Pharmacist Vs. Pharmacy Technician

Pharmacy technicians help pharmacists run retail pharmacies.

Pharmacy technicians help pharmacists run retail pharmacies.

When you stop by your neighborhood pharmacy, sometimes it's hard to tell whether you are speaking with a pharmacy technician or a pharmacist. They both wear white coats and are knowledgeable about your prescriptions, and they can both locate your prescriptions and help you check out. But a pharmacist has been to pharmacy school, so she is the best one to speak with about specific side effects, drug interactions and the like.

Pharmacist Education and Licensing

To become a pharmacist, you must attend pharmacy school, and pharmacy school typically requires an undergraduate degree for admission. Pharmacy school is a three- or four-year program that includes coursework in anatomy, chemistry, biochemistry, pharmacology and ethics. The last semester or two of a doctor of pharmacy, or Pharm.D., program involves supervised internships in pharmacy work environments. Pharmacists interested in clinical pharmacy or research often undertake a one- to two-year residency program after pharmacy school. Licensing as a pharmacist requires passing a national exam covering pharmacy-related knowledge and passing an exam on pharmacy law in your state.

Pharmacist Duties and Job Prospects

The main duty of a pharmacist is to accurately fill prescriptions, confirming directions from physicians on the type and amounts of medications. Pharmacists are also responsible for giving patients advice on how and when to take medications, and for making sure that any new prescriptions are not likely to cause negative interactions with current medications. Many pharmacists also have some type of management, personnel or training-related responsibilities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a robust 25 percent employment growth for pharmacists from 2010 through 2020.

Pharmacy Technician Education and Licensing

A high school diploma is the only educational requirement for most pharmacy technician jobs, but most employers and state licensing authorities require completion of a formal training program. Pharmacy technician training programs typically last about a year, and include coursework in math, recordkeeping and use of databases. Technicians learn about the methods of dispensing medications, pharmacy law, and the names, effects and dosages of commonly prescribed drugs. Most programs award a pharmacy technician certificate upon completion. You also have to pass a state exam to earn a license.

Pharmacy Technician Duties and Job Prospects

Pharmacy technicians provide a broad range of customer service and support duties at pharmacies. They stock and maintain inventory; accept payments; take prescription orders over the phone and in person; help count pills or prepare prescriptions; and assist the pharmacist as requested. The BLS projects a strong 32 percent job growth from 2010 through 2020, largely because of the greater number of available medications and the aging of the baby boomer generation.

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About the Author

Clayton Browne has been writing professionally since 1994. He has written and edited everything from science fiction to semiconductor patents to dissertations in linguistics, having worked for Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Steck-Vaughn and The Psychological Corp. Browne has a Master of Science in linguistic anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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