Pharmacist vs. Pharmacy Tech: What’s the Difference?

  • Sadie Black
  • |

Every day a pharmacist and a pharmacy technician work hand-in-hand to provide support to their patients and dispense medications. When taking an eagle-eyed view of a pharmacy, it may seem like there isn’t much difference between a pharmacist and a pharmacy technician. To a lot of people, the only difference between the two is the pharmacist wears a white coat, and the pharmacy technician does not. To be honest, there are only a handful of differences, but these differences are key to understanding their roles.

The main difference between a pharmacist and a pharmacy technician is the amount of schooling that is required. For pharmacy technicians, the requirements to become licensed vary by state. In the strictest of states, a pharmacy technician is required to either have an associate degree or complete a program through a trade or vocational school. In the laxest states, pharmacy technicians have zero requirements to becoming licensed although you may find it difficult to find a job if you do not have a high school diploma or equivalent. For a pharmacy technician to renew their license, most states don’t require any C.E., continued education, at all, however, if you choose to be or are required to be a licensed Certified Pharmacy Tech(CPhT), you are required to complete 20 hours of C.E.’s every two years to renew your license.

For pharmacists, the requirements to become licensed are pretty much the same across the entire United States. In every state, a pharmacist must complete a Pharm.D. or a Doctor of Pharmacy program. The Pharm.D. program is a minimum 6-year program, although for most it is an 8-year program. A pharmacist also has to pass the NAPLEX (North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam). In 49 jurisdictions a pharmacist must also pass the MPJE(Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination). Depending on the state, a pharmacist may have to complete a certain number of internship hours or even gain additional certifications to do things like administering vaccines. For pharmacists to renew their license, the amount of C.E.’s required varies but is required in every state.

There are also differences in what each role is allowed to do. In the majority of states, only a pharmacist is allowed to administer immunizations. A pharmacy technician provides the first check and does a lot of the first steps in every aspect of the pharmacy. A pharmacy technician inputs the prescription, fills or counts the prescription, mixes reconstitutable liquid medications, answers the phone, and so on. It is the pharmacists’ job to verify the prescription was input correctly, the correct amount of medication is being given to the patient, that a dosage is safe, that there are no possible drug interactions, verifies reconstitutables were mixed correctly, all as the second step to the pharmacy technicians work. It is also solely the pharmacists’ duty to counsel or answer any questions regarding medications with a patient. In the majority of states, it is also the responsibility of the pharmacist to take phone calls from doctors calling in a new prescription or a prescription refill. A pharmacy technician will also commonly be the one to place over-the-counter medication orders, or orders for drugs that are not considered a schedule II drug. A pharmacist is typically the only person allowed to place orders for a schedule II drug.

Pharmacist pay vs. pharmacy technician pay is also another significant difference between the two careers. A pharmacist can make four times or more the amount a pharmacy technician makes. The increased pay comes along with increased responsibility. If a medication were given in error to a patient and a technician is the one that filled it, it would still be the pharmacist’s responsibility for not double-checking it was the right medication.

I once heard it put best by a former coworker, “A pharmacy tech is the manual labor, and the pharmacist is the knowledge”. While pharmacists will help with counting or filling, helping put stock away, or checking out customers, a lot of that responsibility lies on the pharmacy technician. Ultimately a pharmacist’s main duties are making sure pharmacy technicians dispense the right medication per the doctor’s orders, and making sure that the medication is safe. A pharmacist is responsible for the work of the pharmacy technician, and is the one held legally responsible should anything go wrong.


Meet The Author

Sadie Black is a certified and licensed pharmacy technician. She received her Associate of Science in Pharmacy Technician with a pre-major in pharmacy study before earning her state certification and national license from the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board. Sadie has experience working in both chain and independent pharmacies as lead pharmacy tech and is a member of the National Pharmacy Tech Association.

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