What’s in a certification
a whole lot...
Healthcare is a high demand career field with double digit growth projected over the next 10 years. Techs who have a CPhT Certified Pharmacy Technician certification usually enjoy better pay, more job security, and career advancement in their field.
If you are considering a career as a pharmacy technician you will be heading into a field that is growing, both in terms of salary potential and the number of jobs available nationwide. You will also be making a move into a field in which the educational requirements are about to change, making the process of becoming a certified pharmacy technician a little different than it was in the past.
Is getting certified as a pharmacy technician mandatory?
Technically, not all states require pharmacy technicians to be formally certified. However, even in states where it's not mandatory in reality it's very rare that a pharmacy will employ a tech who is not certified, or at least willing to work towards formal certification after employment. However, if you want the best shot at the lucrative, stable career that becoming a pharmacy tech offers then getting certified really is the best course of action.
How does certification work?
If you have been doing a little reading about obtaining pharmacy tech certification, you may be a little confused, and in some ways that is not too surprising. There are several paths you can choose to take, and with one of the two major examining bodies, the PTCB, changing its requirements on January 1, 2020, the issue can seem even murkier.
Let's try to break it down in simple terms. Although you can choose to take very formal college classes to earn a traditional Associates or Bachelor's Degree before starting to work as a pharmacy tech, most people prefer to take a shorter course, usually one that takes 9-12 months to complete, that will prepare them to take one of the two exams available that will qualify them to receive their CPht certification.
Certification with Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB)
The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) is the larger of the two bodies in the US that offers a pharmacy tech certification examination. Their test, the PTCE, is the one you'll hear mentioned most often, as it is the one that is completed by more people hoping to become pharmacy techs.
The "New" PTCE
The process of applying for, and qualifying to take, the PTCE is changing, as we mentioned, on January 1, 2020. The changes are being made as a result of input from some very important people; the employers who hire those who pass their PTCE. In a recent press release William Schimmel, PTCB Executive Director and CEO. said:
“The new eligibility requirements are based on input from pharmacy professionals that certain knowledge, skills, and abilities are acquired most effectively through education/training or work experience.
"Pharmacy employers can be confident that PTCB-certified pharmacy technicians have demonstrated they have the knowledge to advance patient care in today’s pharmacy,”
Certification with Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB)
- William Schimmel, PTCB Executive Director and CEO -
The biggest change in 2020 is that training programs that are not currently PTCB certified - they don't have to be, it's a voluntary process - will need to attest to the PTCB that they are prepared for the changes in the PTCB exam. The schools and programs that are PTCB certified - which is more than 600 programs throughout the US - will not need to do that as curriculum review is a standard part of their regular recertification.
What does all this mean for a would be Pharmacy Tech? When looking for the right educational program to prepare you for the PTCB exam you should make sure that the one you are choosing is completely up to date and compliant with the new standards.
How it works?
Despite the changes to the test, the application and preparation process for the PTCE remains unchanged. The basic pathway to a CPht certification via the PTCE breaks down as follows:
Certification with the NHA
The alternative to getting certified as a pharmacy tech via the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board is to obtain a CPht certification from the National Healthcare Association by way of its ExCPT exam.
Unlike the PTCB, the NHA offers certifications for a wide range of medical professionals, including medical billers, EKG technicians, medical assistants and more. It is a large, fully accredited association and the ExCPT is widely accepted (more on that later) by employers and state regulating boards (in the states where such things exist).
The ExCPT itself was created by the Institute for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ICPT) however, so the pharmaceutical expertise needed to set such a test is there. The education you'll need to pass the ExCPT is the same as for the PTCB, so a good pharmacy technician program will give you the knowledge you need to pass and the test application process is also very similar to that of the PTCE.
PTCE vs. ExCPT: Which is Better?
So, you have two choices to become CPht certified. Take and pass the PTCE or opt for the ExCPT instead. So which one is better?
Several years ago, when the ExCPT was new, the answer would have been the better known, longer established PTCE. Now however, as the ExCPT is widely recognized and accepted by employers and government departments, it often simply comes down to a matter of student preference. The ExCPT was created to offer an alternative to the PTCE in the way that you can choose, for example, which college to get a certain degree from.
The only exception to this is if you wish to become a certified pharmacy tech and work in Louisiana, Wyoming or North Dakota.
These states are three of the only six US states that require CPht certification for all pharmacy techs and they are yet to recognize the ExCPT. The other three states, Texas, California and Arizona do fully accept the ExCPT a valid alternative to the PTCE.
What a CPht credential can do for your career?
As we have mentioned several times, only six states in the US require that pharmacy technicians be certified: Arizona, California, Louisiana, North Dakota, Texas and Wyoming. In most other states the only legal requirement is that a pharmacy tech is over the age of 18.
Employers are a different matter though. While some will employ a keen beginner without certification most positions require it, especially in hospital pharmacies. Your CPht Certification opens up a world of career options though.
The pharmaceutical business is changing. Small retail pharmacies are dying out, but the large chain pharmacies are expanding. Online pharmacies are also expanding at a rapid rate, as these are often easier for patients to use and more economical for health insurance companies.
The number of pharmacy technicians employed in hospitals is increasing as well, along with those employed in 'minute clinics' and urgent care facilities. Some residential homes also have their own pharmacy facilities that employ pharmacy techs. Becoming a certified pharmacy tech is also the educational first stepping stone to bigger things, such as becoming a licensed pharmacist.