Average pharmacy technician salary | Factors that affect salary | How to make more money | Is becoming a pharmacy tech worth the money?
Thinking of starting a pharmacy technician career? You can get a job as a pharmacy technician right out of high school or college, with little to no prior training or experience. Then, you can grow your skills and earn your certification—or even go to pharmacy school if you decide to become a pharmacist.
But, how much do pharmacy techs make? Like any other career choice, it’s smart to know how much the average pharmacy technician in the U.S. makes and a little about the job market before you commit. Here’s everything you need to know about the standard salary, as well as what factors can affect the average and how you may be able to increase your own salary to make more money.
What is the average salary for a pharmacy technician?
In 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated the national average annual pharmacy technician salary to be about $36,000 and the average hourly rate to be roughly $17.50.
A full-time pharmacy tech works around 40 hours per week, which is the number of hours in a typical work week for many employees in the U.S. Keep in mind, though, that many drug stores are open for extended hours and some are even open 24/7. There may be an option (or requirement) to work shifts other than the standard 9 to 5. You may also work weekend shifts in addition to weekday ones.
The typical pharmacy schedule can be difficult for some technicians, but it provides flexibility for others. You could work part-time while going to school, work on weekends while keeping another 9-to-5 job during the week, or work extra hours for additional pay.
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Speaking of additional pay, while the average annual salary is $36,000, some techs are making more than $50,000 annually (and more than $24 per hour), per the same BLS report. Even with this variation, though, pharmacy technicians tend to make less than their healthcare peers with similar job responsibilities.
For example, according to the BLS’ 2020 reporting on healthcare practitioners and technical occupations, a category that includes pharmacy technicians, many healthcare professionals were making more money than pharmacy techs (some substantially so).
Pharmacy tech salary vs. other practitioners
|Job title||Average annual income|
|Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses||$50,090|
|Hearing aid specialists||$54,630|
|Radiology technologists and technicians||$64,840|
Some of these career paths, such as diagnostic sonographers, may require more years of training or higher-level degrees than those of pharmacy technicians. Other career paths, such as hearing aid specialists, may have similar training and education requirements to those of pharmacy technicians despite paying higher average salaries.
Factors that affect salary
You may be wondering why the average annual salary for pharmacy technicians is $36,000 even though some pharmacy technicians are making $50,000. There are three main factors that can increase or decrease the amount of money you make:
- The state you work in
- The setting of your job
- Your certification or credentials
The BLS reports that California, Alaska, and Washington are among the highest paying states for pharmacy technicians, with the 2020 average annual salary in California coming in at $47,620. Many metropolitan areas of California, such as the San Jose and San Francisco areas, have an average annual salary of more than $56,000. The job outlook is good in these cities as well, with pharmacy technicians having a high rate of employment. However, the cost of living in these states is important to keep in mind. Even if you’re making more money in these states, you’re likely paying more to live there too.
On the flip side, Forbes reports that West Virginia, Arkansas, and Kentucky are among the worst paying states for technicians, with the average salary coming in under $30,000 annually in each state. In contrast to the higher salary and higher cost of living on the West coast, the lower salary in these Southern states may be offset by the cheaper cost of living.
Your job setting
Pharmacy technicians not only work in a variety of retail locations around the country but also in non-pharmacy settings—like hospitals, nursing homes, and research facilities. The physical location of your job can have an impact on your salary.
For example, a hospital pharmacy technician makes more than retail technicians, says Missy Reynolds, CPhT, a pharmacy technician working in long-term care in North Carolina. However, it can be difficult to get a hospital job in the current market. Because of the higher salaries and the emphasis on pharmacy knowledge rather than customer interactions (such as those in retail pharmacy), hospital jobs are in demand in many places.
Your state may have an impact on this, though. Natasha Stamper, Pharm.D., who worked as a technician for two years before becoming a pharmacist, says that in her employment state of Idaho, techs in retail are paid better than those in a hospital setting.
