How Long Does It Take to Become a Pharmacy Technician?

Posted on 05.31.2024

Pharmacy technicians play an important role in the healthcare world. But how long does it take to become one?

There are several factors that contribute to how long it takes to become a pharm tech. These include education, certification, and training. In this helpful guide, we’ll outline each of these factors and give you all the info you need about becoming a pharmacy technician!

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How long does it take to become a pharmacy technician?

Pharmacy technician programs vary from several months to multiple years. CareerStep’s online Pharmacy Technician Certification Program is self-paced and can be completed in as little as four months.

What does a pharm tech do?

  • Pharm techs assist pharmacists with several daily tasks, including:
  • Entering data
  • Measuring out and packaging medications
  • Processing payment information
  • Accurately placing correct labels on medication
  • Answering phone calls
  • Taking inventory of the pharmacy’s supplies
  • Providing high quality customer service

Read more: A Day in the Life of a Pharmacy Technician

What kind of education is required to become a pharmacy tech?

At minimum, you must have a high school diploma or GED to become a pharmacy technician. It’s possible to become a pharm tech without any specific pharmacy education, but having a pharm tech training program under your belt and real experience in the field can set you apart, especially a program that prepares you for the certification exam. This prolongs the timeframe to become a pharm tech, but having the right education can not only help you get the job but also impact your salary, as certified pharmacy technicians often make more than those without certification.

Read more: Can You Become a Pharmacy Tech Without Going to School?

High school diploma or equivalent (basic requirement)

If you want to get started immediately, all you need is a high school diploma or GED. It can, however, take longer to find a job without pharm tech credentials and you’ll have to spend time getting on the job training.

Some states may also have education and licensing/certification requirements for working as a pharmacy technician. Make sure to check with your state board of pharmacy to see if you need any credentials or prior training before getting hired as a pharm tech.

Postsecondary education and certification options

Training as a pharmacy technician could help you stand out when applying for jobs. But, you don’t necessarily have to go to school in-person or full-time to get this training. If you’re busy or want a more flexible option, you can also enroll in a pharmacy technician training program at an online institution. Most of these programs will prepare you for certification exams.

It’s important to check out your state requirements when it comes to certification so you are seeking out the right education and certification to work in the field. For example, national certification is not required in the state of Pennsylvania, but in the state of California the PTCB certification is a requirement.

Read more: How CareerStep Can Help You Get Hired

Online vs in-person training for pharmacy technician programs: time comparison and flexibility

When it comes time to choose how you want to do your training, you want to consider what way will work best for your situation. If you need more flexibility in your program, online may be your best bet. For those who want to be as hands-on as possible, in-person may work better.

If you want both flexibility and hands-on experience, many online pharmacy technician programs have externships that allow you to learn on-site and get invaluable experience that will look great on a resume. Many online programs are self-paced as well, meaning you could finish quicker than in an in-person degree program, which could take about two years to complete.

Read more: 10 Facts You Need to Get Straight About a Pharmacy Technician Career [& How to Get Started]

Certification requirements to become a pharmacy technician

Certification requirements for pharmacy technicians vary by state. Some states may require certification, licensing, or registration before you’re allowed to work in the field, while others have no requirements at all. Even in states without certification requirements, becoming certified can help you stand out when applying for jobs and potentially gain you a higher starting wage! You can either take the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE) or the Exam for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ExCPT) to earn your certification. Some training programs prepare you for these exams and even cover the cost!

Overview of certification processes

The PTCE is through the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) and the ExCPT is through the National Healthcareer Association (NHA). It’s important to check the eligibility requirements before applying to take a certification exam.

Timeframe for preparing and passing the certification exams

In addition to having your high school diploma or GED, to be eligible to take the PTCE, you must either

  • Complete a PTCB-Recognized Education/Training program
  • Complete a minimum of 500 hours equivalent work experience

Similarly, to be eligible to take the ExCPT you must have your diploma or equivalent as well as

  • Complete a pharmacy technician training or education program
  • Complete one year of supervised work experience in the field with a minimum of 1,200 hours

For both of these certification exams, there are practice tests you can purchase and take to help you prepare and ultimately pass.

State-specific requirements and how they affect the timeline.

Each state has their own requirements and often licensure, so depending on the state’s requirements you could be waiting even longer for the green light to start practicing as a pharm tech. You can search your state’s requirements to see how long these steps will set you back.

Hands-on training and internships

Like most things, you can study and mentally prepare until your brain hurts, but nothing gets you ready to do a job like actually doing it. For those who are starting their pharm tech career only equipped with a high school diploma or GED, you will likely learn everything you know with on-the-job training under the supervision of a pharmacist.

If you decide to enroll in a training program or get a degree, you’ll likely do some type of externship in order to gain skill hours and get some hands-on learning and experience under your belt. This is a great way to build some strong working relationships with pharmacies, which can help you gain mentors, references, and potentially jobs.

Read more: How to Cultivate a Career Network

Importance of practical experience

Mistakes in the healthcare field can be more serious than those in a field with less stakes, so having real world experience is vital to ensure you know what you’re doing. You’ll gain the skills you’ll need to adequately do the job during your clinical externship or on the job training.

Typical duration of internships or on-the-job training

In general, if you’re enrolled in an ASHP-accredited pharmacy technician training program, you’ll be expected to complete a clinical experience portion at a pharmacy near you to gain hands-on training.

For those who decide not to go through a training program, you’ll likely get experience through on-the-job training once you’ve secured a position at a pharmacy. The timeframe can vary, but depending on the certification you need you’ll be required to do a minimum amount of work experience hours if you opt not to go the training program route.

Balancing training with other commitments

Not everyone has the luxury of going to school full-time, so if you are someone who needs to balance training with other commitments, a self-paced training program may be best. These types of programs provide flexibility to devote the time you need to all of your responsibilities.

Factors affecting how long it takes to become a pharmacy technician

In addition to everything we’ve covered already, there are other factors in life that can impact how long it takes to become a pharmacy technician.

Full-time vs. part-time study

If you’re able to study full-time in your training program, you’ll be able to get certified and become a pharmacy technician pretty quickly. This is not feasible for everyone, however, so for anyone who is doing their training or studying part time, it could take longer.

Read more: 3 Reasons Alternative Education Is Here to Stay

Balancing work, family, and education

Many people have responsibilities in their lives other than school that can delay completing their education. If you’re an adult learner who has a job and a family, you aren’t able to dedicate as much time to your studies, and there’s nothing wrong with that! Everyone has their own timeline, and it’s important to take the time you need to do it right.

Learning pace and academic support

Everyone learns at a different pace, and not everyone will pass every exam the first time around. What’s important is not giving up in the face of obstacles. Many training programs have academic support you can reach out to if you find yourself struggling. Taking the time you need to learn and asking for help can be vital parts of reaching your goals.

Choose the pharm tech path that’s right for you

With all the different options out there, find the one that works best for your circumstances. CareerStep’s Pharmacy Technician Program can take a minimum of 4 months to complete training, so if you’re looking to fast-track your way to practicing as a pharm tech, consider enrolling today!