Best Online Pharmacy Technician Programs: A 2023 Guide to Online Certifications

Best Online Pharmacy Technician Programs: A 2023 Guide to Online Certifications
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

In March 2020, the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin and the National Association of Chain Drugstores (NACDS) in the United States ratified a new set of rules that will allow pharmacists to counsel patients on their medications, provide vaccinations, screen for illnesses, and manage chronic conditions (NACDS, 2020). With the expanding role of pharmacists comes the increased demand for pharmacy technicians. An online pharmacy technician program offers one- and two-year training programs that are capped by a national certification exam, making each completer qualified to land an entry-level job and grow a career in the field of healthcare.

In health and professional care environments, pharmacists work closely with pharmacy technicians, with the former supervising work processes, such as compounding, measuring, and dispensing medication. Pharmacy technicians also assist pharmacists in performing administrative work like inventory management, record-keeping, and also in filing insurance claims.

While most pharmacy technicians work at health and professional care stores, they are also employed by hospitals, nursing homes, and mental health facilities. The annual median salary of pharmacy technicians is $33,950, with the top 10% of professionals earning higher annual median salaries at $49,130 (BLS, 2021).

Based on Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projections, jobs for healthcare professionals are expected to grow by 15% from 2019-2029, which is equivalent to roughly 2.4 million new jobs. For pharmacy technicians, the growth projection is 4%. Post-pandemic, the industry sees higher demand for pharmacy technicians due to the rising need for healthcare professionals, as well as the evolving role of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians in providing critical care.

This article provides a guide for choosing the best online pharmacy technician programs that prepare the student for a career towards getting certified as a pharmacy technician. The differences between online and traditional pharmacy technician training programs will be discussed, the program cost, the requirements for admission, as well as a list of sample courses. Also included are the important factors that you have to consider in choosing an online pharmacy technician training program.

Best Online Pharmacy Technician Programs Table of Contents

  1. Can you get a degree completely online?
  2. Will employers take my online degree seriously?
  3. Are online degrees recognized all over the world?
  4. Online vs. Traditional Pharmacy Technician Programs
  5. How much does an online Pharmacy Technician Program cost?
  6. What are the requirements of an online Pharmacy Technician Program?
  7. Courses to Expect in Online Pharmacy Technician Programs
  8. Things to Look for in an Online Pharmacy Technician Programs

Can you get a degree completely online?

Fully online degree programs are available for pharmacy technician training. The internship that is required to complete the program, however, is an onsite training that is usually supervised by pharmacists. There are three types of online pharmacy technician training programs—Diploma, Certificate Program, and Associate Degree.

Diploma. The diploma program is skills-focused and tends to require less time, compared to certificate and associate degree programs. A diploma program provides entry-level training to students and is the quickest path to land an entry-level job. Earning a diploma program also sets the student to pursue higher levels of education to advance in the profession, including preparation for taking the national exams.

Certificate Program. Aside from the standard coursework, included in pharmacy technician certificate programs are courses focused on exam preparation, including internships for practical experience. Depending on the school, the internship can be a simulation using computer technology, with the objective of providing the student with hands-on experience.

Associate Degree Program. This is the topmost block in the pharmacy technician training programs, which adds advanced pharmacy, science, and technical training. The online Associate Pharmacy Technician degree program normally takes two years. In this particular training, the student may choose to earn an Associate of Science (AS), Associate of Applied Science (AAS), or Associate of Occupational Science (AOS) with a particular focus on pharmacy technician studies.

Even prior to the pandemic that forced schools to conduct classes remotely, online community colleges and universities have been offering online pharmacy technician training programs. Six years ago, Kentnor (2015) declared that online education is no longer a trend, but is here to stay mainstream. Fully online education programs started in 1989 when the University of Phoenix began using CompuServe, and shortly thereafter in 1991, began offering online learning programs through the Internet. For those who want to pursue further studies but are unable to sit in the traditional classroom, the availability of online programs became the next best alternative. As of 2018, there were almost 7 million students enrolled in online courses at degree-granting postsecondary institutions (NCES, 2019).

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Will employers take my online degree seriously?

