The Truth About the Retail Pharmacy Technician Job

Being a retail pharmacy technician is a challenging endeavor.

Why? There are many reasons, which we’ll describe here.

We recently were contacted by someone about to go into their first job as a retail pharmacy technician.

"I am currently a pharmacy tech student and I believe I may be hired into a CVS Pharmacy soon. I'm pretty nervous about it at the moment because I haven't had much experience besides the 5 months of pharmacy tech school I've had. What could I expect while working retail? Do you have any tips to help ease my nerves?"

Here's our expert's response.

By Ellen Schaefer, CPhT, RMA, CPT

Firstly, the consumer lacks a level of control and the circumstances frequently elevate emotionally.

Secondly, drugs are expensive, dangerous if taken incorrectly, and addictive. People who come to the pharmacy arrive with illnesses, addictions, and chronic disease states.

Third, many consumers don’t have a clear picture of their prescription benefits.

So, this combination can create an unhappy customer right off the bat. A good retail pharmacy technician displays finesse, and manages difficult customers and situations with maturity and efficiency.

The retail pharmacy technician job is a difficult job to learn. A topnotch performance in school or on an exam doesn’t render a new tech job-ready.

It appears to be absolute chaos to the onlooker. It takes 6 months or more for most people to learn the process.

Here are some tips to make it easier:

  • Study the drug names. In the large chains, they are alphabetized by generic name. Prescriptions will be written by brand name, followed by generic name. Hospitals will generally use the chemical name.
  • Know your sig codes and if you don’t understand something, ASK. It’s quicker than a redo.
  • Learn how to handle insurance issues.

Then, there are legal issues. When you hold a license/certification, it’s your responsibility to know the law. For example:

  • It’s NEVER okay to tweak the rules.
  • Respect what you do at all times, even if your environment isn’t perfect.
  • Now you are on the other side of HIPAA. NEVER talk about a patient.

Speed is critical in retail pharmacy. You are timed on everything—answering the phone, going to the drive-thru, counting the pills, filling the prescriptions. It’s not just minutes, it’s also seconds.

Accuracy is also critical in retail pharmacy.

Both speed and accuracy can be achieved with teamwork. A great pharmacy is a great team.

Here are tips on mastering speed and accuracy:

  • Accurate and aware techs equal accurate pharmacists.
  • The large chain pharmacies have top-of-the-line software, which help to ensure accuracy and efficiency. As you learn to navigate the software, keep reading the prompts on the screens. Your mastery will come more readily.
  • Procedural protocols are in place to yield the highest degree of accuracy. Please follow them every time.
  • During busy times, you often feel understaffed and therefore unsafe. Count on each other.
  • Do your best to stay calm, focused, and realistic.

Then, there's prescription filling.

Here’s what filling prescriptions is like…

When you are at the drop-off station (where prescriptions are filled), you are required to fill the prescriptions while the patient waits in front of you.

So while you are engaging with the customer, you are adding insurance information, inputting prescriptions, and resolving rejections.

Then the labels go to the tech in the counting area. Even though techs are at a specific station, they back up other techs. There are no uninterrupted tasks. (Get used to it, you hyper-focused folks!)

Every tech needs a rescue—be a team player.

It’s not just filling prescriptions. Inventory looms large in the pharmacy: management, ordering, returns, and recalls. There are endless calls to and from doctors, patients, and insurance companies.

As a retail pharmacy technician, everything is time sensitive.

Make it your business to learn everything. It’s often easier for the pharmacy manager to let a new tech linger in one place. Be your own advocate, and strive to learn other areas.

The survivors will forge ahead, and others will find a different path. Which group will you be in?

Ellen's bio: Ellen’s last 18 years have been devoted primarily to the elevation of her role as a retail pharmacy technician. She clearly considers her relationships with her customers/patients an honor. Although she won customer service awards from employers, she would say that her greatest recognition is from the families that express appreciation. Ellen felt she should do everything she could to share information with her customers, and always make it look easy!

As a pharmacy tech trainer and mentor, Ellen encouraged techs to study the “big picture.” Her ongoing relationships with pharmacy techs from years back is clear evidence of the respect they still place in her.

Ellen also brings a strong background in finance and human resource management to the table. In her management positions, she worked tirelessly in team building. Her approach to being a part of the medical field has always been one of respect.

She went on to nationally certify in medical assisting and phlebotomy. Most recently, she was chosen to be an Item Writing Specialist for the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) exam.

Return to the Pharmacy Tech Home Page from
Retail Pharmacy Technician