A Decade of Pharmacy Tech: Hear From a Professional

The Why

Denson didn’t grow up wanting to be a pharmacy technician or even a pharmacist. He’s interested in chemical engineering but knew the road to that destination would be long. So, he decided to pursue a trade that was somewhat related to his interests, that wasn’t expensive to obtain, that could be completed in a short time frame, and that was growing in his area. His research led him to a go-at-your-own-pace pharmacy tech program at his local community college.

“I essentially went with pharmacy tech because I thought that it would be relatively close to what I wanted, I already had some chemistry knowledge, and it had some basic math concepts, even though it’s nowhere near what I would want to do as an engineer. But you know, I thought I would enjoy it and it would pay for college.”

The Education

Denson is an eager student when he’s interested in the topic, and his pharmacy tech program was no exception. He finished the 12-month program in only four months and only spent around $1,400 for the whole thing.

“You can become a pharmacy tech through a local program, or I guess you can go to university for it. I have friends who have spent tens of thousands of dollars to get their license through a university program. However, it’s not necessary.”

Getting certified is more than just a one-and-done kind of event, though. In many industries, and especially the healthcare field, certifications must be renewed often.

“Each state is different,” says Denson. “The state of Utah requires that you renew your license every two years and it’s always on the odd years. So it doesn’t matter when you start, you have to renew in September of the odd years. So this year is 2023 and we just renewed our licenses.”

Renewing your license typically means completing your state’s required number of CE credits, or Concurrent Enrollment hours. You’ll need to look into the kinds of CEs you need, because, as a pharmacy tech, you need a certain number of CE hours in patient safety and a certain number in pharmacy law. The rest could range from new drug regimes to billing and reimbursement.

The Growth

Though probably unknown to most patients, there’s an invisible pharmacy tech career ladder that allows techs to advance from a level I tech to a level III tech.

  • A Tech I is straight out of their pharmacy tech program and typically spends at least six months performing the basic tasks associated with filling and dispensing medications. While every pharmacy has its own procedures and preferences, it’s generally true that in addition to the basic tasks of filling and dispensing medications, a Tech I must also receive training in a special responsibility. These responsibilities could include maintaining inventory, performing clinical follow-up, or auditing claims, to name a few. Once the Tech I can perform that specialized task without supervision, then they can apply to become a Tech II.
  • A Tech II can do everything that a Tech I can, and has proved that they are competent enough to join a specialized team. They will continue to learn more tasks that pertain to that team. Once they feel they know enough about a specialized area and would feel confident leading that specialized team, they can apply to head up that team, which is the gateway to becoming a Tech III.
  • A Tech III does everything that a Tech I and II can do, but they have enough experience at this point to be able to head up a specialized team and have a working knowledge of the other specialized areas. A Tech III should be confident in their abilities without supervision in nearly every logistical aspect of their pharmacy. This also means they’re often the go-to tech for their coworkers when they come across unfamiliar situations.
  • There are not many Tech IVs because it’s a position typically created when a pharmacy needs help with IV meds, chemo, or sometimes home administration, such as going to someone’s home and changing out their IV bag. A Tech IV would typically require training and higher proficiencies with IVs and chemo drugs. These techs are typically found in clinics and pharmacies that are located within hospitals.

The Necessary Attributes

After years of working in the industry, Denson knows what makes an efficient tech versus an inefficient one. There are certain attributes that you need to have to be successful as a pharmacy technician.

  • Awareness and Empathy. “Honestly there are times when you feel threatened by someone,” says Denson, “I have had to call security on patients.” Though being threatening isn’t always the patient’s intention, there are a lot of emotions that come up when it comes to life-saving medicines and their availability or cost. A pharmacy tech’s ability to empathize with a patient and be cognitively aware of “the patient’s tone of voice, understanding how they’re feeling, and how and what they’re going through,” says Denson, is extremely important.
  • Intuition and a willingness to help. “A lot of patients don’t know the magic words or questions that they need to ask to help themselves out, and having a technician that can kind of pick up on subtle clues like that is very useful,” says Denson. “An example is if I had a patient come up and we were discussing price and there was something in their voice that told me that maybe it was a little too high. I might ask if their insurance typically pays more for it, or if this was a new medication that they’ve never paid for before. I could look at the medication and see if insurance was properly applied. Or instead of insurance, it could be a coupon card which would be as effective, right? So I need technicians who are good at reading between the lines.”
  • Confidence to ask questions. There are many unique situations that come up in a pharmacy setting, and technicians who can apply their knowledge to real-life situations, or have the confidence to ask a question that they don’t know the answer to, are really valuable. “If something feels off, just ask another technician who is more experienced and you’ll probably be right,” says Denson. “There’s probably some piece in the back of your head saying, ‘This seems like a common medication, and yet we have none of it and it doesn’t make sense.’ I need technicians to ask questions. Why is this particular formulation out of stock and on backorder? Well, it’s because it never gets sold in that form. But if you switch it to this form then we have plenty of it.”