Employers generally look into program accreditation, and in the case of pharmacy technicians, the required state certifications. The primary agency that accredits online pharmacy technician training programs is the Pharmacy Technician Accreditation Commission (PTAC). PTAC  is a collaboration between the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) to promote, assure, and advance the quality of pharmacy technician education and training programs in the U.S.

As of Fall 2017, there were more than 3.1 million students enrolled in fully online education (Gallagher, 2019). Among HR leaders surveyed, 61% believed that credentials earned online are generally equal in quality to those completed in-person (Gallagher, 2019). Fully online certificates and degrees have become increasingly popular in recent years, and recruiters and hiring managers recognize its legitimacy. Most of the time, employers are more interested in the reputation of the school, and the skills and qualifications of the pharmacy technician.

In the U.S. there are 143 brick-and-mortar colleges and schools of pharmacy that also offer online programs. Since 2017, the number of program applications has decreased by 17.68%. In the latter part of 2020, Pima Medical Institute lead instructor and Walgreens senior certified pharmacy technician Lori Bruhn described the current state of pharmacy workforce as not having enough technicians to meet the growing demand, especially with evolving requirements on state and federal licensure of pharmacy technicians. (Karlovitch, 2020). This growing demand for pharmacy technicians presents an opportunity for prospective students.

pharmacy technician certification

Are online degrees recognized all over the world?

Official accreditations ensure that online degrees will be recognized by employers and other institutions from any part of the globe. Lead accrediting agencies such as the PTAC ensure that pharmacy technician training programs are on par with global standards.

In 2015, Starbucks launched its College Achievement Plan which offered a full four-year online degree program to all eligible full-time and part-time employees. This parnershi[p with a university offering online degree programs signaled the acceptance and recognition of online degree programs by major global employers (Miller, 2015).

Employers agree that it is the qualification that matters and not the study location. It is true, however, that there exists a number of employers that still prefer graduates of brick-and-mortar institutions. But the pandemic has blurred the line that used to divide traditional and online education, and even accelerated the growth of online learning.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Online vs. Traditional Pharmacy Technician Programs

Online education is designed to be more engaging because, in the traditional format, the instructor is present and is able to adjust course delivery in real-time to enhance engagement. The majority of online learners are non-traditional students—constantly balancing competing demands of work, life, and study commitments. These students choose online over the traditional programs for the convenience that it offers. Online environments are usually characterized by different traditions, identities, and expertise, thus compared to traditional learning, online study requires adjustments to teaching and learning practices (Redmond, et al., 2018).

In most aspects, online and traditional learning share many similarities. Compared to traditional on-campus learning, online learning offers advantages in managing your time, overall cost, and also in terms of the learning experience.

Self-Paced Learning

The advantage of having the ability to manage your own time while you study is one plus factor for online learning. When you are studying in residence, you are bound to follow fixed class schedules. The online pharmacy technician training program allows you to adapt the program to your personal and professional life. Both the synchronous and asynchronous learning formats give the student autonomy in acquiring further education. In addition, most colleges offer accelerated programs to those who want to complete the program in a shorter period.

Geographic flexibility is another advantage of online learning. With online pharmacy technician training programs, students are not required to relocate to earn a diploma, certificate, or associate degree. Even at home or in the midst of performing various roles, further education is accessible.

Lower Overall Cost

In general, online education requires lower overhead than on-campus learning. The traditional course delivery commands higher costs because it requires maintaining on-site staff, operating buildings, providing housing and food, and even looking after the overall wellbeing of students. Housing expense is one major cost eliminated once you choose the online pharmacy technician training program, including costs on transportation and meals. To say that online learning is more affordable, however, does not mean that it is inexpensive. You may still need to avail of financial aid in choosing to enroll in an online pharmacy technician program, but the total overall cost will be less than getting the program the traditional way. Moreover, the average time to repay student loans, if you opt for this type of financial aid, is at least 10 years.

While some schools charge the same credit per hour rate for both online and traditional students, still there are schools that charge a higher cost per credit for out-of-state students. For the online pharmacy technician diploma and certificate programs, most schools offer discounted costs if you will pay the tuition in full, which ranges from $899 to $949. This fee already includes the exam fee for securing your state certification to becoming a Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT). Furthermore, some the most affordable online colleges may be worth looking into in case they offer this training program.