If you choose to work in retail pharmacies, the individual chain or pharmacy you’re employed at will also affect your salary. “While working at Walgreens, I was able to earn my certification,” Dr. Stamper says. “However, I was not paid the same as others who were certified—I was basically a clerk that did pharmacy duties until I had that certification.”
Beyond that, privately owned pharmacies and care facilities can set their own rates, so there’s variability there as well.
A registered pharmacy technician may make less money than a certified pharmacy technician, since certification requires studying for and passing an exam with the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB).
It may not be a huge financial difference, though, warns Reynolds: “Getting PTCB-certified usually gives you a little pay increase, but some companies don’t give a pay raise for getting certified.” Check with your employer before going the extra mile.
PTCB-certified pharmacy technicians must maintain their knowledge base with continuing education courses focused on skills in patient safety, pharmacy law, and sterile compounding, which may help pad their overall salary. Techs may also become qualified to perform medication therapy management (MTM) or administer immunizations like annual flu shots and COVID-19 vaccines, which may bump up pay, too.
“If someone is able to get experience with prior authorizations [for example], they probably have a better chance at a higher paying job with far less patient interaction,” Reynolds says.
How to make more money as a pharmacy technician
If you decide to become a pharmacy technician, you should know that the salary is capped at a certain level. Pharmacists earn, on average, more than $125,000 annually, and no amount of extra training or work experience will increase a technician’s salary by that much. In fact, pharmacist jobs are some of the highest paying jobs in the medical field.
Remember, though, that pharmacists also need many more years of education and training to earn their title, and that means more money spent out of pocket—and more years making a student’s wages—before they can begin earning that paycheck. “I had a biology degree, then did four more years of pharmacy school, [which took up] a large portion of my life,” Dr. Stamper explains. “I graduated with $150,000 in student loans.”
Depending on your financial status, your ability to take out student loans, and your current income needs, it may not be worth it to spend more to make more by becoming a pharmacist.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t increase your average salary as a technician; here are some ways to make more money as a tech.
- Get your certification: Dr. Stamper says technicians often earn an additional $3 to $4 per hour once they receive their certification when compared to entry-level pharmacy technicians.
- Change pharmacies: Pharmacy retail chains don’t exactly advertise their average pay rates for technicians, but searching job listing sites can give you a rough impression of how the rates vary between chains. For example, the average hourly wage appears to be between $14 and $15 at Walgreens and CVS, between $10 and $12 at Rite Aid, and between $15 and $16 at Walmart. In other words, there’s a good reason to check out other employers in your area if you want to make more money.
- Change settings: As Reynolds and Dr. Stamper shared, based on your state, you might be able to increase your salary by switching from a retail pharmacy to a hospital setting (or vice versa).
- Grow your skill set: By adding to the job duties you’re qualified to perform, you may be able to negotiate for a higher salary in your current job or accept a new position willing to pay more for your newly acquired skills.
- Stick with it: Dr. Stamper says your years of experience can determine your pay rate, so the longer you work as a pharmacy technician, the better positioned you’ll be when asking for an annual raise or a pay bump when taking a new job.
Is becoming a pharmacy technician worth the money?
There are many ways to become a pharmacy technician. Some pharmacy technicians learn on the job, earning entry-level wages while growing their experience. This is a low-cost way of becoming a technician, even if you choose to become certified, since certification through PTCB only costs $129. Plus, says Reynolds, your employer may pay for the cost of certification, making it a no-cost decision for you.
However, even if you decide to take a more formal education route to becoming a technician, by enrolling in pharmacy technician programs (in-person or online), the costs will still be low compared to the costs of other careers. The average cost of in-state community college in the U.S. is $3,400 per year, while the average tuition for trade schools is usually between $5,000 and $10,000 for the entire program. Keep in mind, though, that these costs vary pretty widely between states, and depend largely on the requirements of your individual program.
Furthermore, you don’t need a bachelor’s degree or advanced medical degree to apply for pharmacy technician jobs; in most states, all that’s required is a high school diploma or GED. You can complete on-the-job training or attend a training program that lasts one to two years, and end up with the education and credentials needed to become a technician. This makes it an extremely cost-effective choice for a career in pharmacy.