If you are thinking about getting a job in a pharmacy, you might be considering becoming either a pharmacy technician or a pharmacy assistant. While they are similar, there are some important differences between the two jobs.
A pharmacy assistant handles primarily administrative and organizational tasks in a pharmacy. They can help inventory medications, order supplies, and keep accurate patient records.
A pharmacy technician has a slightly more advanced role than a pharmacy assistant. Technicians are required to be licensed in most states and can mix medications and verify prescriptions.
This guide compares pharmacy technicians and pharmacy assistants for things like responsibilities, salary, education requirements, and more to help you decide which is right for you.
Pharmacy Technician vs Pharmacy Assistant Overview
Though both pharmacy technicians and assistants are medical professionals that work in a pharmacy, there are key differences between the two.
Pharmacy technicians generally have a higher level of responsibility than pharmacy assistants. Most pharmacy technicians must be licensed in their state of residence, and are paid more than pharmacy assistants.
Here’s a quick overview of pharmacy technicians vs pharmacy assistants:
Pharmacy Technician Overview
Pharmacy technicians help a pharmacist make sure that medications are safely distributed to the clients that need them. Pharmacy technicians are usually licensed to work in their state of residence.
Their responsibilities include:
- Measure or count medication doses
- Mix medication compounds
- Verify prescription medications
- Assist customers with their questions about medication
- Handle insurance claims
- Administering vaccines
If you want to become a pharmacy technician, you will most likely have to complete a pharmacy technician education program, pass a certification exam, and apply for your license. Pharmacy technicians are usually required to pass a criminal background check and drug screen.
You can learn more about pharmacy technician requirements in your state here and learn about the difference between pharmacy technician licenses and certifications here.
Pharmacy technicians often work in retail pharmacies or hospitals. Retail pharmacies are usually open during regular business hours, while hospitals need pharmacy technicians 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Pharmacy technicians need to have a variety of skills and spend their days stocking medication, double-checking prescriptions, compounding medications, measuring doses, and interacting with patients. They work closely with pharmacists and often work with controlled substances.
Check out our guide to the pros and cons of a pharmacy technician career to learn more about if it's right for you.
Pharmacy Assistant Overview
Pharmacy assistants usually work in retail pharmacies and handle administrative and organizational tasks. Their responsibilities include:
- Keeping an inventory of medications
- Managing the cash register
- Keeping the store clean and organized
- Answering phones
You can become a pharmacy assistant with just a high school diploma or GED. You can complete all of your training on-the-job.
Pharmacy assistants deal with over-the-counter medications and handle administrative tasks. They usually work in retail stores or grocery stores and do not usually manage prescriptions or controlled substances.
Key Similarities Between a Pharmacy Technician & Pharmacy Assistant
Pharmacy technicians and pharmacy assistants share several similarities:
- Help pharmacists. Both pharmacy assistants and technicians work under the guidance of a pharmacist.
- Salary. Despite their differences in salary, pharmacy technicians and assistants earn similar salaries
- Work environment. Retail pharmacies and health stores are the most common place for both pharmacy technicians and pharmacy assistants to work.
- Basic responsibilities. Both jobs are mostly responsible for helping customers and keeping the store organized.
Key Differences Between a Pharmacy Technician & Pharmacy Assistant
While pharmacy technicians and pharmacy assistants are very similar, there are some important differences to keep in mind.
- Training requirements. While pharmacy technicians usually have to complete a certification course and apply for a license, pharmacy assistants only need a high school diploma and on-the-job training.
- Scope of practice. Pharmacy technicians can handle prescription medications and controlled substances. Some can even give vaccinations. Pharmacy assistants only work with over-the-counter medications and cannot give injections.
- Job outlook. While demand for pharmacy technicians is expected to increase over the next ten years, job opportunities for pharmacy assistants are on the decline.
Salary Differences for Pharmacy Technicians & Pharmacy Assistants
Pharmacy technicians and pharmacy assistants earn similar salaries. They may earn more or less based on their location, experience, and training.
Pharmacy technicians earn $36,740 per year or $17.66 per hour while pharmacy assistants earn slightly less, around $35,870 per year, or $17.24 per hour. In addition, there are other roles you can work as a pharmacy technician that pay more.
