Earning an associate’s degree to become a pharmacy technician can lead to a broad range of career opportunities, whether you’re entering the workforce for the first time or considering a career change.
“One of the best things about being a pharmacy technician is that you have so many career paths to chose from,” said Uyen Thorstensen, a pharmacy technician at the University of Washington Medical Center and a member of the American Association of Pharmacy Technicians.
Pharmacy technicians assist licensed pharmacists by preparing and dispensing medications to patients or health care professionals. The profession calls for a combination of technical, interpersonal, creative problem solving and critical thinking skills.
“Most of all, I like that I can help people,” said Thorstensen, who has worked in retail, hospital and long-term health care settings for nearly two decades.
A career as a pharmacy technician offers many different benefits.
Graduates with an associate’s degree focusing on the pharmacy technician profession have the flexibility to immediately enter the job market. Some pharmacy technicians decide to pursue a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy or other health care profession at a four-year college. They can earn a bachelor’s degree as a full-time student, or while working as a pharmacy technician.
Experts expect the need for pharmacy technicians will grow given the increased demand for prescription medications from the nation’s burgeoning aging population. Employment opportunities for pharmacy technicians are expected to grow 20 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the national average for other occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Pursuing a profession as a pharmacy technician is ideal for students who are unsure if they want to commit to a health care career that requires more advanced or rigorous training. “They can work as a pharmacy technician while they decide what they want to do,” she said. “Some remain in the field while others go on to become pharmacists, nurses or other health care professionals.”
Working as a pharmacy technician also appeals to working professionals who are considering a career change, she said. They may no longer welcome the physical demands of being a nurse, or their current profession faces an uncertain future given changes in the labor market.
Diverse workplace settings
Pharmacy technicians work in a variety of settings, so people can choose the environment that best suits their personality, desired work schedule and career goals. They work in community pharmacies, national retail pharmacies, long-term care facilities, hospitals, pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors, compounding pharmacies (where medicines are assembled on a large-scale) and mail order pharmacies.
“Pharmacy technicians who work in retail have a lot of personal interaction with patients,” said Thorstensen. “Those who work in clinical settings interact with prescribing doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other pharmacy technicians.”
“As a pharmacy technician, you’re constantly learning,” said Thorstensen. Pharmacy technicians must stay up-to-date with new medications that enter the market and changing government regulations about the use of certain drugs.
The profession calls for critical thinking skills to spot potential hazards when preparing and dispensing medications. “Being able to think on your feet and intervene if there’s a problem with a prescription is important,” she said. “It’s a very rewarding profession.”
Like many who enter the health care industry, pharmacy technicians often chose the profession because they enjoy helping and interacting with people. Those who work at retail and community pharmacies, for example, come into contact with a variety of patients who may be feeling stressed because they are ill or in pain. Pharmacy technicians can relieve some of this stress by educating patients about the proper use of their medications, answering questions about potential side effects, or demonstrating compassion. Something as simple as a smile or a willingness to listen can make a difference for a sick patient.