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The Inside FYI About a Pharmacy Technician (PhT) for a Career

Updated on November 22, 2010

Before you begin, consider....

Online forums are a superb look into the real world. The overall opinions seem to think that the best money is made working in hospitals and as a new graduate, get the certification. Getting your first job for many is hard due lack of experience and many pharmacies will not take volunteers because of drugs. If they do, the volunteer only does labeling or a simple facet. It will not replace real experience. It will not  look great on a resume. Many feel getting IV m chemo or Unit dose certified will enhance your prospects. Like all job markets, the field has many newbies and many have their license and certificate and even after six months, still have not found a job. Some do well in the internship and get hired once completed, many don’t. Many that have taken the cert exam state that at least 40% is math calcs, but there are 5-6 exams and some have stated it had little math on it. The passing score is 650. Others started in retail with low pay and remained just to get that year or two of experience and bolted to a hospital where they earned doubled their retail amount. Another item agreed upon seems to be that there are more PTs out there looking than there are jobs. Hospitals receive a lot of PT resumes etc. Another place PTs can work are medical insurance companies with formularies. The PhT in this position will approve\deny or recommend the drugs needing approval for coverage. Another common theme is that many retail drug companies will simply toss the PhT into the daily fray with little training and they expect the PhT to know it all. Suffice to say, many felt overwhelmed and after some time simply quit as they felt inadequate.

To sum up, best pay is in hospitals, get certified, the test can be loaded with calcs or very few, many HIPPA questions, common sense types, and many questions about drug categories. While the PT earns between $10-16 hr, the Pharmacist pockets around $60 hr. 

 Most retail pharmacies employ only a small crew, maybe, 1-3 pharmacists and 1-3 PTs, depending on the volume they do. Most of them are opened for 10-12 hrs a day. Hospitals tend to have more of both, especially, large hospitals like, Kaiser Permanente.  Many of their hospitals have three pharmacies and they usually have a separate entity for children. They usually employ more PTs because they have an  assembly line approach to filling prescriptions and the PTs do this, do the payment etc., then the pharmacist will conduct the end bit of going over the prescription etc. Many people usually wait for theirs to be filled. Wages vary by location. In the SF area, a PT with less than one year experience at Kaiser will earn $18-20 hr.

Kaiser and most others seem to call an entry level PhT one who has a least one year experience.  I have seen very few positions that call for only six months experience and most seem to want the CPhT exam passed. So, the problem for those just out of a school is the usual catch-22: how does one get the experience in order to be able to apply for the job. Volunteer for a year free? Get lucky? At best, even an internship of two months is still way below the minimum in terms of experience. A quick search of Kaiser yielded only a few “entry” PhT positions. So, one can see that while taking the CPhT exam is optional, many potential employers prefer it or your application will not be considered. Working in the retail end, say Walgreens, is much lower pay, they pay their average PT around $11-12 hr, with a high end of $16. Many of their entry positions and some of Sutter Hospitals require only a State license versus passing the CPhT exam. Walgreens will pay more, around $14-16 hr if you do have a CPhT, assuming you have some experience. The overall average wage in Calif is $16 hr.

The State of California currently requires the PhT to be licensed, certification is not mandatory, but optional. What this means is that once can go to school for PhT, obtain their certificate of completion from an accredited course\school and apply for a license. The fee is $80 with an additional $50 for fingerprints at an approved site. Once filed, the applicant should receive the license within 120 days. No test is required to be passed. Taking the PTCB exam ($120) is only taken if you wish to become certified, which basically enhances your ability as a new PhT with little experience to find and compete for a job. So, to be clear: obtaining a PT license in California does not require one to pass an exam.

There currently 22,600 CPhT in California. Texas has over 47,000. All other states have far, far less. For CPhT’s, they must recertify every two years and have 20 hrs of continuing education.

Below are the PhT requirements, any one satisfies the prerequisite:

1. An Associate degree in pharmacy technology

2. Completion of a training course accredited by the American Society of Health-System

Pharmacists (ASHP);

3. Any other course that provides a minimum of 240 hours instruction as specified in

section 1793.6 (c) of Title 16 of the California Code of Regulations. This includes an 80 hr. internship at a retail\hospital.

 4. Graduation from a school of pharmacy accredited by the American Council on

Pharmaceutical Education

Most PTs take the #3 route, since most have only an HS education when they start. Many PT schools have their courses split into a basic and advance PhT. The difference is focus. The basic course focus is on retail pharmacy, i.e., Walgreens, Rite-Aid etc. While the advanced course focus is on hospitals and handling compounding, sterile applications etc. They often require many more hours of internship in order to graduate from the course (it is not a State requirement).

If you have previous experience in customer service, know medical terminology to some degree, know the most common pharm calcs, have good communication skills and attention to detail, you have the basic needs. Most PhTs, when the begin, will be little more than educated helpers until they prove themselves and learn how their pharmacy operates etc. Dealing with the public, looking up med history, working the cash register will be common. Many entering the field as a 2nd career may become disillusioned as they find out about the low wages and what a PhT actually does most of the time, but then again, maybe it is fine with their needs.


  • Assist pharmacist in labeling and filling prescriptions ;
  • Assist patients in dropping off and picking up prescriptions ;
  • Entering prescriptions into the computer;
  • Verify that customer receives correct prescription(s);
  • Compound oral solutions, ointments, and creams (most unlikely);
  • Scheduling and maintaining workflow;
  • Prepackage bulk medications;
  • Screen calls for pharmacists;
  • Medication ordering;
  • Work with insurance carriers to obtain payments and refilling authority;
  • Prepare medication inventories;
  • Prepare chemotherapeutic agents (most unlikely);
  • Compound total parenteral nutrition solution (most unlikely);
  • Compound large-volumes of intravenous mixtures (most unlikely);
  • Assisting in outpatient dispensing;
  • Assisting inpatient dispensing;
  • Preparing IV mixtures (most unlikely);
  • Purchasing and billing;


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