Pharmacy Technician vs Pharmacist: What’s the Difference?

Working in a pharmacy can be a good career choice that puts you into the medical field. Yet you have different career options to choose from within a pharmacy, which means you could carry out different roles. Two pharmacy positions include working as a pharmacy technician or a pharmacist. Knowing the difference can help you understand which of these positions would be a better fit for your career or as a starting point.

Search Pharmacy Technician Programs

Get information on Pharmacy Technician programs by entering your zip code and request enrollment information.

Sponsored Listings

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

Career Level and Pay

Pharmacy techs and pharmacists are at different career levels. A pharmacist is a professional position that requires extensive training, while a pharmacy tech requires a high school diploma and certification in some states. A pharmacist supervises a pharmacy tech as well as pharmacy aides.

Because of the difference in training and level of responsibility, a pharmacist makes significantly higher income than a pharmacy tech. In 2018, the median annual pay for a pharmacist was $126,120, ranging from $87,790 to 161,250. On the other hand, a pharmacy tech’s median annual wage was $32,700, ranging from $22,740 to $48,010.

💡Discover more: What Salary Does a Pharmacy Tech Make?

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.

If you’re a pharmacy technician who would like to become a pharmacist, find out how with this guide.

Medication Duties

A pharmacy tech does not have the same level of responsibility as a pharmacist. Nonetheless, both positions work with prescription medications and some duties are similar.

The pharmacist is a trained medical professional who understands the way medications work. In this role, you would check prescriptions to confirm the amount and whether the medication could interact with other medications or health conditions on the person’s record. You would then fill the prescription, which sometimes means mixing ingredients for customized medications (compounding). Further, pharmacists often administer flu shots and other types of vaccinations.

When working with medications, the technician can prepare some prescriptions, and package and label prescriptions. In this role, you could also organize medications and supplies, letting the pharmacist know about low inventory.

Administrative and Customer Service Duties

A pharmacist’s role also includes supervising pharmacy technicians and aides as well as guiding pharmacists in training. In addition, the pharmacist carries out administrative duties, such as filling out insurance forms and keeping records.

The tech also performs administrative tasks, including entering information into a computer and processing insurance claims.

Both roles provide customer service but in different ways. The tech is not able to answer customer questions about medications directly but must defer to the pharmacist. The pharmacist can answer these questions and talk to customers about medication instructions and possible side effects. The pharmacist may also give health advice on topics such as lifestyle changes and medical equipment.

The tech helps customers by collecting prescription information, accepting payments, answering phone calls and setting up discussions between customers and the pharmacist.

Both roles can also have other duties, which vary depending on the workplace.

A pharmacist and pharmacy tech both work in pharmacies, helping people get the medications they need. These positions work together as a team to carry out their duties. Nonetheless, each role has specific duties separate from the other. Think about which role would fit you better when considering day-to-day responsibilities, pay and training needed.

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.