What Does a Pharmacy Technician Do?

I have been writing articles on why and how to become a pharmacy technician, but some recent feedback has made me realize I left out the obvious. What is it that pharmacy technicians do in a pharmacy. Most people figure they help the pharmacist enter prescriptions and count pills. This is true for an outpatient pharmacy, also called a retail pharmacy, but there are many roles for pharmacy technicians in healthcare. The rest of this article will list different types of pharmacy settings and the roles that pharmacy technicians have in these settings.

Community/Retail Pharmacy: I have worked retail, and I prefer other settings; however, it is where a large percentage of pharmacy technician jobs are found. What a pharmacy technician can do is determined by the state they work via state laws and rules. In general, technicians cannot provide clinical information to patients or be the final check for prescriptions. In some states, technicians are allowed to provide information on over-the-counter (OTC) medication (ie, medications that do not require a prescription, such as, acetaminophen and ibuprofen). Pharmacy technician tasks include, but are not limited to:
• Collecting patient information (insurance and personal information as needed)
• Entering and processing prescriptions in the computer system
• Filling and selling prescriptions
• Requesting refills from doctor offices for patients
• Compounding medications that are not commercially available
• Ordering medications
• Restocking shelves
• Answering the phone
• Working with insurance companies on approving payment for certain medications
• Maintaining the cash register and conducting accounting functions

Hospital Pharmacy: There are many different roles for pharmacy technicians in a hospital pharmacy. I know this type of pharmacy best since this is where most of my work has been. The most common are technicians who work in the central pharmacy. In addition we have decentralized techs, sterile compounding techs, billing techs, OR techs, narcotic techs, database techs, automation techs, team lead techs, and buyer techs. These technicians as a whole perform the following tasks, but not limited to:
• Filling new orders, this includes a variety of medications from oral medications to specially prepared sterile compound medications (including chemotherapy meds)
• Answering the phone
• Tubing medications (if the pharmacy has a pneumatic tube station)
• Preparing medications for delivery
• Delivering medications
• Assisting floor pharmacists with medication histories
• Assisting floor pharmacists with IV drip checks
• Handling missing dose calls
• Billing medications where nurse charting does not bill
• Maintaining the pharmacy database
• Restocking operating rooms and anesthesia trays with appropriate medication
• Dispensing and tracking all controlled substances throughout the hospital
• Maintaining automation equipment [automated dispensing cabinets that store medication on nursing units, automatic fill systems (typically called Robot-Rx)]
• Purchasing of all medication and supplies needed in the pharmacy
• Leading and managing the technician workforce, including upkeep of schedules

Long-Term Care Pharmacy: I have worked at a couple of long-term care pharmacies, and I think it is a great place to be a technician. They typically employee a lot of techs because the work load lends it self to a lot of technician tasks. These pharmacies provide the medication needs for nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and psychiatric facilities. The typical pharmacy is located in a warehouse. It does not have an open pharmacy for people to come to; they receive orders by fax and deliver all medications via couriers or drivers to facilities. The oral medication is filled in blister packs (cards of 30 tabs that are used to provide a 1 month supply of medication), or some other mechanism that provide the facility with an extended amount of medication doses that can be safely and cleanly kept until doses are due. Pharmacy technician tasks include, but are not limited to:
• Filling new and refill orders (different from hospital because of the number of doses provided)
• Processing new order and refills coming through the fax machine
• Order entry of prescriptions and printing of labels for fill techs
• Sterile compounding of medications (although there aren’t as many sterile compounded medications as a hospital, there are still enough that most long-term care pharmacies have a few techs specialize in sterile compounding
• Billing medications to homes
• Controlled substance dispensing and documentation
• Ordering medications and supplies
• Restocking medications that are returned that are still suitable for reuse.
(for a detailed description of Long-Term Care pharmacy and pharmacy technician roles, see LeeAnne’s detailed write up here).