Opportunity to Build a Network

Online classes are more diverse than on-campus cohorts, which also gives the online student the opportunity to build a network consisting of a diverse set of peers. Collaborations for coursework will also enhance your learning as different student backgrounds will give you a deeper understanding of the practice and its nuances in other cultures.

Is an online degree cheaper?

Taking into account all the costs associated with in-person college attendance, the online program alternative costs lower. When the University of Pennsylvania launched its fully online undergraduate bachelor of arts programs in 2018, partners at MindWires Consulting observed that the decision of high-end schools to offer fully online bachelor programs is to address the growing demand for less expensive degrees that still carry the pedigree of a top tier school. The programs launched were significantly cheaper, at least by $1,000, than on-campus options (McKenzie, 2018).

Is an online degree as good as a regular degree?

Elite institutions offer online degrees, as well as community colleges. An online pharmacy technician training program is equal to a regular on-campus training program, the only difference is the mode of delivery. Employers, including other institutions, will honor your credentials so long as they bear the accreditation of agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

estimated number of pharmacy technicians in the U.S. 2026

How much does an online Pharmacy Technician Program cost?

Colleges differ in their pricing structure, but for the online pharmacy technician diploma and certificate programs, most community colleges offer a special discounted tuition cost if paid in full, which ranges from $899 to $949. The total cost could reach as much as $1,099 to $1,199 if tuition will be paid monthly. Preparation for the certification exam, including the examination fee, is included in the total tuition for diploma and certificate programs. Since all programs require an on-site internship, you also have to factor in your expenses for that part of the program, which is usually scheduled in the last quarter. For the online pharmacy technician associate degree program, students should expect to pay between $22,000 and $28,000 in total tuition.

Is an online Pharmacy Technician Program worth it?

The role of pharmacy technicians has expanded since the time California passed the tech-check-tech law in 2007. This law allows general acute care hospitals to hire specially trained pharmacy technicians to check medication cassettes and the work of other technicians. The state of Iowa allows pharmacy technicians to verify prescriptions, while Ohio’s administrative code allows certified pharmacy technicians to accept new prescriptions from doctors.

A survey of 676 pharmacy technicians conducted by Wheeler et al. (2019) to assess the perceived value of technician certification found that in the job performance domains of medication safety, skills and abilities, experience, engagement and satisfaction, and productivity, certified technicians have a stronger organizational and career commitment and desire to take on new roles.

The projected job growth for health technologists and technicians from 2019-2029 is 8% (BLS, 2021). With the renewed focus on critical healthcare, the aging population, advances in pharmaceutical research, including the administration of vaccines, the demand for pharmacy technicians is growing just as their responsibilities change within the context of healthcare. In choosing to earn a diploma, certificate, or associate degree, you can become certified and start growing your career as a pharmacy technician.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

What are the requirements of an online Pharmacy Technician Program?

Both the diploma and certificate training program take one year or less to complete, while the 60-credit associate in applied science degree typically takes 24 months. The student’s enrollment status and other preferences may affect program length. In this section, the admission requirements, general requirements, including the technological requirements for prospective students are presented.

Admission Requirements

To be eligible for admission to a pharmacy technician online training program, you must have a High School Diploma or General Education Diploma (GED).

General Requirements

The online pharmacy technician training program will equip students with the knowledge and skills needed to work as pharmacy technicians. At the same time, the coursework is designed to help prepare students for the national certification exams. Given this, online students are expected to have time management and self-regulation skills to be able to comply with the program requirements.

Applicants to online pharmacy technician training programs need keen mathematical acumen and attentiveness to detail as the role entails compounding and checking dosage in prescriptions, plus laboratory training. In addition, State Boards of Pharmacy, employers, and externship sites have strict regulations on drug abuse and criminal backgrounds. Criminal background checks, illicit drug use, and immunization status may affect your application for employment as a pharmacy technician.

What are the technological requirements of students for online learning?

