What's the Difference Between a Pharmacy Assistant and a Pharmacy Technician?
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If you plan to work in the pharmacy world, you have to start somewhere, right?
And you don’t need to go straight to a pharmacy school to get a Pharm.D., either.
You may have noticed the pharmacist isn’t the only one who works in the pharmacy. They typically have support staff which includes both pharmacy assistants and pharmacy technicians. These workers help make the pharmacy run more efficiently and get patients the medications they need quickly.
Both positions play important roles in the pharmacy and both work under the supervision of a pharmacist. There are times when job duties may overlap, but there are significant differences in these positions as well.
This is an entry level position that needs only a high school diploma or equivalent. Most retail pharmacies hire for pharmacy assistants, so it’s relatively easy to step into as you’ll be trained on the job.
As a pharmacy assistant, you’ll need to know what medical questions must be forwarded to the pharmacy tech or pharmacist. Pharmacy assistants also need a firm understanding of confidentiality and HIPAA laws. A pharmacy assistant will perform clerical duties like answering the phone and maintaining filing for a pharmacy’s database of patients.
Other pharmacy assistant tasks may include:
Providing customer service
Stocking and organizing inventory
Answering general questions about medications
Assisting the pharmacy technician and pharmacist as needed
Keeping the pharmacy organized and clean
Exercising discretion when dealing with patient information
This position is more advanced than the pharmacy assistant and often includes more duties. Some states require certification and/or specialized training. Even if you don’t need a certification, it’s wise to consider it for a resume boost!
A pharmacy technician gets a lot more hands-on experience than a pharmacy assistant. If you prefer working closely with medications, this is a role where you will assist in measuring, mixing, preparing, and labeling medications. Additionally, pharmacy technicians must understand specific packing techniques for medications such as narcotics and products that need refrigeration.
Pharmacy technician tasks may include:
Answering patient questions to decide if they need to speak with the pharmacist
Reviewing prescriptions for accuracy
Inventory monitoring, ordering, and stocking (including restricted pharmaceuticals)
Observing and reporting on areas in the pharmacy work area/workflow
May package drugs and supplies to fulfill mail-orders for patients.
Contacting physicians for prescription refill authorizations
May prepare intravenous medications (in a hospital or similar setting)
Which is Right for You?
Either position is a great step into the pharmacy world.
A pharmacy assistant position is a perfect way to get started in a pharmacy — large or small. High school graduates, in particular, can easily move into this role without any additional training as an opportunity to experience pharmacy life before enrolling in a program.
But, if you have the time and desire, getting a pharmacy technician certification can be a way to kickstart your career in pharmacy. It’s also a step higher and a step closer to becoming a professional, licensed pharmacist. If you go with a pharmacy technician program, you’ll also have an opportunity to experience real-world pharmacy operations with an externship. This can give you a feel for a pharmacy career.
As you decide, thinking of your long-term financial and career goals can help you pick which path is the option that works best for you.