Eight Years of Pharmacy School Versus Eight Weeks to a Career as Pharmacy Technician

Mitch Norris

Mitch Norris

For those who are detail-oriented and compassionate, a career as a pharmacy technician can be an ideal fit. They’re needed in a wide variety of settings — from pharmacies, hospitals, and the military, to long-term care facilities, and home-care settings — and the combination of an aging population and the rise of new prescription drugs further adds to the need for this skill set.

San Diego State University’s College of Extended Studies offers a comprehensive 59.5-hour course — Pharmacy Technician Training and Test Prep — that prepares students for the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam and includes an optional 80-hour externship at a pharmacy for those who qualify.

With 25 years of experience as a pharmacy manager — at Target, SavOn and Vons — instructor Mitch Norris is now retired and shares his wisdom and insight with students. He answered a few questions about the course.

What do you think are the biggest strengths of SDSU’s Pharmacy Technician course?
The class gives the student a very complete look at pharmacy. We skim everything pharmacy from A to Z in eight weeks, whereas pharmacy school takes eight years.

What is the goal of the course?
The goal of the course is to prepare the student for the California Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam. Then, ultimately, the student will obtain a Pharmacy Technician License with the State Board of Pharmacy. The licensure in California can reciprocate to most other states.

What kind of activities/homework can students expect?
A PT student should plan to spend 2 to 3 hours on homework for every hour in class. We are in class 7 hours per week. The class meets Monday and Wednesday evening for 3 1/2 hours of lecture, 6–9:30 pm.

What qualities make a person a good candidate for a career as a pharmacy technician?
The best candidates will have the ability to work confidently with the public.

What are students most surprised to learn about this career path?
I think the students are surprised to learn how much knowledge is required of a pharmacy technician. For example, they will need to know the top 200 drugs — brand and generics — and what they do.

What did you enjoy most about your career in the industry?
For me, the best part of the job is helping people. Over the years, I’ve helped many people feel better when they are ill.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I went to UCLA, I planned to become a dentist. After taking a class and looking into people’s mouths, I changed career paths.

What would students be surprised to learn about you?
Students would be surprised to learn I am a long-distance backpacker and have hiked from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail. I just got back from a 248 mile hike in the Sierras on the Theodore Solomons Trail.