Weighing pharmacy technician job prospects in Pennsylvania and beyond

PIT PT JobProspectsInPABy Jennifer Nelson

There are idealistic reasons for entering the healthcare profession, particularly in Pennsylvania: A desire to help people’s lives, a purposeful and fulfilling wish to educate patients on medication safety, and to make a difference for those in your community.

But there are also practical reasons. Pennsylvania and neighboring states in the Middle Atlantic part of the U.S. need healthcare professionals, including pharmacy technicians and other support healthcare workers. Pennsylvania’s aging population has spurred increasing demand for healthcare services.

According to data compiled by the online publication TheStreet, Pennsylvania has the sixth oldest population in the country. More than 16 percent of the state’s residents are 65 or older, and the median age is above 40.  TheStreet based its totals largely on information collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. By contrast, only 12.5 percent of residents in California, which has the sixth youngest population, are older than 65.

The number is growing, too. “The 65 and over age group is expected to increase by 29.2 percent,” said Mark Ryan, Deputy Director of the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO), which provides revenue projections for use in the state budget process. “The large increase implies significant growth for general healthcare programs and long term care services covered under Medical Assistance.”

This older population is also spending a larger percentage of their income on healthcare and prescriptions.

A recent job search on the employment website Indeed.com generated more than 1,000 job openings for pharmacy technicians in Pennsylvania. They included postings from Temple University’s Health System in Philadelphia, a long-term care facility in Northampton, Hershey and Pittsburgh.

The number of opportunities is likely to increase over the next decade. Openings for pharmacy tech positions will grow by more than 20 percent (faster than average) through 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (There are currently more than 335,000 pharmacy tech job openings nationwide).


The need for healthcare support professionals

The need for healthcare support occupations like pharmacy technicians has risen as more families and healthcare organizations look for efficient, less costly ways to treat aging relatives, according to the Pennsylvania’s Economic & Budget Report for Fiscal Years 2013-14 through 2018-19. The Affordable Care Act is likely to place an even greater focus on managing healthcare costs.

Technicians can perform many of the same tasks as pharmacists at a lower salary.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the pharmacy technician earns a median income of $29,320 annually or $14.10 per hour. A full-fledged pharmacist can earn more than $100,000 in the Pittsburgh area, according to Salary.com, a respected source on compensation. Salary.com analyzes larges volumes of data to calculate compensation ranges for different jobs.

Most technicians are working in retail.

The U.S. Department of Labor reports that 73 percent of pharmacy technicians work in chain pharmacies, community drug and grocery stores, 18 percent work in hospitals and 9 percent work in other facilities like outpatient clinics and for mail order pharmacy companies.


Becoming a pharmacy technician

Pharmacy technicians work with pharmacists to help count, dose and package medication. They may also inventory and order drugs from manufacturers, as well as maintain patient medication histories. Job duties may vary slightly within particular pharmacies. Compounding medications may also be part of the pharmacy technician duties.

The two-year degree certification program at PIT covers these skills and others. PIT graduates move on to jobs with leading pharmacy retailers, healthcare providers, long-term care facilities and pharmaceutical companies. They also frequently find jobs at mom-and-pop drug stores, which can play a central role in communities.

Pennsylvania pharmacy techs may become nationally certified and must maintain that certification with 20 units of continuing education (CE) every two years according to the Pennsylvania Board of Pharmacy. However, no licensure is required for pharmacy technicians.