Pharmaceutical Technician

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Pharmaceutical Technician

Education and Training: High school plus two years of training

Salary: $15.97 to $18.35 per hour

Employment Outlook: Very good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Pharmaceutical technicians assist scientists in the pharmaceutical industry. They are sometimes called drug technicians. Their jobs vary depending on their employer's needs. Most pharmaceutical technicians work for private companies that make finished drugs, such as vitamin pills, tranquilizers, antiseptics, antibiotics, and veterinary medicines. These drugs are used in disease prevention, therapy, and diagnosis. Some drug technicians work for companies that make biological products, including serums, vaccines, and toxins. Others work for firms that make large amounts of the chemical and botanical compounds that are used in finished drugs.

Pharmaceutical technicians who work in research and development programs are usually supervised by a scientist, veterinarian, or physician. These professionals work in such fields as chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, or pharmacology. They often direct the pharmaceutical technicians, who do much of the routine work involved in developing new drugs. In some cases, however, experienced technicians are allowed to work independently on complicated procedures after they have been given instructions. They often help prepare laboratory experiments and record the results. They may operate electronic equipment that tests samples of chemicals and drugs. Technicians may prepare cultures of bacteria for testing, or they may observe and report the results of testing. Some technicians prepare drugs that are given to test animals. Technicians are usually expected to keep records, fill out forms, and keep laboratory equipment clean and in good working condition. Sometimes they have to make calculations or look up needed information.

Pharmaceutical technicians involved in production or quality control may work in a laboratory or on a production line. They often assist professionals such as pharmacists, chemists, and chemical, mechanical, or industrial engineers to put efficient methods of production and testing into practice. Pharmaceutical technicians often must operate complex scientific instruments. They may tend fermenting tanks used in the production of antibiotics, or they may mix and assemble compound drugs. Sometimes they perform tests that determine whether liquids, powders, or tablets contain the right amount of each ingredient and meet other requirements. Technicians are often required to prepare cost estimates, make drawings, take measurements, and write up reports. They may also devise work schedules and supervise other workers.

Education and Training Requirements

Many companies prefer to hire people who have attended a college or technical institute for two years. You may also need some on-the-job training. For some jobs, employers prefer to hire people who have a bachelor's degree in one of the biological sciences. College courses that would be useful in the drug industry include chemistry, biology, engineering, and veterinary science. Some colleges offer pre-pharmacy courses.

Getting the Job

If you graduate from a two-year program at a college or technical institute, your school placement office can help you find a job in the drug industry. You can also apply directly to companies in the drug industry. These companies often list job openings in newspaper classifieds and job banks on the Internet.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

As they gain experience, technicians are usually given more responsibility. They often become supervisors of other workers. They can increase their chances for advancement by taking more courses related to their work. Some technicians may decide to pursue a five-year pharmacy degree program. Others take the one-year certification programs offered in some states. Pharmaceutical technicians can also advance by going into technical writing or sales work.

The employment outlook for pharmaceutical technicians is very good. There will be some increase in the total number of technicians employed in the drug industry. There will also be openings to replace workers who leave the field. The drug industry is only slightly affected by changes in the economy. Employment levels tend to be stable.

Working Conditions

The plants and laboratories in which pharmaceutical technicians work are usually clean and well lighted. Safety practices protect technicians from dangerous fumes, chemicals, and disease cultures. Technicians who work in laboratories may work alone or in small teams. Those who work in production may work alone, or they may come into contact with many other workers. They must be able to work well either independently or as part of a team. Pharmaceutical technicians usually work thirty-five to forty hours a week. Some technicians, especially those in production or quality control programs, may work weekends and night shifts. Technicians in the drug industry seldom do any heavy labor, but they may spend hours at a time on their feet or seated at a laboratory bench. Technicians need to be careful workers who can follow directions. Some drug technicians belong to unions.

Where to Go for More Information

Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA)
1100 Fifteenth St. NW, Ninth Fl.
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 835-3400

American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists
2107 Wilson Blvd., Ste. 700
Arlington, VA 22201-3042
(703) 243-9650

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries for technicians in the pharmaceutical industry vary depending on education, experience, location, and the kind of job. Pharmaceutical technicians earn salaries that are similar to those of biological and chemical technicians. In 2004 the median hourly wage of biological technicians was $15.97. In 2004 chemical technicians earned a median hourly income of $18.35. Benefits generally include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.