Numbers updated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics at the end of March 2012 indicate that more than 334,000 pharmacy technician jobs exist in the United States. The agency further noted that employment of pharmacy techs could be expected to grow "much faster than average" through 2020.
The existing and increasing need for trained pharmacy paraprofessionals is well-established. What remains slightly unclear, even among pharmacists and technicians themselves, is how to best deploy the manpower and skills pharmacy technicians bring to the health care facilities where they work.
Perhaps the best way to arrive at answers to those questions is for pharmacy technicians to ensure they have the highest, most-up-to-date and indispensable skills for preparing prescription orders, working with patients, dealing with pharmacists and other health care providers and understanding how prescription and over-the-counter medications work.
Without a qualifying "perhaps," the best way for a technician to signal that he or she possesses the most in-demand professional and patient care abilities and attributes is to qualify as a certified pharmacy technician, or CPhT.
Why to Earn the CPhT
Some employers and states require the CPhT. Even where that it is not the case, earning the certification is often encouraged and expected. For instance, Army, Navy, Air Force and U.S. Public Health Service pharmacy technicians almost always become certified in the course of their training to provide health care services far beyond filling prescriptions and processing insurance claims. Likewise, it is not unusual to see all the techs in a hospital, long-term care or specialty pharmacy that does a good deal of compounding holding CPhT certifications.
The CPhT is not the only certification available to pharmacy technicians, but it is the most respected. According the BLS, "certification may make it easier to get a job."
CPhT Application and Requirements
The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board administers the CPhT program across the United States. The board's Certification Guidelines and Requirements: A Candidate Guidebook was most recently updated on Aug. 30, 2012.
This outline distills the guidebook's instructions for what pharmacy technicians need to do to become certified:
- Complete an online application that asks for proof of at least a high school diploma or GED and disclosure of any criminal convictions.
- Pay a test fee ($129 during 2012).
- Schedule a test date and time at a Pearson VUE center; the test is administered by appointment year-round.
- Score at least a 650 out of 900 on a computer-based exam that assesses a candidate's ability to assist the pharmacist in serving patients, maintain medication and inventory control systems and participate in the administration and management of the pharmacy.
- Recertify every two years after first earning the CPhT.
- Complete 20 hours of continuing pharmacy education while certified. At least one hour of CE must be in pharmacy law.
The PTCB details the knowledge, skills and abilities assessed by the certification exam on its website.
A Note on CE for Pharmacy Technicians
A good place to begin looking online for CPhT-specific continuing education modules is the National Pharmacy Technician Association website. Generally, any CE program or article that meets Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education standards for pharmacists can also be completed by technicians. The most important thing is to check for the ACPE logo and seal of approval. Unaccredited CE almost never gets accepted by certification and licensing boards.
Besides the NPTA, nearly every professional pharmacy association offers ACPE-accredited CE. Click the Associations link in the Suggested Reading list to begin identifying the groups that can best meet your needs for ongoing pharmacy education and training.