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Pharmacy Technician vs. Pharmacist: What’s the Difference?

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 ...

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Retail vs. Hospital Pharmacy Tech Jobs: What’s the Difference?

Posted Monday, Jun 29, 2020 by Altierus

Interested in training for a career as a pharmacy technician? Pharmacy techs play an important role in helping pharmacists provide medication to the public. That’s part of the reason why pharmacy technician is an in-demand healthcare career.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that demand for pharmacy technicians could grow by as much as 7% between 2018 and 2028, adding 31,500 jobs nationally.[i] As of 2018, the two most common workplaces for pharmacy technicians were retail pharmacies and hospitals.[ii]

The main role of pharmacy technicians in both settings is to prepare prescriptions under the supervision of a pharmacist. However, there are some differences in how that role is carried out in each setting.

What Retail Pharmacy Technicians Do

In the retail setting, pharmacy technicians provide direct customer service to patients who will be using the medications they dispense (or administering them to a person they care for, such as a child or elderly relative). This means that working in the retail setting requires customer service and administrative skills, such as:

  • Handling in-person or telephone questions about conditions and medications
  • Helping patients fill out forms
  • Maintaining customer files
  • Processing insurance claims
  • Operating computer systems and cash registers
  • Consulting the pharmacist or physicians’ offices to receive approval

Pharmacy technicians who work in retail pharmacies may also be asked to help with ensuring customers understand current infection control policies, such as maintaining social distancing in lines.

Additional Duties of Retail Pharmacy Technicians

Pharmacy technicians will also help clean the pharmacy area, take inventory of supplies, place supply orders and stock shelves.

Of course, pharmacy technicians also fill prescriptions and compound medications. Most of the products they work with will be in the form of pills, tablets and oral liquid medications, compounded under non-sterile conditions with a pharmacist’s supervision.

The orders pharmacy technicians in retail settings fill will usually supply enough medication to last anywhere from a week to a few months.

What Working Conditions Are Like for Retail Pharmacy Technicians

Generally speaking, pharmacy technicians who work in drugstores and pharmacies can expect to work normal business hours with some weekend or night shifts. This can vary depending on the opening hours their retail location keeps and on state pharmacy regulations.

Retail pharmacy technicians spend much of their day on their feet, talking to customers, answering phones, and processing prescriptions or insurance claims. Depending on the equipment their pharmacy uses, technicians may also have to operate some laboratory equipment while filling prescriptions.

What Hospital Pharmacy Technicians Do

In the hospital setting, pharmacy technicians fill prescriptions for nurses, doctors, and other practitioners to administer to patients. Hospital pharmacy techs generally find their role puts more emphasis on their knowledge of pharmacology and medical terminology than on customer service skills. Pharmacy techs in hospitals are more likely to have to read and interpret patient charts. There’s much less interaction with patients. Instead, hospital pharmacy technicians will work more closely with doctors and nurses as well as the hospital pharmacist.

The type of prescriptions they fill differ, too. Hospital pharmacy technicians will have to compound more intravenous (IV) medicine. They’ll also work under sterile conditions more often and use a wider variety of laboratory equipment. Most of the medications they provide will be in individual doses. As a result, they may process a larger volume of orders every day compared to retail pharmacy techs.

Like their retail counterparts, hospital pharmacy technicians are also responsible for taking inventory and placing orders for supplies. They will also fill out insurance paperwork, update patient records, and file other records as needed.

What Working Conditions Are Like for Hospital Pharmacy Technicians

Hospital pharmacy technicians can expect to work more irregular hours than those in retail. This is because hospitals are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Night shifts and weekend shifts are likely to be a regular part of their working lives. Hospital pharmacy technicians who compound in sterile labs will also have to operate machinery and wear protective gear, such as goggles, masks and gloves.

How to Become a Pharmacy Technician

To become a pharmacy technician, you’ll need a high school diploma or GED. If you want to work in the hospital setting or stand out in the retail job market, you should also complete a post-secondary diploma program and take a national certification exam.

At Altierus Career College, we offer a 9-month diploma program that aligns with guidelines from the American Society of Health System Pharmacists (ASHP). During the program, you’ll learn the fundamentals of sterile and non-sterile prescription compounding, pharmacy legal and ethical issues, retail and hospital operations, and more.

Your tuition with us also covers professional equipment, such as scrubs and an iPad you can keep. Most importantly, we also help you prepare for the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board Exam (PTCB) and the Exam for Certification Pharmacy Technician (ExCPT).

With a diploma and certification, you’ll enter the job market ready to pursue pharmacy technician roles in retail or hospital settings—whichever interests you most. Learn more about our Pharmacy Technician Diploma today!

Additional references:


[i] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacy-technicians.htm#tab-6

[ii] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacy-technicians.htm#tab-3

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