How are pharmacists and pharmacy technicians different? How are they alike? In 1966, Dr. Linwood Tice, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science dean, envisioned how these occupations would evolve. "The counting and pouring now often alleged to be the pharmacist's chief occupation will in time be done by technicians and eventually by automation," he said. "The pharmacist of tomorrow will function by reason of what he knows, increasing the efficiency and safety of drug therapy and working as a specialist in his own right. It is in this direction that pharmaceutical education must evolve without delay."
Tice's vision never materialized - the occupations haven't evolved as he'd hoped. They still share the same counter and have some overlapping duties, but there also are dramatic differences. Here's a look at the monetary benefits and costs of each.
Community pharmacy workers are found in drug or general merchandise stores. Community pharmacies employ a majority of pharmacy workers: 55 percent of pharmacists, and 68 percent of pharmacy technicians in 2010.
Hospital pharmacy workers can be found in medical clinics and hospitals. In 2010, these businesses employed 25 percent of pharmacists and 20 percent of pharmacy technicians.
- Receive a new prescription order verbally from a prescriber
- Perform identification, evaluation, interpretation, and clarification of a prescription
- Verify the prescription before release to the patient
- Consult with a patient regarding a prescription or nonprescription drug
- Consult with a prescriber regarding a patient and any medical information pertaining to the patient's prescription
- Perform a professional consultation with any prescriber, and
- Select a drug product to dispense.
Aside from the above, a licensed pharmacy technician may perform any other duties carried out in a pharmacy. However, depending on whether the pharmacy is a community or hospital pharmacy, the duties of the technician may differ. In both instances, duties involving entering prescriptions into the computer, assisting the pharmacist with filling and labeling prescriptions, prepacking bulk medications, and preparing pharmacy inventories are shared.
For community pharmacies, where patients are quickly stopping by to pick up prescriptions and have a choice of multiple pharmacies, customer service is important. Working with many patients and being the pharmacy cashier are important technician duties.
For hospital pharmacies, where the technician has little patient contact, the duties differ. The technician may transport medications or equipment to nursing units or clinics, pick up copies of physician orders, fill medication cassettes, compound nutrition solutions and intravenous mixtures, and perform routine nursing unit inspections.
Because a pharmacist is responsible for the technicians and for compliance with laws, the pharmacist position requires more education and training. To be eligible to take the licensing exams to practice pharmacy, an individual must have completed a degree from a college of pharmacy. Using Oregon State University as a model - one of two schools in Oregon with a college of pharmacy (the other being Pacific University) - a prospective student must earn a doctor of pharmacy degree to become a licensed pharmacist. This is a four-year professional program involving academic training and internship experience, preceded by some three years of undergraduate studies. At Oregon State University, a student spends seven years becoming eligible for licensure as a pharmacist, earning a bachelor's degree and a doctor of pharmacy degree.
Pharmacy technicians have no standardized training or educational requirements. To work as a pharmacy technician, one must be licensed by the Oregon State Board of Pharmacy. To get this license, a potential pharmacy technician must complete initial training as outlined by the pharmacist-in-charge, which includes on-the-job and related education commensurate with tasks they are to perform, before regular performance of those tasks. The problem is that pharmacies use technicians differently and therefore require different levels of training. There are some schools in Oregon, including Linn-Benton community college, which offer one- or two-term pharmacy technician certificates. The certificate prepares an individual for entry into the pharmacy technician occupation. However, whether the training and education is on-the-job or two college terms, it's short in contrast to the educational and licensing requirements of pharmacists.
Table 1 shows the statewide 2010 employment, projected 2020 employment, percent growth, number of openings from new jobs created (growth), openings from persons leaving the occupation (replacement), and the sum of openings from new jobs created and openings from persons leaving the occupation (total).
Just as the pharmaceutical industry nationwide is expected to show continued growth, Oregon's employment in the pharmaceutical occupations will likely grow, with pharmacists and pharmacy technicians growing 18.2 percent and 17.4 percent, respectively. Both are growing at or above the projected growth for all occupations in Oregon between 2010 and 2020 of 18.1 percent. Even with strong national demand for new pharmacists, Oregon is expected to have more openings for pharmacists resulting from workers leaving the occupation, most likely from retiring, than from new jobs being created. The combined effect of strong demand for the pharmaceutical occupations and workers retiring or moving to other careers creates many opportunities in Oregon.
As Table 2 shows, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are expected to be fast-growing occupations in most regions in Oregon. Table 2 displays the projected occupational growth percentage for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians in each Oregon workforce region.
Earnings in the two occupations tend to follow their respective education requirements. Table 3 displays statewide hourly wages and the mean annual wages based on a 2,080-hour work year. As expected, the added education and training requirements and job responsibilities greatly increase the wages for the pharmacist over the technician.
|Pharmacist and Pharmacy Technician Employment and Growth in Oregon, 2010-2020|
|Occupational Title||2010 Employment||2020 Employment||Percent Growth||Growth Openings||Replacement Openings||Total Openings|
|Pharmacist and Pharmacy Technician Projected Growth Rates 2010-2020|
|Region||Pharmacist Percentage Growth||Pharmacy Technician Percentage Growth|
|Clatsop, Columbia, Tillamook||17.9%||16.0%|
|Marion, Polk, Yamhill||18.2%||17.6%|
|Benton, Lincoln, Linn||22.1%||18.3%|
|Gilliam, Hood River, Sherman, Wasco, Wheeler||14.6%||15.3%|
|Crook, Deschutes, Jefferson||20.4%||16.8%|
|Baker, Union, Wallowa||10.0%||8.7%|
|Grant, Harney, Malheur||10.5%||5.5%|
|Pharmacist and Pharmacy Technician Hourly and Mean Annual Wages in Oregon, 2011|
|Occupational Title||10th Percentile||25th Percentile||Median||75th Percentile||90th Percentile||Mean Annual Wage|
Contrast this to the pharmacist occupation, which in Oregon requires a doctor of pharmacy degree, earned through an extensive and rigorous program requiring a minimum education of seven years. The pharmacist also must pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination and the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination.
Those considering a career or looking to change careers should think about whether a career requiring minimal training is a better financial decision than investing in an education. Some careers, like pharmacy for example, take considerably more education and training than others. If an individual is young enough, the education and training investment can be recovered and exceeded through higher wages. However, if an individual has already been employed for many years, a career change may not pay off before retirement.
Demand for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians is projected to grow, and the available supply of trained, skilled workers may run short. While the supply of pharmacists is constrained by the educational requirements, the supply of pharmacy technicians has been in part constrained by an Oregon rule establishing a pharmacist-to-technician ratio. However, in March 2003 the ratio rule was eliminated. Pharmacists are not limited in the number of technicians they employ, but must still staff the pharmacy in a safe and appropriate manner. It's not clear if this rule change has significantly influenced technician employment.
These occupations share the same work environment and some of the same duties, but differ dramatically in responsibility, education, and wages. The pharmacist is ultimately responsible for the technicians, has at least seven years of education and training, and can demand high wages. The pharmacy technician has a much lower degree of responsibility, no standardized required education and training, and gets considerably less compensation than a pharmacist.
Which is the better choice? Both are in high demand. Ultimately, it depends on an individual's preferences and career goals.