Careers in Pharmacology: Pharmacy Technician vs. Pharmacist

Pharmacology is the branch of medicine concerned with how drugs work, their uses, and their effects. If you’re interested in a career in pharmacology, you might be wondering which is the better option - becoming a pharmacy technician or a pharmacist?

Pharmacy Technician

A pharmacy technician’s duty is to assist pharmacists in dispensing medication to health care professionals and the public. If you’re looking for an entry level job with quick entry into the workforce, pharmacy technician might be the right choice for you. Although you can take post-secondary courses in pharmacy technology, you can also find on the job training for this career right after high school.

Duties and Responsibilities

A pharmacy technician does their work under the supervision of a pharmacist. While pharmacy techs play a vital role in nearly all aspects of pharmacy operations, there are a couple of key things that they cannot do.

Specifically, pharmacy technicians are not qualified to counsel patients and they cannot do the final check of prescriptions; these tasks must be completed by the supervising pharmacist.

Aside from those things, pharmacy technicians do just about everything else there is to do in a pharmacy. Some specific duties and responsibilities of a pharmacy tech include:

  • Taking care of inventory
  • Receiving and verifying prescriptions
  • Completing patient paperwork
  • Helping process insurance claims
  • Preparing medications
  • Filling and pricing prescriptions
  • Getting final approval from the pharmacist.

Keep in mind that the setting you choose to work in will affect the tasks that you are expected to complete as a pharmacy technician. For example, a pharmacy tech working in a hospital may be expected to do things like compound IV solutions, something that isn’t common in a general merchandise stores or drug store pharmacies.

Pay & Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) OES data from May 2019 states that the mean annual wage for pharmacy technicians in the United States is $35,250. Now when you do the math that's about $16.95 per hour. There are approximately 417,780 pharmacy techs employed in the US, either full or part-time, in various settings such as hospitals, pharmacies, and general merchandise stores. 

Because the demand for prescription medication is on the rise, the job outlook for pharmacy techs is currently very positive. This occupation is expected to grow 12% from 2016-2026 (which is faster than average). The three states with the highest employment levels for pharmacy technicians are California, Texas, and Florida. The three highest paid states are Washington, California, and Oregon.

Education & Certification

Although some employers will hire an uncertified pharmacy technician right out of high school and train them on the job, many prospective pharmacy techs choose to take some level of post-secondary education and become certified before entering the field. You can choose to take a certificate program that can be completed in a year or less or earn an associate degree in about two years, for example.

If you continue your education you’ll want to find an accredited program that offers hands-on, clinical experience. These programs offer courses and training in several important areas, including pharmacy law and ethics, medical terminology, pharmacy calculations, anatomy, and physiology. 

Important skills for pharmacy techs are great attention to detail, communication, and organizational skills.

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Pharmacy Techs: The Takeaway

Work schedule: Customer service, data entry, filling prescriptions,
Inventory and assisting Pharmacists. 

Average Salary: $35,250 

Job Growth: Expected to increase by 12% between 2016-2026

Education: High School Diploma/Some Level Post-Secondary Education

Pharmacist

If you’re interested in pharmacology but want a career with more responsibility - and a much higher pay scale - you might consider becoming a pharmacist. Pharmacists play a crucial role in making sure that prescriptions are filled accurately and taken safely. They must always consider things like allergies and potential reactions with other drugs when dealing with customers and health care professionals.

Duties & Responsibilities

With all the duties of a pharmacy technician, you might be wondering what’s left for pharmacists to do! Pharmacists have a whole other list of responsibilities that requires them to apply their years of education and training daily.

Some specific duties and responsibilities of a pharmacist include:

  • Filling prescriptions and offering expertise in safe use
  • Checking prescription or medical interactions
  • Instructing and advising patients
  • Giving flu shots and other vaccinations
  • Ensuring the quality and suitability of medicines given to patients
  • Completing insurance forms and keeping records
  • Overseeing pharmacy techs and interns
  • Advising other healthcare professionals on safe and effective drug use

As you can see, pharmacy techs do important work that requires attention to detail, but the pharmacist always has the final say. The brunt of the responsibility falls on the pharmacist when it comes to making sure that patients are getting the best possible care and information and that pharmacy operations are running smoothly, ethically, and safely.

Pay & Outlook

The BLS OES data from May 2019 shows that the mean annual wage for pharmacists is $125,510 or $60.34 annually. The United States employs approximately 311,200 pharmacists in various employment settings including pharmacies, hospitals, drug stores, and general merchandise stores.

The job outlook for pharmacists is promising, but not expected to grow as much as pharmacy technicians. From 2016 to 2026, the occupation is expected to grow 6%, on par with the average for all other occupations. States with the highest employment levels for pharmacists in the US are California, Texas, and New York. States with the highest annual mean wages are Alaska, California, and Vermont.

Education & Licensing

Like most careers, prospective pharmacists can choose from more than one educational path to reach their end goal.

One way to become a pharmacist by completing an undergraduate degree with courses in subjects like chemistry, biology, and calculus before completing a four-year pharmacy graduate degree. Another option is to take a combined undergraduate/graduate program, which usually takes 6 or 7 years. Before entering a doctoral graduate program, all students need to pass the Pharmacy College Admissions Test.

Completing a graduate program in pharmacology is just the start for new pharmacists. Although requirements vary from state-to-state, the next step is to obtain your license by completing a three-part exam series that includes the North American Pharmacist Licensing Exam, the Multi-State Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam, and the Written and Practical exam, then renew the license every two years.

Pharmacist: The Takeaway

Work schedule: Filling/checking prescriptions, advising patients, supervise pharmacy techs, filling insurance forms, giving flu shots etc.

Average Salary: $125,510

Job Growth: Expected to increase by 6% between 2016-2026

Education: Doctoral or professional degree

Time to Decide 

Choosing the right career in pharmacology depends on several factors, like your skills and strengths, whether you can afford to go to school for 6+ years, and how soon you want to enter the workforce.

If you aren’t sure about your long-term goals yet, becoming a pharmacy technician first is a great way to get your foot in the door and learn if working in a pharmacy setting is right for you.

Search Pharmacy Technician Programs

Get information on Pharmacy Technician programs by entering your zip code and request enrollment information.

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  • Updated September 10, 2020
  • Career