How to Become a Pharmacy Technician - Education & Certification Guide

In recent years, the demand for healthcare services has skyrocketed. The Baby Boomer generation’s increased need for medical attention and the expansion of health insurance coverage to millions of people, thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), has created a massive demand for healthcare occupations, including pharmacy technicians. In fact, in 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that healthcare occupations are among the fastest-growing sectors in the economy at 16 percent overall. As part of this ballooning market, openings for pharmacy technicians are also expected to grow 4 percent between 2020 and 2030, which is somewhat slower than the national average (8 percent).

Still, due to increased workloads brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic and pharmaceutical regulations, pharmaceutical technicians (also known as “pharmacy techs”) will likely be in high demand in the coming years.

Before the pandemic, one of the biggest public health crises in the United States was the abuse of prescription opioids. A problem that has plagued the United States for more than 20 years, opioid addiction is still running rampant. In a 2019 report, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that over 70 percent of the 71,000 drug overdose deaths involved an opioid. Furthermore, the total spending on pharmaceutical drugs increases every year, with Americans spending $539 billion on medicines in 2020.

In short, with the pharmaceutical industry poised for continued growth and multiple public health crises raging, qualified pharmacy technicians will likely be needed for tasks such as prescription refills and Covid-19 nasal swab tests.

So what do pharmacy technicians do? The BLS states that these professionals perform a variety of functions under licensed pharmacists, such as measuring medications; labeling and packaging prescriptions; acting as liaisons between customers and healthcare workers; delivering medicine to patients, nursing stations, or surgical rooms; managing and organizing pharmaceutical inventories; and accepting payment for medications. Many of the duties are learned on the job, and these technicians may work in drugstores, grocery stores, nursing homes, hospitals, or other medical settings. Since some pharmacies are open 24 hours per day, some of these professionals work nights and weekends, although, with increased seniority, they may have more control over their schedules.

In May 2020, the BLS showed that 415,310 pharmacy technicians across the country made average annual salaries of $36,450. Although regulations for this profession are constantly evolving, pharmacy technicians generally have at least a high school diploma. According to O*NET—a partner of the US government’s American Job Center—36 percent of working pharmacy technicians have a high school education as their highest completed degree, and 42 percent held postsecondary certificates.

That said, it may be advisable to pursue post-secondary education in this field. The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) offers its certification exam to candidates who have completed a PTCB-recognized education or training program or have equivalent work experience.

Read on to discover how to become a pharmacy technician and what to know about professional certification and program accreditation.

Steps to Become a Pharmacy Technician

Although paths in this field may vary, here is one possible path to becoming a certified pharmacy technician:

Step one: Earn a high school diploma or the equivalent (four years).

Successful pharmacy technicians typically have strong mathematics, chemistry, biology, and physiology backgrounds. At this stage, some students may choose to volunteer at a hospital or in another healthcare setting to get exposure in the field and strengthen their interpersonal skills.

Step two: Graduate from an accredited pharmacy technician training program (approximately one year).

Pharmaceutical technicians seeking certification through the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) need to have graduated from an ASHP/ACPE-accredited training program. Recently, the ASHP and ACPE jointly formed the Pharmacy Technician Accreditation Commission (PTAC). ASHP developed a model curriculum in this discipline comprising units in client-facing skills and professional role awareness, among others.

Pima Medical Institute is an example of an ASHP-accredited program with campuses in several states and offers a pharmacy technician program. This 35.5-credit program is offered on-campus and via hybrid methods and specializes in pharmacology, pharmacy math, and chemistry fundamentals. This program prepares its graduates for the National Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (CPhT) administered by the PTCB.

Prospective students should call the campus to confirm they can attend and fulfill academic and professional requirements due to state authorization limitations, which involve rules prohibiting some students from attending online schools in states where they do not reside.

  • Location: multiple campuses in the United States
  • Duration: Nine months
  • Accreditation: American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP)
  • Tuition: N/A

Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, offers the only accredited hospital-based pharmacy technician program in the United States. Students in this program have 20 weeks to complete ten online courses modules and learn through 300 hours of in-person experience at the Cleveland Clinic Main Campus. The Ohio State Board approves this program of Career Colleges and Schools.

To apply, students must complete an application, show a copy of their high school diploma, complete a phone and on-site interview, earn passing scores in math and reading, and pass a background check.