Aside from your main device, which is your laptop or desktop computer, your online learning setup should have a reliable Internet connection with a bandwidth that is enough to handle video calls for synchronous learning sessions. Your device should also have a camera and microphone. The institution usually provides a list of minimum requirements when it comes to your online learning tools, plus the required software. System requirements often depend on the classroom management software and video conferencing platform being used by the institution.

veterans health administration hiring pharmacy technician

Courses to Expect in Online Pharmacy Technician Programs

Online Pharmacy Technician programs include coursework that covers topics on pharmacy mathematics, compounding, and drug doses. Some programs also include courses on industry regulations, management, and the insurance process. In choosing an online pharmacy technician training program, check for proper accreditation that will assure you that the curriculum is current and compliant with industry standards.

A research paper by Koehler et al. (2019) published in the Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy identified six competency domains in pharmacy technician education—communication in patient care, interdisciplinary collaboration, pharmaceutical expertise, organization of care practice, collaborative leadership, and personal development.

The study has established the crucial competencies that every pharmacy technician should be able to develop in the course of a training program. Entitled “Developing a competency framework for pharmacy technicians: Perspectives from the field,” Koehler et al. (2019) observed that “until now, pharmaceutical organizations worldwide are searching for the best way to educate and employ future pharmacy technicians (PTs). The PT competency framework provides a solid foundation for both PT training and curriculum development and is based on several rounds of scientific research. The proposed competency framework can help understand the PT role and how to best prepare for practice within pharmaceutical care.” To date, accredited training programs for pharmacy technicians have designed their courses to develop these competencies.

The following are some of the courses offered in both on-campus and online pharmacy technician programs.

Pharmacology. This course introduces the student to the fundamental concepts of pharmacology—drugs and their effect on living systems. Discussions include generic and trade names of common medications, dosage formulations, and pharmacokinetic processes. The adverse effects and contraindications of different medications as well as proper drug administration are tackled.

Compounding. This course teaches the students the process of combining, mixing, or altering ingredients to create a medication tailored to the needs of an individual patient. Students are also provided with hands-on training in non-sterile pharmaceutical preparations, cleaning and maintenance of compounding equipment, and accurate documentation. This subject also deals with the most current pharmacy technology software that is used in customizing medications and in keeping accurate patient dosage records.

Safe Medication Practices. Errors committed in the pharmaceutical field can be life-threatening. This course teaches students how to analyze and identify the factors that often contribute to errors in the context of the individual, the organization, and the environment. By focusing on preventing medication and dispensing oversight, students learn how to improve patient outcomes. The aim is for students to acquire the skills necessary to develop strategies that will minimize the incidence of errors in hospital and community settings.

Standards of Practice and Legislation for Pharmacy Technicians. This course provides the student with solid knowledge of the legal aspects of the practice. State and federal regulations, ethical framework, standards of practice, and current procedural regulations in the field of pharmacy are included to familiarize the students with their legal responsibilities as pharmacy technicians.

Pharmacy Business. The administrative aspect of pharmacy is the focus of this course, which involves inventory control and management, purchasing procedures, billing and reconciling third-party insurance claims, and customer service. Students will also learn various terminologies used in the pharmaceutical business, and get to know the local and state regulations in the industry.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Things to Look for in an Online Pharmacy Technician Program

Knowing how the environment of the pharmacy technician has evolved is important to determine the direction it is heading. The practice of pharmacy technicians has evolved through the years and it is crucial that education and training provide the knowledge, skills, and attitude required to fulfill the requirements of the scope of practice.

The school and program accreditation, including the path to certification, is the first thing that you need to check. The second thing that you need to check is the institution’s industry partnerships. It is also important to check the school’s reputation, including its faculty. Also, determine the available resources and services for online students.

Accreditation

Choose an online pharmacy technician program that is accredited by the Pharmacy Technician Accreditation Commission (PTAC).  The PTAC is the main accrediting body for pharmacy technician education and training programs. You may visit the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) website to check the list of accredited pharmacy technician programs.

Aside from the program-specific accreditation awarded by PTAC, it is also important for the school to have regional or national accreditation by recognized agencies of the U.S. Department of Education.

School Partnerships

In most schools, part of the requirements for completing the pharmacy technician training program is 160 hours of internship under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist. Based on a pre-approved list of businesses and training partners, the school assigns the student to a particular location for the internship, which is usually facilitated in the last quarter of the training program. Aside from being able to apply key learnings during the internship period, the student is also given the opportunity to build a network that can be useful in navigating the workforce for future employment opportunities. Look for an institution that has long-standing partnerships with key industry organizations, as this will ensure that you will gain valuable training in your internship.

Certification Assistance

Since most states require pharmacy technicians to be certified, look for a school that can help you prepare for the certification process. Most schools include the certification exam in the total tuition cost. To become a Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT) you can either take the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) exam, called the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE), or the exam offered by the National Healthcare Association, called the Exam for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ExCPT).

While there is no requirement for a national exam or certification in some states, almost all employers are looking for certified pharmacy technicians. For information on the specific certification and licensure requirements of each state, visit the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Look up what type of credentials employers are looking for in your state.

School Reputation and Faculty

Choose a school that has a good track record when it comes to providing training to pharmacy technicians. Since your program involves getting certified through taking a national exam, check the school’s certification pass rate. As a future member of the healthcare industry, your training is important, not to mention the investment that you will make in the training program.

Student Services

Most institutions offering online programs provide students with online advisors, tutors, and counselors. The availability of these services will ensure that you may request assistance and support while you navigate the program and complete the course requirements. Virtual organizations are also available to students to have a sense of belonging and personal connection even in an online learning setup.

no. of ptcb-certified pharmacy technicians

Launch Your Path Towards Certification Today

An online pharmacy technician program can be completed in one to two years, depending on your chosen program—diploma, certificate, or associate degree. As the duties of pharmacy technicians evolve, the scope of responsibility also widens. This means that this growing industry holds very promising potential for the current and future workforce.

The entry-level salary of a pharmacy technician may be lower compared to other professions, but it is a launchpad towards a well-paid and stable profession. The aging population, increasing number of chronic diseases, including the current speed of developing new drugs and vaccines, all require the knowledge and skills of a pharmacy technician.

You may start with the diploma program, take the exam and become a certified pharmacy technician, then gradually advance your career by pursuing a certificate or associate degree program while you gain experience in the field. If you can see your future in healthcare, start with an online pharmacy technician program today. Embrace lifelong learning and experience career growth as your roles expand in the healthcare industry.

 

References:

  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021), Occupational Outlook Handbook: Pharmacy Technicians, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacy-technicians.htm#tab-1 
  2. Gallagher, S. (2019), Online Education in 2019: A Synthesis of Data,  https://cps.northeastern.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Online_Ed_in_2019.pdf
  3. Jones, J. (2020), Will online degrees become more ‘legitimate’?,  https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20201125-will-online-degrees-become-more-legitimate
  4. Karlovitch, S. (2020), Pharmacy Technician Jobs Expected to Increase 7% Over Next Decade, https://www.pharmacytimes.com/view/pharmacy-technician-jobs-expected-to-increase-7-over-next-decade
  5. Koehler, T.C., Bok, H., Westerman, M., Jaarsma, D. (2019), Developing a competency framework for pharmacy technicians: Perspectives from the field, Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sapharm.2018.06.017
  6. Marotta, R. (2016), Technician Certification Very Important to Patients, Survey Says, https://www.pharmacytimes.com/view/technician-certification-very-important-to-patients-survey-says
  7. McKenzie, L. (2018), An Elite Online Bachelor’s Degree, https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2018/09/19/penn-introduces-new-online-bachelors-degree-program
  8. Miller, S. (2015), Starbucks and McDonald’s Expand Educational Opportunities,  https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/starbucks-mcdonalds-education.aspx
  9. National Association of Chain Drug Stores (2020), Optimizing Patient Care in Pharmacies is Focus of New Rule Backed by PSW, NACDS, https://www.nacds.org/news/optimizing-patient-care-in-pharmacies-is-focus-of-new-rule-backed-by-psw-nacds/
  10. National Center for Education Statistics (2019), Digest of Education Statistics,  https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=80
  11. Wheeler, J.S., Reinfro, C.P., Wang, J., Quiao, Y., Hohmeier, K.C. (2019), Assessing pharmacy technician certification: A national survey comparing certified and noncertified pharmacy technicians, Journal of the American Pharmacists Association,  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.japh.2018.12.021

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