Pharmacy technicians take on many different roles and they vary with different types of employers and with the technician’s own aptitudes, interests and skills.
In a retail pharmacy, the technician will assist the pharmacist in most aspects of running the pharmacy and serving the customers, including helping to manage business operations. The technician may handle inventory, insurance billing, communication with customer’s doctors, and perform data-entry and other computer tasks. They will also advise customers on drug usage, prepare medications, count and label medications, and more. In some cases the technician may manage and maintain high-tech equipment, and prepare compound pharmaceutical formulations.
In a hospital, long-term-care facility or other healthcare facility, the technician’s role will often include many of the above functions, plus more advanced medical responsibilities such as reviewing patient charts to ensure correct dosages and to look out for potential drug interactions or adverse effects. In a healthcare facility environment, pharmacy technicians may also prepare medications and transport them to nurses or directly to clinical settings. If qualified, they may also prepare nuclear medicine pharmaceuticals, chemotherapy formulations and IV antibiotics.
The Expanding Role of the Pharmacy Technician
The role of the pharmacy technician has been expanding for many years. This is largely because of the increasing formalization of the training and credentialing process. A couple of decades ago, most pharmacy technicians were not so defined by education, but de-facto, through on-the-job training, (described here). In these cases, their expertise was often limited to one or a few tasks that their employer needed at the time.
During this period, pharmacy technicians were not generally known of, either. Many employers who could have benefitted from the contributions of a pharmacy technician just never thought of the idea, or realized that other companies were training their own pharmacy technicians and successfully turning over functions of their operations to them.
But things are different now. With the advent of certification standards, formal educational requirements, competency exams, and state board of pharmacy registrations, a widespread awareness of pharmacy technician and recognition of the value they bring has arisen.
At the same time, both employers and education programs have continued to expand the roles and responsibilities that can be trusted to pharmacy technicians. As a consequence of these trends, the societal role of the pharmacy technician continues to grow, and the daily work life of the pharmacy technician grows ever more varied and interesting.
What Basic Competencies are Expected of Pharmacy Technicians Now?
Pharmacy technicians can advance their skills to include many new areas of professional function, and these will only continue to grow – more details, even though for Canada (but also relevant for the US) – on NAPRA. For example, specialized pharmacy technicians now play crucial roles in pharmaceutical research, and are trusted with management of nuclear medicines and other sensitive materials. They also often take on management responsibilities, and can become sales professionals, representing pharmaceutical firms to physicians and other healthcare professionals.
But even just looking at the fundamental expertise that most pharmaceutical technicians now have, you can get an idea of how much their role has expanded. For example, to be certified as having fundamental competency as a pharmacy technician, candidates are tested in all of the following areas: prescription dispensation, assessing accuracy and validity of prescriptions, performance of pharmaceutical calculations, maintaining medication inventory systems, pharmacy operations, pharmaceutical legal issues, and computerized management systems.