Pharmacy technician program offers career options
CHAMPAIGN — Bryant Lagle knew when he was still in high school that he wanted to be a pharmacist, and he didn't want to wait until he got through college to do pharmacy work.
A 19-year-old Parkland College student from Mansfield, he's already helping fill prescriptions at the Sam's Club Pharmacy in Champaign, working part time as a certified pharmacy technician.
Lagle trained to be a pharmacy tech during the last half of his senior year at Blue Ridge High School, squeezing in a one-semester evening training program at Parkland.
"I wanted to get a leg up on the competition," he said.
Bryant plans to finish his degree to become a pharmacist, but being a pharmacy technician is also a job destination itself.
There are more than 360,000 pharmacy technicians currently working under the supervision of pharmacists in retail stores and hospitals, outpatient care centers, pharmaceutical manufacturing and other jobs requiring their training, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The next pharmacy tech training program at Parkland will run Sept. 3 through Dec. 17 on Monday and Wednesday evenings, and there are still openings for new students, according to MK Education, the Downers Grove education company that provides that program at Parkland.
In one semester, pharmacy tech students can expect to learn something about diseases, various drug classes and names, medical terminology and pharmacy calculations, said MK Education Client Manager Bree Abbas.
About one-third of the time is spent on pharmacy calculations for those situations when, say, a patient brings in a prescription for 100 mg of a drug taken three times a day, but the pharmacy only has 50 mg tablets and "you have to be able to calculate that," Abbas said.
This isn't higher math, though. Students entering the program need to be high school graduates and proficient at math at the ninth- or 10th-grade levels, and have a seventh- or eighth-grade reading level, she said.
Graduates of the program are prepared to take their choice of two certification exams — one a national exam, and the other that qualifies them to work in 43 states, Abbas said.
This is a career option for people in a variety of situations, from those planning to be pharmacists, such as Lagle, to people right out of high school looking for a short-training career option to work in a pharmacy. It's also become a choice for retired folks looking for a second career.
"We get people from all walks of life," she said.
In Illinois, pharmacy technicians are paid about $10 to $13 an hour, depending on the retail chain, and they earn more like $15 an hour if they work in a hospital where more experience is required, Abbas said.
At Parkland, the semester-long course costs $1,399 — including books and fees.
MK Education works with national pharmacy chains on job openings and graduates tend to get hired, Abbas said.
"In the four years we have been running this program, we haven't had anyone say they couldn't find a job," she said.
Interested in becoming a pharmacy tech in one semester? Parkland will host a free information session:
When: 6-7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Business Training office, 1315 North Mattis Ave., C
To register: Call 217-351-2235