  • Location: Cleveland, OH
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: American Society of Health-System Pharmacists and the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education
  • Tuition: $2,500

Remington College has campuses across southern states and has a pharmacy technician diploma program. The program emphasizes teaching students about drug interactions, medical abbreviations, and patient care. Courses include first aid, career development, computers, and pharmacy law and ethics. In addition to didactic lectures, students apply their learning in simulated pharmacy environments. Graduates from this program pursue careers in retail pharmacies, hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities.

  • Location: multiple campuses in southern states
  • Duration: N/A
  • Accreditation: American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP)
  • Tuition: $15,601 per year

Please visit our page on pharmacy technician schools for other programs—including online pharmacy technician training options.

Step three: Get certified by national and regional certification bodies (timeline varies).

Although not all states require pharmacy technicians to be certified, many employers prefer it. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) has a list of contact information for each state’s board to verify whether or not pharmacy techs must be certified.

There are two central national certification bodies for this profession: the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) and the National Healthcareer Association (NHA). All 50 states accept the PTCB certification, and the NHA certification is nationally acknowledged. Both types of certifications require the candidate to have a high school diploma and successfully pass an exam.

In addition to becoming a certified pharmacy technician (CPhT), some candidates choose to further enhance their credentials with other certifications in areas such as certified compounded sterile preparation technician (CSPT).

Step four: Maintain active certification (every two years).

Certifications from PTCB and NHA must be renewed every two years. In addition, PTCB requires completing 20 continuing education (CE) hours, and NHA requires 10 continuing education units.

Please reference the section below for more information on professional certification.

Pharmacy Technician Certification

The two main bodies which provide national certification are the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) and the National Healthcareer Association (NHA).

The rules surrounding the certification, registration, or licensure of pharmacy techs vary by state. The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB)—one of the two national certification bodies—reports that 46 states currently regulate people in this profession, and 23 states and territories require PTCB certification specifically. Students can retrieve regional rules by contacting the specific Board of Pharmacy, a list provided by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP).

The first certification organization—the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB), offers the CPhT credential and requires candidates to have completed a pharmacy tech program accredited by the Pharmacy Technician Accreditation Commission (PTAC). The PTCB’s Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE) is a two-hour, computer-based test comprising 90 questions in nine areas such as pharmacology for technicians; pharmacy laws & regulations; medication safety; and medication order entry; and fill process. In addition, pharmacy technicians certified by PTCB must renew every two years after completing 20 continued education (CE) hours.

The second certification organization—the National Healthcareer Association (NHA), offers the ExCPT exam to earn a CPhT credential. Candidates who either have at least 1,200 hours of supervised pharmacy experience or have completed a pharmacy technician education program within the past five years can sit for this exam. The 100-question exam tests similar areas as the PTCE. Pharmacy technicians certified by NHA must renew every two years following the completion of 10 CE hours.

Finally, the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) reports that CE hours are “a structured educational activity designed or intended to support the continuing development of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to maintain and enhance their competence.” Organizations that offer CE opportunities include:

  • American Association of Pharmacy Technicians
  • American Pharmacists Association
  • National Pharmacy Technician Association
  • PharmacyTechCE

Pharmacy Tech Program Accreditation

Before enrolling in pharmacy technician training, students are encouraged to verify a program’s program’s program’s accreditation status. Accreditation can serve as an indicator of program quality as administrators review the curricula, methods, and outcomes of programs.

To be eligible for certification, the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board requires candidates to have completed an education program accredited by the Pharmacy Technician Accreditation Commission (PTAC)—a joint effort between the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) and the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE).

Overall, standards regulating pharmacy technicians have been moving toward increased oversight through professional certification and program accreditation. Therefore, people interested in this profession are urged to check the latest regulations posited by state and national organizations in this field before applying and enrolling in their school of choice.

Jocelyn Blore
Jocelyn Blore Managing Editor

After graduating from UC Berkeley, Jocelyn traveled the world for five years as freelance writer and English teacher. After stints in Japan, Brazil, Nepal, and Argentina, she took an 11-month road trip across the US, finally settling into lovely Eugene, OR. When Jocelyn isn’t writing about college programs or interviewing professors, she satirizes global politics and other absurdities at Blore’s Razor (Instagram: @bloresrazor). Thank you for being interested.