The Difference Between a Pharmacist and a Pharmacy Technician

Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians play a vital role in the healthcare system. They work together to provide patients with the medications they need to get well. But what is the difference between these two professions? And which one offers better prospects for the future? Let’s take a look.

Job Description – Pharmacist vs. Pharmacy Technician

With the pharmacy, there is a significant difference between pharmacist and pharmacy technician roles. Pharmacists are responsible for the safe and effective use of medication while pharmacy technicians work hand in hand with the licensed pharmacist in fulfilling those responsibilities. A customer entering a local pharmacy is most likely to first encounter the pharmacy technician.

The roles and day-to-day responsibilities of the pharmacy technician include:

  • Filling prescriptions under the supervision of a pharmacist
  • Verifying patient information, such as name, address, prescription information and insurance information
  • Checking for drug allergies
  • Mixing drugs when necessary
  • Administer immunizations, if certified
  • Packaging medications for distribution
  • Updating patient records
  • Processing insurance claims and maintaining the pharmacy records
  • Tracking inventory, taking phone calls and other administrative tasks

The career path of the pharmacist leads to broader roles and job responsibilities which include:

  • Providing medication therapy management
  • Providing information and advice on drug interactions, side effects or negative interactions, and dosage information
  • Ensuring that all prescriptions are filled accurately and that the patient receives the correct medications
  • Monitoring patient progress and ensuring that they take their medications as prescribed
  • Reviewing medication orders for approval
  • Health screenings
  • Advise patients on ways to stay healthy
  • Develop protocols for dose adjustments, drug interactions, allergic reactions and other issues

Education and Training Requirements

Pharmacists need to complete a Doctor of Pharmacy degree, which typically takes four years to complete. In addition, they must pass the  North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) Exam in order to become licensed in all 50 states. Additionally, they need to pass the multistate pharmacy jurisprudence exam (MPJE).

Depending on the state, a pharmacy technician may not be required to pursue formal education and can learn the skills and acquire knowledge on the job. In other states, Pharmacy technicians may need an associate degree or certificate program, which can take up to two years to complete. They must also pass the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) exam or the National Healthcareer Association (NHA) CPhT certification exam in order to be certified in some states.

The prerequisites for studying a Doctor of Pharmacy degree include 60-90 credit hours in health sciences, meaning most students will already have a bachelor’s degree when they apply. There are cases of admittance with an associate’s degree, but it is infrequent. Most pharmacy schools also consider your score on the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT) when making their decision.

The requirement for admission to most pharmacy technician programs is a high school diploma or the equivalent.

A PharmD degree will include courses in anatomy and physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, pharmaceutical sciences, pharmacy law, therapeutics, toxicology, and more. They may take courses in medical subjects to improve their understanding of how medicines work in the human body.

Pharmacy technician training programs include courses in pharmacy calculations, aseptic technique, pharmacology and clinical skills. A formal training program will also include the education required for administrative tasks such as record keeping, processing insurance claims with insurance providers, and maintaining and organizing inventory.

As you would expect, the cost of training is very different for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.

Training to become a pharmacist requires many more years of education and will cost much more, perhaps as much as $74,800 to $160,000 over four years for private pharmacy schools, or $14,800 to $82,000 for in-state public pharmacy programs.

To become a pharmacy technician, certificate programs may cost less than $3,000, while an associate’s degree at a private vocational school may cost up to $22,000.

As a result, the upfront investment in terms of both time and median debt of pharmacy graduates is substantial. This cost may be mitigated by financial aid. By comparison, becoming a pharmacy technician requires significantly less upfront investment as the greater part of education for this role comes from on-the-job training.

As for continuing education (CE), licensed pharmacists need to take CE classes and complete a certain number of CE hours every year in order to maintain their license. Pharmacy technicians must also take continuing education classes in order to stay abreast of developments in their field, but this is not generally a state requirement.

Salary Comparison

The salaries for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians vary greatly depending on experience and location. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for pharmacists is $128,780 per year while pharmacy technicians make a median salary of $36,180 per year.

Work Settings

Pharmacists work in many different settings, depending on their education. These include hospitals, outpatient or retail pharmacies, long-term care facilities, home healthcare services, and more. There are pharmacist jobs available in other industries, such as data analysis, consulting, drug research and development (R&D), sales and marketing, industry management or regulation.

Typically, Pharmacy technicians work in a retail pharmacy setting such as a grocery store or drugstore. It is possible to find pharmacy technician jobs in hospitals or other medical settings; however, these opportunities are not as common.

Work Schedule Differences

Pharmacists generally work full time and may have irregular hours or overnight shifts. Pharmacy technicians usually work between 32-40 hour weeks, but their schedules can vary depending on the needs of their employer.

Career Outlook

The overall job outlook for both pharmacists and pharmacy technicians is generally positive. According to the BLS, employment for pharmacists is projected to increase by 6% from 2020 to 2030 and for pharmacy technicians, it is projected to rise 14%. These robust career prospects come from increased demand for medications as well as an aging population that requires more medical care.

The career path of the pharmacist offers a greater range of options for career development. Pharmacists can take further education and specialize in a certain area such as cardiology, public health, ambulatory care, oncology, psychiatry or even teaching.

Pharmacy technicians may have limited opportunities for career growth but there is always the opportunity to become a certified pharmacy technician (CPhT) and move into managerial roles.

The career path for both pharmacists and pharmacy technicians can be rewarding. Both professionals are essential to providing quality patient care and ensuring the safe use of medications. Both occupations will require dedication, knowledge and research as well as a commitment to stay up-to-date with the latest technologies, trends and regulations.

Which Career Should You Choose?

Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians play a vital role in the healthcare system. While they have similar responsibilities, they differ in their educational requirements and work schedules (depending to some extent on state regulations). The overall job outlook for both professions is positive, and pharmacists tend to make more money than pharmacy technicians. With the right education and training, both pharmacists and pharmacy technicians can enjoy a successful career in the healthcare field.

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