Pharmacy Technician vs. Pharmacist: What’s the Difference?
Posted Wednesday, Oct 25, 2017 by Altierus
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in the field of pharmacy, but you don’t necessarily want to spend the time and money it would take to get a pharmaceutical degree, you still have options. There’s another type of profession that will allow you to work in the field that requires less upfront investment: the role of a pharmacy technician.
This article will highlight the differences between pharmacy technicians and pharmacists, outline the skills and requirements needed to build a successful career as a pharmacy tech, and provide industry information on salary expectations and the career outlook.
Pharmacy technician vs. pharmacist
Often times, when you go to your local pharmacy to pick up a prescription, the first person you’ll encounter is a pharmacy technician. These individuals are typically the people answering the phones and interacting with customers. However, you might be surprised to learn that pharmacy technicians are also often the ones who assist pharmacists with managing and filling new prescription requests.
So what does that leave for the pharmacist? A pharmacist still plays an important role in the day-to-day operations of a pharmacy. They spend their time conducting health screenings, giving immunizations, reviewing and approving the medication orders that are requested for patients, managing the pharmacy technician team, and giving general advice about health and wellness to patients in need.
Pharmacists must review all prescriptions before they are released to patients, and are the ones who answer specific questions about dosage, side effects, and more. It’s their duty to ensure that a patient is properly educated about their medications.
Pharmacy technician duties
Pharmacy technicians have many important roles in the workplace, and it’s fair to say that pharmacies need them to operate efficiently. Below are some of the specific duties and tasks they are responsible for on a given day, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics*:
- Collecting information from patients in order to fill prescriptions
- Counting medication and preparing package/label prescription containers
- Organizing inventory and alerting the pharmacist when medication needs to be ordered
- Interacting with customers on the phone and in person
- Accepting and processing payment from patients
- Processing insurance
- Alerting a pharmacist when patient questions or needs arise
Pharmacy technicians spend a lot of time interacting with and communicating with customers, managing multiple orders at once, and working to keep everything behind the counter organized.
Pharmacy technician skills
Now that you know more about how pharmacy technicians spend their days, you might be wondering what skills are helpful in order to truly thrive in the role. In order to be successful, most pharmacy technicians need to excel at:
- Customer service: Being helpful, courteous, and professional as you interact with customers throughout the day is an important part of this career.
- Paying attention to the details: In this role, mistakes are not an option, as serious health problems can result from giving the wrong medication or dosage to a patient. As a pharmacy technician, you need to be able to multi-task, while also paying close attention to the details.
- Active listening: To excel in this career, you need to be able to possess excellent communication and listening skills. As mentioned, pharmacy technicians spend a lot of time interacting directly with patients. You need to understand how to identify and address any concerns or questions that a patient may have when they come to pick up their prescriptions. You also need to understand how to effectively communicate any recommendations or guidelines that your pharmacist may need for a patient to understand before they take their medication for the first time.
- Math: You need to possess the basic math skills necessary for compounding medications and counting pills — two tasks that you will likely encounter on a daily basis.
- Organization: You also need to be incredibly organized as you interact with different patients and fill various prescriptions throughout the day.
- Critical thinking: You need to be able to think on your feet, troubleshoot, and problem-solve whenever unexpected issues arise.
- Technology skills: Basic understanding of how software and technology works will help you succeed in your day-to-day responsibilities. As a pharmacy technician, you may be asked to use label-making software, spreadsheet software, database/query software, accounting software, or medical software in order to complete the tasks assigned to you each day.
Salary & job outlook
Employment of pharmacy technicians is expected to grow at around 9% from 2014-2024, which is faster than average when compared to all occupations. The median annual salary for a pharmacy technician is $30,920 as of May 2016. The lowest 10% or entry-level salary for a pharmacy technician is less than $21,370*.
The path to becoming a pharmacy technician
The path to become a pharmacy technician might surprise you. Starting with just a high school diploma, your career as a pharmacy technician can begin in less than a year with training from a post-secondary education program.
Research state regulations
Before you move forward with pursuing a career as a pharmacy technician, it’s best to check your state regulations in order to feel confident that you can meet them. In order to become a pharmacy technician, most states will require that you:
- Possess a high school diploma
- Complete a formal education or training program
- Pay certification exam fees ($115 for the ExCPT exam; $129 for the PTCE exam)
- Take a certification exam
- Pass a criminal background check
- Agree to continuing education
Beyond looking into your state requirements, make a few phone calls to local pharmacies to see what kind of requirements and even preferences they have for job applicants.
Find the right program
Whether or not your state requires a formal training program, it’s probably not a bad idea to pursue formal education in the field you’re hoping to enter before your first day on the job. The types of programs you’re looking for are usually found in vocational schools, career or community colleges, and even online. These programs typically award a certificate after a year or less, with some longer programs offering an associate degree at the end of the program.
Certification is a great way to set yourself apart as a professional in the field, and may even help you get hired over another applicant who does not possess a certification. There are two different organizations that offer certification: The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB), and the National Healthcareer Association (NHA).
Becoming a pharmacy technician
Now that you know more about what a pharmacy technician does, the skills needed to be successful, and what the opportunities are in the industry, you’re ready to take your first step toward investing in your new career.
Finding a pharmacy technician program that also offers certification preparation is a great place to start. The Pharmacy Technician training program at Altierus is flexible, affordable, and gives you the preparation you need to become certified and be successful in your future career.
*Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Pharmacy Technicians, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacy-technicians.htm
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