Should You Become a Retail or Hospital Pharmacy Tech?
Choosing a career as a pharmacy tech is a rewarding path to take. Pharmacy tech careers offer excellent pay, plenty of job opportunities, and satisfaction from working in the healthcare industry. One of the benefits of becoming a pharm tech is that you only need a high school diploma. Additional training is on-the-job or programs that last from four months to two years.
Most pharmacy technicians work in retail pharmacies. However, there are also many opportunities for working in a hospital pharmacy. If you are interested in a pharmacy technician career, which is the best place to work — in a retail or hospital pharmacy?
Why Choose a Career as a Retail or Hospital Pharmacy Tech?
Qualifying to become a pharmacy tech is more straightforward than many people think. Unlike pharmacists, who must study for six or seven years, you can become a pharmacy tech within a year. Also, it’s cheaper to enroll in training programs to qualify as a pharmacy tech.
The job outlook for pharmacy techs is also positive. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job vacancies for pharmacy techs are expected to grow by 4% until 2029. The average wage for pharm techs is just under $34,000. As demand for pharmaceutical services grows, so will wages and job opportunities.
The career prospects as a pharmacy tech are better than for pharmacists. An article in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education reported on an oversupply of pharmacists. This issue means that pursuing a six or seven-year Doctor of Pharmacy degree may not guarantee work as a pharmacist.
Pharmacy techs work under the oversight of pharmacists. Over the past few years, pharm techs have taken on more responsibilities in their work. So, what the difference between working in a retail pharmacy or a hospital pharmacy?
Duties of Retail Pharmacy Techs
Working in a retail pharmacy, technicians generally deal with patients who come to the drugstore for medication. A retail pharmacy tech must know how to dispense medicines in the proper dosage. But they also need excellent people skills to deal with customers.
Here are some of the duties that retail pharmacy techs carry out:
- Dealing with patients’ questions and health concerns
- Filling prescriptions and dispensing them
- Keeping a check on inventory and making sure drugs are in stock
- Preparing labels for prescription drugs
- Processing payments
- Processing insurance claims
- Directing patients to get advice from pharmacists for medical-related questions
Additionally, a pharmacy tech needs to learn specific skills to do their job successfully. For example, they deal with people of all ages—from young kids to older adults. Some people may be distressed about their medical condition. Or, they may have to give instructions on how to use certain medications for the first time.
There are things that a pharmacy tech can’t do. For example, provide medical advice, recommend over-the-counter medication, or make a final check on prescriptions.
Pharmacy Techs Working in Retail
What’s it like to work in a retail pharmacy? First, the hours depend on when the drugstore is open. Many pharmacy techs work Monday through Friday during regular business hours. If the pharmacy is open 24/7, then you may be required to work weekends and night shifts.
Pharmacy techs are usually the first ones a patient speaks to in a drugstore or on the phone. So, much of your time is spent talking to customers, filling and dispensing prescriptions, and advising on over-the-counter meds.
Duties of Hospital Pharmacy Techs
Working in a hospital pharmacy is different from a retail drugstore. In the hospital setting, there is less contact with patients. However, pharmacy techs need to know about a broader range of drugs and better understand medical terminology.
Many of the duties of a hospital pharmacy tech are similar to working in retail. For example, you have to check inventories, process prescriptions, prepare medications, and fill out paperwork.
However, some duties of a hospital pharmacy tech are unique to working in a healthcare center. These duties are:
- Preparing intravenous (IV) solutions
- Unit-dosing tables from bulk bottles
- Preparing orally-administered medications
- Delivering medications to smaller in-hospital department pharmacies
- Managing automated drug dispensing systems
Here’s one example of how duties differ between working in retail and hospital pharmacies. Hospitals usually order medications in bulk. So, the pharmacy tech needs to prepare individual packages specific to each patient. The bottles need to be labeled and then checked by the pharmacist. These must be available for nurses to administer to patients.
Pharmacy Techs Working in Hospitals
The working conditions in hospital pharmacies differ significantly from a local drugstore. Hospitals work night and day and very often deal with emergency cases. So, technicians must be able to stay calm while working under pressure. Usually, a job as a hospital pharmacy tech means working long shifts.
Another difference between working in hospital pharmacies and retail is the working conditions. Usually, technicians in hospitals work and prepare meds in a sterile environment. And technicians typically have to wear personal protective equipment (PPE).
However, because hospital pharmacy techs have more responsibility, the pay is usually better.
Starting a Career as a Pharmacy Tech
The essential requirement to become a pharmacy tech in a retail or hospital pharmacy is a high school diploma. But many states now require technicians to receive further training. Depending on where you want to work, your further education can last between six months or two years.
Usually, you need to become a Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT) to work in a pharmacy. To qualify, you need to sit an exam and have work experience as a pharmacy technician. You then need to renew your qualifications every two years.
Hospitals require that all pharmacy techs complete a post-secondary diploma program. You will also have to complete the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) exam or the Exam for Pharmacy Certification Pharmacy Technician (ExCPT). Completing the exams significantly enhances your employment opportunities — either in retail pharmacies or hospital ones.
Become a Retail or Hospital Pharmacy Tech: A Takeaway
Working as a pharmacy tech is a rewarding healthcare career. You help people on their road to recovery by dispensing prescription medications. Working in a retail pharmacy allows you excellent interaction with patients. In a hospital pharmacy, you will have greater responsibilities and more contact with doctors.
Regardless of where you work, the right training program will enhance your career as a successful pharmacy technician.