Home Infusion Pharmacy: These pharmacies primarily care for patients that require some form of IV or other non oral medication, and want to receive the therapy at home (hence the name home-infusion). I have also worked in a home-infusion pharmacy. As a tech I had a lot of experience in sterile compounding, and found my self in any position that needed a IV room tech. Pharmacy technician tasks include, but are not limited to:
• Compounding sterile preparations in the clean room
• Preparing supplies associated with sterile medication administration for delivery
• Billing medications delivered to patients home
• Coordinating deliveries of medications with patients
• Entering orders in the pharmacy order entry system

Nuclear Pharmacy: No, I have not worked in a nuclear pharmacy (I am sure you were staring to think I got around quite a bit, but I have been in pharmacy for about 17 years). I have some friends who work in a nuclear pharmacy. The hours are interesting; they usually come in at about 3 AM and work until about noon. These types of pharmacies make radioactive compounds and they need to be made in a way that when they are delivered to the hospital or clinic administering them, that the dose has degraded to a specific amount. Without going into too much detail, these medications have short half-lives. So they have to time the compounding of the product with the time it takes to deliver the medication and the time the patient is to receive the dose. The job pays well, but as you can imagine, there are not a ton of these positions available. Pharmacy technician tasks include, but are not limited to:
• Preparing radioactive products
• Cleaning and preparing sterile compounding areas
• Entering orders into the pharmacy system
• Coordinating dose due times with deliveries and preparation
• Billing products to hospital or clinic

Health Plans/HMO Pharmacy Group: I saved this one for last because it is a lot different. Most healthcare plans have a pharmacy department. They manage the pharmacy benefit of the health plan. I have worked with my companies health plan and have spent some time with the pharmacy department. Pharmacy technician tasks include, but are not limited to:
• Answering phone calls and providing support for patients on the pharmacy benefit
• Reviewing prior authorization requests
• Providing support to physicians and drug companies for information requests
• Supporting the pharmacists in the department with database and projects as needed

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  1. Hi Letha,

    That is a tough question that I am ill equipped to answer not knowing all the details. I suppose it depends on what you want to do in the end. If you want to be a nurse, pharmacist, or physician; then I say yes. Having a solid background in medications will help in all three of those career paths. There are flexible hours in the hospital for school going staff (I did graveyards for 3 years prior to starting pharmacy school). I recommend you find someone you know in healthcare or the field you want to go into and ask for their thoughts and guidance. Best of luck, -Rob

  2. Hello I start as a tech Friday leaving a full time job to go to a part time I have a medical degree already and I want to further my education am I making the right decision to become a tech

  3. Hi Ashley, it is difficult to start interning before starting classes. I would first check to see if your program provides an internship. If they do, definitely wait. If not, work with a counselor at your school to see if they can help. At minimum, a pharmacy will be more likely to let you do an internship if you are near the end or completed your training. -Rob

  4. Hi Rob, I am currently a student right now and I plan to take the tech class soon, I just want to know how can I start interning before I start my classes. Thanks!

  5. Hi Nicole, I am not familiar with Publix, but I imagine it is a chain store (grocery, by my Google search). If you have an in with the pharmacy manager there, then use it. Landing a job is the most important part. If you go through the PTCB national certifcation route, I would definately start with Publix if you can. Once you gain some experience, see if you can pick up a PRN job at a hospital, maybe even volunteer for your training. Bets of luck,

  6. Hi Rob,
    I really like this website and all the info you have provided as well. I do have a question, right now I am working for Publix as a cashier and was going to try and get my pharmacy tech certificate. I was planning on buying the book and studying it and then take the test. I already have my AA degree but i stopped going to school because it was too much for me as a student to pay. I was wondering, is Publix a good place to start working in the pharmacy to then hopefully be able to move up to be in the hospital? And is studying from the book and then take the test a good idea to do instead of taking classes?

  7. Hi Rob,
    I have started my Pharmacy tech classes and really enjoy them: However, I am having a bit of trouble with the math calculations. Is there a site, that I can go to that explains how to do the problems as well as practice questions?

  8. Hi Deena, get an externship. Your hard work and effort you put in will be your interview. In addition, do not be afraid to share what you shared with me. It is okay to say your reputation for doing excellent work was what landed you jobs in the past, and this is new and challenging. Don't play it down, play it up. Make it a positive, let them know you are excited for this new challenge and willing to work just as hard if not harder. Don't sell yourself short on experience, you have work experience, so draw upon it when needed during interviews. Best of luck,

  9. On a resume, it is typically better to have formal training. Experience is still the most important, and an externship will help to provide this. PTCB certification if it is not already required is the third important item. The why for formal training is because for a pharmacy manager, it is likely that formal training will reduce the amount of on-the-job training needed for a pharmacy technician to become proficient. It also shows that someone has dedicated some time to the profession, which means they are more likely to take their work more seriously. For a manager, there are no guarantees, however, we can stack the deck in our favor.

