their medicines.
To become a pharmacy technician, a student traditionally passes through a 2-year college degree program. However, there are also shorter, less expensive certificate programs available. These programs, generally taught online, provide a more accessible path to work as a pharmacy technician. Here’s what you should know about the best online pharmacy technician programs in 2021.
What Is an Online Pharmacy Technician Program?
In an online pharmacy technician program, students learn how to accurately measure and dispense the correct dosages of medications. Beyond this, students study fundamental concepts of pharmacology, medical science and anatomy that lay the groundwork for a successful pharmacy career. Record keeping, medical ethics, regulatory compliance and patient history collection also feature prominently in these programs, as pharmacy technicians are tasked with collecting and properly handling critical information from patients. Online pharmacy tech programs culminate with certification exams that, if passed, allow students to begin working as certified technicians.
Although these skills form the backbone of an online pharmacy technician program, students also receive instruction in soft skills. Communication and excellent customer service are essential for a good pharmacy technician, since the job involves dealing with the public regularly.
The career path for a pharmacy technician can take many different forms. Starting out, pharmacy techs can choose to work in retail, hospital or compounding pharmacies, all of which require slightly different skill sets. From there, a pharmacy technician can gain additional certifications or degrees to move into more advanced medical roles. Many pharmacy techs eventually become nurses, while others go into surgical technology or pharmaceutical sales. Some even choose to return to school to pursue degrees as doctors or pharmacists.
Why Choose an Online Pharmacy Technician Program?
Many students choose online pharmacy technician programs to increase their career options and provide an early boost to their potential earnings. Becoming a pharmacy tech is also a fairly easy way to gain clinical experience for those planning on long-term medical careers.
As with many other vocational certifications, online classes offer the advantage of flexibility and cost efficiency when compared with in-person instruction. Since many pharmacy technician students are younger workers who already have other jobs, the flexibility offered by the online learning format can be critical to successfully completing the program.
Successful pharmacy technicians need a mix of hard science and interpersonal skills to excel in their careers. Attention to detail is key for delivering the correct medications in the correct dosages consistently. Some retail experience is also beneficial, as most pharmacy techs will start out in retail pharmacies.
How Much Does a Pharmacy Technician Certification Cost?
The cost of obtaining a pharmacy technician certificate varies. Some of the best online pharmacy technician programs from a cost perspective charge as little as $1,000. This represents a very large cost savings when compared with in-person education, which can cost $3,000 or more. The certification exam fee is generally included with tuition, but additional expenses such as textbooks can still increase the cost.
Students can also obtain certificates through higher-cost 2-year degree programs. Please note, though, that these degree programs aren’t fully comparable to the more common certification programs. A 2-year degree is a good option for those planning to pursue more advanced medical careers later on, but it provides far more instruction than required to work as a pharmacy tech. As a result, the consider the cost of obtaining a certificate as only part of the total program cost.
How Much Do Pharmacy Technicians Make?
As of May 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a median annual income for pharmacy technicians of about $35,100 annually. Payscale reports a median hourly wage of $14.60, or about $30,400. Besides wages, pharmacy technicians can receive bonuses, profit sharing payments and commissions that increase their annual pay. The range of total pay reported by Payscale ranges from $23,000 to $43,000 annually.
Payscale wage data also offers some insights into the potential for growth with experience for this position. New pharmacy technicians start out making around $12.46 an hour. With 5-9 years of experience, that hourly wage increases to $15.85. The most experienced pharmacy techs earn a median wage of about $18.60 an hour. Some specialists, such as technicians in radiopharmacy or oncology pharmacies, earn more than their retail counterparts. Specific clerical skills, such as experience with industry billing software or purchasing processes, also lead to higher wages.
In addition to wage compensation, pharmacy technicians often receive medical insurance benefits through their employers. According to Payscale’s data, 55 percent of people employed in this role receive health insurance. Forty-nine percent also receive dental coverage, while 44 percent receive vision coverage. Only 43 percent of pharmacy technicians receive no health benefits.
What Is the Job Outlook for Pharmacy Technician Certificate Holders?
Most students who earn earn these certificates will begin their careers in retail or hospital pharmacies. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a growth rate of 4 percent for pharmacy technician jobs over the next 10 years. This makes it an average growth career on par with the growth projections for all jobs. By 2029, an estimated 15,200 new jobs will have been created in this field.
Scholarships for Pharmacy Technician Programs
Most scholarships associated with pharmacy technician programs are for students planning to earn their certifications as part of a 2-year degree. There are, however, some awards open to students in non-degree certification programs. With one of these scholarships, it’s possible to further reduce the already low cost of pursuing a pharmacy technician certificate.
Scholarships that aren’t specific to a particular program can also help. Local organizations, charitable foundations and even schools themselves often create scholarship funds that can be used for a wide range of educational programs. If you’re looking for financial help to earn your certificate, consider looking into these options. Below, you’ll find a few program-specific scholarships for pharmacy technicians.
GoodRX Pharmacy Innovation Scholarship
$1,000 scholarship for students who are currently enrolled in or have graduated from a certification program within the last six months.
AFPE Gateway to Research Scholarship
$5,000 scholarship for those enrolled in traditional college programs provided by the American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education.
If you’re taking a pharmacy technician certificate as part of a degree program or to bolster your career while in school, federal grants may be helpful in paying for it.
FAQs About Pharmacy Technician Programs
- Programs available online or in-person.
- Certificate can typically be earned within a few months to one year
- 2-year degree options also available at many colleges
- Fast, affordable program for breaking into a medical job
- Most pharmacy technicians receive healthcare benefits
- Provides a good basis for future medical advancement with continuing education
- Costs for online certification can be as little as $1,000
- 2-year college degrees are more expensive, but are still reasonable online and at community colleges
- Program-specific scholarships are available, including some for students in certificate programs