If you are interested in pursuing an entry-level position within a pharmacy setting, two options to consider are pharmacy assistant and pharmacy technician. Because these roles have some similarities, it’s easy to mix them up. However, each has its own unique duties, training requirements, and salary. Here’s what you should know if you are thinking of pursuing a career path that involves a pharmacy assistant or pharmacy tech position.
Pharmacy Assistant Duties vs Pharmacy Technician Duties
One of the first areas of difference between these two pharmacy-based healthcare roles is the duties or functions they perform. While each is tasked with helping a licensed pharmacist supply medications to patients, they do this in a different way.
Pharmacy Assistant Duties
The tasks that pharmacy assistants perform can vary based on the setting in which they work.1 For example, assistants working in retail pharmacies are often responsible for handling phone calls, accepting payments for medications and other goods, and the performance of other clerical functions. Pharmacy assistants working in a hospital setting may be assigned other duties, such as stocking the pharmacy’s shelves and delivering medications to patients.
Pharmacy Technician Duties
Pharmacy technicians perform more services related to the medications themselves. As a pharmacy tech, you may be responsible for verifying that a prescription is correct, then preparing that medication based on the prescribed dosage and strength.
Pharmacy technicians also often have duties related to inventory management and insurance claim processing. If you work in a retail setting as a pharmacy tech, you might have customer service responsibilities. Some pharmacy technicians work in specialty pharmacies where they are responsible for compounding or mixing medications.
Pharmacy Assistant Training vs Pharmacy Technician Training
Because pharmacy assistants and technicians have different job functions, they may also need different types of training. It should be noted that actual training requirements can vary from one pharmacy to the next. Therefore, it’s always important to check with a prospective employer to help you understand the type of training that is required for the position that you want.
Pharmacy Assistant Training
There are no state or federal training requirements to perform pharmacy assistant duties. In many cases, employers do request that pharmacy assistant applicants have a high school diploma. This is often combined with on-the-job training to help the individual learn the skills needed to perform pharmacy assistant functions.
Pharmacy Technician Training
Like with pharmacy assistants, pharmacy technicians typically need at least a high school diploma to work in this type of role, which is often combined with job training within the pharmacy itself. Where pharmacy tech training differs is, because most states and employers may regulate this position, the completion of a formal education or training program may be required. In some cases, certification might be required as well.
A pharmacy technician program teaches the skills necessary to prepare and dispense medications, organize inventory, and effectively communicate with customers or patients. For example, in Ultimate Medical Academy’s Health Services – Pharmacy Technician training program, students take courses such as:
- Pharmacy Technician Fundamentals & Computer Applications
- Pharmaceutical Calculations and Pathophysiology
- Drug/Dosage Interaction and Pharmacy Law & Ethics
- Pharmacology and Sterile Products & HIV/AIDS
- Working with People (elective)
- Patient Relations (elective)
Upon completion of UMA’s Health Services – Pharmacy Technician training program, students are also prepared to sit for the Pharmacy Technician Certification Examination, if eligible. Pass this exam offered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) and you earn your CPhT Certification. This designation tells prospective employers that you have the education and skills needed to perform pharmacy tech functions.
Pharmacy Assistant Salary vs Pharmacy Technician Salary
What does the income look like for pharmacy assistants and pharmacy technicians?
Pharmacy Assistant Salary
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not supply salary information for pharmacy assistants. That said, it does provide data for pharmacy aides, which are responsible for similar duties as pharmacy assistants – such as recording and storing stock, operating the cash register, and accepting incoming prescriptions.
According to the BLS, the median wage for pharmacy aides in May 2020 was $32,250 per year or $15.50 per hour.2 As the median, this means that one-half of healthcare workers in this role earn less than this amount and the other half earn more. When just entering this field, you are more likely to be in the lower half.
Pharmacy Technician Salary
BLS data for pharmacy technicians indicate that, as of May 2020, individuals in these roles typically made a median annual wage of $35,100 per year or roughly $16.87 per hour.3 This is slightly more than those working as a pharmacy assistant.
Keep in mind that these are medians. Actual salary can vary depending on a variety of factors, some of which include your level of education, experience, whether you hold any certifications, geographical location, and the setting in which you work.
Understanding the differences between pharmacy tech and pharmacy assistant can help you decide which one may be right for you. This includes learning the duties performed, training, and salary for each position. Now that you know more, you can make a more informed decision about your healthcare career and which direction you’d like to go in.
2 Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2020. Pharmacy Aides. https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes319095.htm
3 Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Pharmacy Technicians. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacy-technicians.htm#tab-5