In the pharmacy, people's lives are on the line. Pharmacy math demands a high degree of accuracy and is not to be taken lightly. Although modern pharmacies rely heavily on computers to perform many functions, including calculations, there is still no substitute for a good working knowledge of basic pharmacy math. This is not rocket science. In fact most pharmacy math problems can be solved with a basic four-function calculator or a piece of scratch paper.
Check the website of the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board to get an idea of the types of problems you will be expected to solve. The PTCB administers a nationally-recognized exam and certifies pharmacy technicians. The PTCB website offers a practice exam with problems from previous versions of the real exam.
Consider purchasing commercial exam preparation materials. Many reputable companies offer both print and electronic materials that contain sample problems and step-by-step guides. Read reviews of these materials before buying, because different companies tend to cater to different learning styles.
Email the pharmacy practice department of any pharmacy school and ask for copies of old calculations exams. The problems on these exams will likely be more difficult than the ones on national certification exams. If you are able to work these problems, you can feel confident in your ability to work these problems in the fast-paced environment of the modern pharmacy.
Practicing the Problems
You should not consider speed an alternative to accuracy. In the pharmacy, take as much time as you need to perform calculations accurately. "I was rushed" is not an acceptable excuse in this field.
Look over the types of problems you will be working. Pharmacy math involves more than just calculating the number of pills to put in a bottle. Converting grams to milligrams and pounds to ounces is only the beginning. Terms like aliquot, percentage strength, weight-by-volume and mg/kg/hr will become very familiar to you as you continue your study of pharmacy math.
Begin working problems on paper with a step-by-step guide nearby. Show your work for every step. There are often several ways to work the same problem. Choose the method that you are most comfortable with and stick with it.
Work more problems without referring to your list of steps as you get more comfortable with the concepts. Continue to show your work for each step so that you can refer back to your guide if you get stuck.
Prepare for working in a fast-paced pharmacy setting by working problems on small scraps of paper as quickly as you can. When the pressure is on, you will likely feel pressure to skip the step-by-step process you first learned. Working problems as quickly as you can with a high degree of accuracy is the best way to prepare for the pressure.
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