Both technicians and assistants who live in states like New York, Hawaii, and California earn a higher salary than those living in states with a lower cost of living like Iowa or Utah.
Job Outlook for Pharmacy Technicians & Pharmacy Assistants
The job outlook for pharmacy technicians is similar to other occupations. Job opportunities for technicians are expected to increase by 5% between 2023 and 2033.
Unfortunately, pharmacy assistants are not in demand like they used to be. Their job outlook is on the decline, with job opportunities expected to decrease by 3% through 2031.
Both pharmacy technicians and pharmacy assistants can grow to become store managers or train other employees. Because of their training and education, it is easier for pharmacy technicians to get raises and promotions than it is for pharmacy assistants.
Necessary Skills for Pharmacy Technicians & Pharmacy Assistants
If you want to work in a pharmacy as a technician or assistant, there are a few skills you’ll need to work on.
Skills necessary to become a pharmacy assistant include:
- Good organization
- Good verbal and written communication
- Attention to detail
- Customer service
Pharmacy technicians need many of the same skills as pharmacy assistants, along with a few additional ones:
- Basic pharmaceutical knowledge
- Basic anatomy and physiology knowledge
- More advanced math skills
How to Choose Between Becoming a Pharmacy Technician & Pharmacy Assistant
When deciding whether to become a pharmacy technician or pharmacy assistant, there are a few things you should consider:
- Training requirements. While pharmacy technician training is usually short, it does take longer to become a certified pharmacy technician than to become a pharmacy assistant. Training for pharmacy technicians can cost several hundred to several thousand dollars.
- Scope of practice. Pharmacy technicians have a larger scope of practice than pharmacy assistants. Technicians are able to perform more advanced tasks and have more responsibilities than assistants.
- Job outlook. If you are worried about job security, you might want to become a pharmacy technician. More employers are hiring pharmacy technicians than pharmacy assistants.
- Advancement opportunities. Because of their training and education, pharmacy technicians may get more advancement opportunities than assistants.
Education & Certification Requirements for Pharmacy Technicians & Pharmacy Assistants
Education and certification requirements for pharmacy technicians depend on the state you live in. Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, and Wisconsin do not have any requirements and you can work as a pharmacy tech without certification or formal training.
All other states require pharm techs to complete an accredited pharmacy technician training course, pass a certification exam, and apply for a license.
Pharmacy technician training takes anywhere from 5 weeks to 12 months to complete.
There are no formal training, certification, or licensing requirements for pharmacy assistants. Since pharmacy assistants do not deal with prescriptions or controlled substances, their training is not regulated by state or federal laws.
>> Learn More: Cheapest Pharmacy Technician Training Programs
Comparing a Day in the Life for Pharmacy Technicians & Pharmacy Assistants
Pharmacy assistants and technicians have similar work environments and responsibilities.
Pharmacy assistants can expect to spend their days organizing and taking inventory of medications. They will work directly with customers to help them find what they need in a store and handle payments. Assistants may start their day as early as 5 am or 6 am to prepare for customers to arrive and may stay until 6 pm or 7 pm to close up the pharmacy.
Not only do pharmacy technicians organize medications, help customers, handle billing, and keep inventory of supplies, but technicians who work in retail also help patients fill prescription medication. They will deal with prescriptions including controlled substances like narcotic pain medication.
They may also be responsible for mixing medications and creating new compounds. Pharmacy techs are more likely to be employed by hospitals and work night, weekend, and holiday shifts.
Both types of employees can expect to spend most of the day on their feet and have to stay focused on their work to avoid making potentially dangerous medication errors.
Job Growth & Progression for Pharmacy Technicians & Pharmacy Assistants
Pharmacy assistants who do excellent work may progress to become store managers without returning to school. If they want to pursue a more advanced career in medicine, they will have to return to school. Pharmacy assistants may choose to get their pharmacy technician certification if they want to earn a pay raise or be given more responsibilities.
Working as a pharmacy technician is great experience if you want to become a pharmacist one day. It getting certified helps give you a good baseline of knowledge and work experience as a technician will solidify your learning.
Pharmacy technician experience is also a great job for people who want to get into med school, become a registered nurse, or work as a physician assistant one day. All of these careers require good knowledge of medication safety and administration.
Other Pharmacy Technician Resources
Here are some other resources we have about pharmacy technicians that can help you learn if it’s the right career for you: