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As the demand for pharmacy technicians continues to grow, so does the need for the best trained technicians available. Some may be able to enter the field with little education, but if you complete an accredited education program, you will likely advance more quickly. These days, it's easy to focus on online pharmacy technician programs because of their flexibility—and while they have a lot to offer, take a good look at traditional campus courses in order to begin your pharmacy technician career.

Advantages of Traditional Campus Courses

The education for pharmacy technicians is fairly hands-on. While there are elements of the job and profession that are exclusively handled on a computer—patient databases for instance—most of the work takes place in a customer-facing environment. There are specific tasks that you will need to practice with real instruments so that you can do your job in the best way possible, including counting pills, working in the laboratory and communicating with patients and pharmacists.

Here are some of the job duties that are better learned in a traditional classroom:

  • Counting pills can be done via a simulation, but the physical act of pushing pills into a trough is a unique skill that needs to be practiced. Learning to work with, and keep track of, pills and medicines will be important when you need to audit your inventory. Sometimes you'll be required to inspect the bottles to ensure that the proper number of pills is accounted for.
  • Lab work is also very important to learn. You will need to know how to compound medications for special patients, and some hospital pharmacy technicians spend much of their day in the lab, preparing IVs and oral medications for patients. These skills must be learned and practiced in a controlled classroom environment where your teacher can help you master the skills.
  • While an online course can teach you the fundamentals of chemistry, you can't see the result of chemical mixing and reacting online. Chemistry is a physical science that needs interaction, and a classroom or lab setting can provide this.
  • Since the pharmaceutical lab must be kept absolutely sterile, it is vital to learn how to clean and sanitize it. Online technology has not yet advanced to the point where it can replicate a laboratory environment in varying degrees of contamination.

In-Person Communication

Though there are many ways to communicate with your teachers and classmates online, learning with other students in a physical space fosters communication skills and awareness, which are mandatory for dealing with peers, superiors and customers.

Finding the Best Pharmacy Technician Programs

When you're researching pharmacy technician degree programs, make sure you take these factors into consideration before you choose your school:

  • Accreditation: Ensure that your program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE). This will allow credits to transfer later if you enroll in a bachelor's degree program, and will enable you to apply for federal financial aid to help pay for school.
  • Externships: The program should offer an externship, where you'll work in a local pharmacy or lab to gain experience. Hospitals, retail drugstores and mail-order pharmacies are three possible venues you might select for your externship.
  • Alumni Success on the PTCB Exam: Whether you hope to achieve national certification or not, it is important to know how well a program's alumni have fared on the examination. You want the best education possible, and this is a great measuring stick.

Online Pharmacy Technician Programs

Many technicians achieve success through their online programs, so don't discount them completely. One way to approach your future career is to secure an entry-level job in a pharmacy and pursue online education in your spare time. The same criteria factors that apply to traditional programs also apply to online programs: make sure they are accredited, offer externship programs, and provide statistics on alumni success on the PTCB certification exam. You might ask your school what their program graduation rate is as well, as this is a measurement of their commitment to your success.


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