  10. Rob,
    I have been reading so many blogs about the pharmacy techs and the schooling vs doing it on your own just by buying the books needed to study and pass the exam. As I have stated I start classes in the fall. I know at the end school or not we will take the same test. Which do you recommend and why?

  11. I take my state test for Ohio in two days. I was an electronic assembler for almost 30 years when I lost my job the end of jan, 2012. I decided I was burnt out in electronic. I was very good at my job, so much so that a company searched high and low for me when they found out I had lost my job! But I decided I wanted a change, complete change. What made me pick this field, I’m not sure. There have been my times through my path of study I asked myself that same question as I never had latin or chemestry in school. So I knew nothing when I started my training class, NOTHING! I did work in a clean room environment for the last two years and had to pay attention to detail as I did government work my whole 30 years. So this field seemed like a good fit for me, plus I like helping people directly or indirectly. I say all this to say that I am worried that as a new tech it will be hard to get someone totake a chance on me. Everybody wants experiance. How do I get my foot in the hospital door. Any suggestions. I have not had to sell myself in a long time. My rep has always proceeded me. Now I have no rep I have to prove myself again. Thanks for this websit and all the info found here.

  12. Hi Angie, the Level I to III career ladder is dependent on the hospital or retail pharmacy you work in. In my hospital, any technician can attain Level II, and the typical time frame is 6 months to a year. Level III is specific to positions (eg, automation specialist, narcotic specialist, database specialist). So Level III is not technically part of the ladder, it is a high level position that can be acquired if you are in the right place at the right time. For sterile compounding and specialty skills, on-the-job training is key. I want to put together some training around indigent drug recovery technicians and other specialized roles. The you could approach your pharmacy manager/director about taking on this role and possibly creating a higher level position for yourself. Of course, for now it is just pie in the sky. So for right now, go volunteer at a hospital to gain experience. It sounds crazy, but some hospitals will let you and you can focus on learning these tasks, and if you learn them well and fast, they may hire you.

  13. Thank you for the insight. I have been looking into all the jobs a pharmacy tech can do. I see that there are 3 levels…pharmacy tech…pharmacy tech ll, and pharm tech lll. Taking your advice to start working immediately and training in the hospital IV. and inpatient pharmacy. Is there special or additional training for compound and sterile or are they taught in clinicals and class room. Lastly, what are the time frames to climb the ladder to proceed to getting to a pharmacy tech lll.? As you can guess,, I am looking head. Thank you again.

  14. Hi Angie, I would begin working as soon as you are done. While in the community college program, see if you can do your internship then so that when you are done you can start working. Typically, pay is not increased for an associates, but you are more likely to land a job. For chemo tech, make sure you show you have good attention to detail, and seek out opportunity to work in the IV room. Since you are at a major hospital, see if you can do your internship at the inpatient pharmacy. Nuclear is a different animal. I would gain some sterile compounding experience, then find the nuclear pharmacies in your area. Ask them if you can intern to learn and see if nuclear would be a good fit. The hours are kind of odd, they typically come in in the middle of the night and finish by noon. Best of luck, Rob

  15. Hi Rob,
    I will be starting pharmacy tech classes in the fall at the local community college. My question to you is/// once I am certified, do you recommend working right away or continue with my education to get the Associates degree in pharmacy tech. Once completed, does having an higher education with internship and experience means better pay and position? I also am interested in chemo and nuclear tech jobs. I currently work in a major hospital now as a cardiac monitor tech.
    Your insight into this profession has been most welcomed…Thank You

  16. Probably not, but it depends on your state. On this site, go to the state page (linked at the top) and see what your state requires. Most states require you to at minimum fill out some paper work, while other s require national certification, and some formal training as well.

  17. Cann I work as a pharmacy technician by simply having my tma (trained medication administration)…just wondering…??

  18. Hi Jennifer, Sounds good. Let me know how you like Allied, I would like to add them to my recommendations if I can get some positive reviews. Best of luck, Rob

  19. I am actually going to take an online training program through Allied School’s Pharmacy Tech Training program. They are nationally accredited in 43 states and I can work at my own pace! They also offer low monthly payments that are interest free. The best part is that have a partnered contract with Walgreens for externships! Thank you very much for your help!

  20. Hi Jennifer, your current course for becoming a pharmacy technician is an option that I have recommended to many people. I do feel that formal training would provide people with an improved chance of landing a job, especially if the training comes with an externship. Having said that, it really depends on you, if you feel you have some contacts that can recommend you and you feel that you can wow people in an interview, then I do recommend taking the quickest route to becoming a registered pharmacy technician.

    It sounds like this is your best option based on your currernt situation, so run with it. Consider volunterring as I have recommended in a few articles, it is a good way to gain some experience and to show people what you are made of. One caveat, it is difficult to jump from retail to hospital. If you can, volunteer in a hospital once you are licensed. I rarely move techs back and forth. So, although it is possible to move over from retail, it is not easy. Best of luck, Rob

  21. Hello! I would like to thank you for the great website you have designed! I have quite a few concerns. I recently discovered that serving people and becoming a Certified Pharmacy Technician is something I am extremely passionate about pursuing! I live in Texas and have already done my research with the TX state board of pharmacy, which doesn’t require you to receive formal educational training in order to become nationally certified. I am looking to start working as a tech ASAP! Currently I am in the process of ordering the ASHP’s Pharmacy Certification Exam: Review and Practice Exam 3rd edition, so that I can prepare to take the PTCE. I know someone who works in a retail store pharmacy as a tech, and she didn’t go through school. She just bought material and studied and took her exam and passed. This is the route I originally planned to take also. Would you honestly recommend this? I would love to go through the program offered at my local community college, but can’t afford it and really didn’t want to wait an entire year. However, I would eventually like to move up into a hospital pharmacy. I figured retail pharmacy would help me get the experience I need to further my career. I want to be great at this job! I’d really appreciate your feedback, responses, and guidance on the direction I should go’

  22. Hi Anji, I am not sure why the pharmacy you are externing is not letting you do these other tasks. The phones I get, it is hard to answer the phones and know the right answer without being there for some time. The cashier/handing out meds may be a function of the cash register and needing a code. I would ask the pharmacist you work with next if you can learn these things so you are better prepared for work when you are done. Even if Walgreen's has a technical reason for why you cannot, you could at minimum be with the person doing it and potentially do part of the task. As for hospitals, I am biased (since I have spent most of my career in a hospital, but I have worked retail, long-term care, and home infusion), but I do like hospitals better. There is much more variety in what you can do and what you see. There is typically more room for advancement as well.

  23. I just started my externship at Walgreens, it's been one week so far and it seems like I just have to fill the prescriptions and re-stocking, I really want to answer the phone and actually give customers their medicine at the front but no one is telling me to do that, do you know why? I know I just started but can you tell me if it's better to work at a hospital like Kaiser? Will they accept students for extern? Should I just finish my externship at Walgreens and then apply for a job at Kaiser in the end? So far I love working at the pharmacy but can you tell me if that environment is for me?

  24. Here is a question by email that is worth sharing:

    Question: First of all I'd like to thank you for taking the time to put together such a wonderfully informative website! I enjoy hearing your perspective and advice. I'm a state board, and PTCB certified tech in a compounding pharmacy (for about a year now). My boss is sending me to get certified in sterile compounding. I plan on working in this pharmacy to another year or two, to have solid work history on my resume. I also plan on getting a two year pharmacy technology degree from my local college. My goal is to move to the higher ranks as a tech in a hospital pharmacy after I move on from my current job. I was wondering if you had any advice as to how to quickly climb the ladder?

    Answer: Great question. As a hospital pharmacy director I am always reviewing my technician staff's performance for those who I can count on to fill the roles of higher end positions. I look for staff committed to doing a good job and working hard. I look for staff that do not cause problems (no drama creation and gossip). I sometimes see technicians who are great at their job, but cause drama in the pharmacy, and I cannot have people causing drama in the pharmacy. I look for leadership traits, this can be done by leading by example and teaching new techs how to best take care of our patients. I look for staff who are efficient and do their job, then are willing to take on extra tasks or projects. These projects and tasks are how I gauge if they would be a good fit for a specialized higher paying role. At my pharmacy I have five techs that qualify for level 3 status (two even higher). All of these positions have max pay ranges over $20/hour. So I think you have a good plan, and I cannot promise your pharmacy director will think exactly as I do, but that is how I choose my specialized technicians. Best of luck, -Rob

  25. Excellent summary of the (growing) many varied types of pharmacy technician occupations available!